- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

Ben Clymer was drafted 27th overall in 1997 by the Boston Bruins as a defenseman. It was a position he had played all his life and obviously excelled at to the point he was picked at what now would be the first round by an NHL team.

But at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he was deemed too small for defense and the Bruins released him. He was picked up by Tampa Bay, and the Lightning made him a forward en route to a Stanley Cup championship. He played forward last season for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps are now trying to remake him as a defenseman again, calling the plan a three-week, four-game experiment.

“Is it permanent?” Clymer said yesterday after the Caps’ first practice of 2006-07. “For now, it’s permanently experimental.”

And perhaps it might turn out that Washington, which did not appear a few weeks ago to have enough defensemen to go around, may end up with a glut at the position.

What has transpired comes from a combination of factors. Washington’s defense last season was horrible and needed a complete remake. Three players from last season — Ivan Majesky, Nolan Yonkman and Mathieu Biron — have not returned. All had mobility problems for different reasons. Three others — rookie Mike Green, plus free agents Brian Pothier and John Erskine — have been added.

Clymer brings that number to four and he joins holdover regulars Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Eminger, Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir for a total of eight — barring an unexpected rush from someone else. Seven is probably how many the team will carry, although it had eight last season.

Coach Glen Hanlon said he is trying Clymer at defense with the intention of using him there, something he said he might have done last season had he known more about the individual and his abilities.

“I was tired of everybody telling me what a great defenseman he was in college,” Hanlon said. “I wanted to see for myself.”

But the new NHL rules had a lot to do with it, also. When he was in Boston, Clymer might have been too small for defense but now the rules reward speed and mobility and punish clutching and grabbing, freeing the smaller skater to fly past untouched and defend on talent, not brawn.

“I didn’t know Ben well enough,” Hanlon said of last season, his first full season as coach. “I only knew him as a forward. We didn’t have a total grasp on what was going to happen with the new rules, how it was going to work. If I knew then what I know now about the player and the rules, I likely would have done it last year.”

Not that Clymer had a bad first season with the Caps. He had 16 goals, a career high, and 33 points playing the left side on the checking line with Brian Sutherby and Matt Bradley. He also played a few games at defense when manpower was short.

“At times, yes,” Clymer said when asked if he had been sorry he was switched from defense in the first place. “In the middle of last season I couldn’t have been happier playing forward. I thought I had a good year but now there’s a possibility to play defense, get more playing time and contribute in a different way. I’ll see which fits me and the team best.”

If Clymer makes the switch, newly acquired enforcer Donald Brashear can easily move into Clymer’s old spot.



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