- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Karl Alzner did a little last-minute shopping at the mall, picked up some extra sticks and said some goodbyes at Kettler Capital Iceplex yesterday.

Alzner, the fifth pick in the June draft, left training camp to return to his junior team but not before making a strong impression on the Washington Capitals.

“You really just look and say, ‘There is a huge top end on this guy,” ” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “He’s just smart. All of the things we asked him to do system-wise he did. [He is] very composed. He’s going to be a very good player.”

Because he is mature beyond his years and was considered one of the closest to NHL-ready players in the draft, Alzner entered camp in the discussion for one of the final three spots on Washington’s blue line.

Although he spent two days practicing with the veterans and had a chance to play in his first NHL preseason game, it was pretty clear the Caps are just too deep — and face serious playoff expectations — to consider carrying Alzner, who turns 19 on Monday.

“I’m disappointed a little bit because I would have liked to stay for at least the beginning of the season, but I also fully understand,” Alzner said. “I did my homework last night and saw how many guys they have returning. They are going to go with experience and try to win some games and have a successful year. Hopefully, next year I’ll be better, and I can come in here and try to beat some of these guys out for their spots.”

Fellow junior-eligible players Josh Godfrey and Francois Bouchard also were returned to their Canadian Hockey League teams. Alzner and Godfrey were late for rookie camp last week because they were members of Team Canada in the Super Series against a group of prospects from Russia.

The Canadians went 7-0-1 in the series, and Alzner had a goal and three assists while consistently being lauded as one of the top prospects on the team.

“Alzner’s been as advertised. He’s been steady as a rock,” general manager George McPhee said after watching Alzner in the series. “He doesn’t get beat and always seems to come up with the puck and make the quick pass to get his team out of trouble.”

For now, Alzner will return to the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he will be united with defenseman Keith Seabrook, the Caps’ second-round pick in the 2006 draft who will be playing his first season in the WHL after a year at the University of Denver. Last season Alzner had eight goals and 47 points for the Hitmen while helping them to the Eastern Conference finals.

This season Alzner could be asked to produce even more at the offensive end. He is likely be counted on for big minutes with Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. He also could join the Hershey Bears once his junior season is over.

“He’s like [defenseman Jeff Schultz] in a way because he came in here and he knows how to play,” assistant coach Jay Leach said. “He knows how to cut angles. He has a good sense of the things we look for — how to read little transitions, how to protect the middle of the ice, how to cut angles, how to play defense the right way. He has all those tools.

“He’s got to get stronger. Now, he’s very strong on his skates for his size, but he’s got to play a little stronger, and he’s got to use his body more. I’m not talking about fighting or running over guys, but to play in this league, to play against [Erik] Cole in Carolina, go into the corners, you’ve got to be prepared to battle. And that means getting your stick down in there to make a play and then using your body to protect the puck.”

Alzner said he didn’t get to do much sightseeing during his brief stay, but he will be back for good soon and will have plenty of time for that.

“I think it was exactly what I needed,” Alzner said. “I wanted to get to know some of the guys a little bit and get my feet wet in a game. It was a really good measuring stick to see where I am compared to these guys, and it was a lot of fun.”

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