As members of the media crowded around Karl Alzner on Monday, everyone had a good laugh about the name tag on his chest.
“Just in case,” he said. “They told us to put them on…. I’m Karl.”
No identification was necessary for Alzner at the first day of rookie development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. As the fifth pick in the 2007 draft, Alzner is the center of attention this week as he begins his quest to make the Washington Capitals‘ roster out of training camp.
He won’t be 20 years old until after the main camp starts in September, but Alzner is considered one of the top prospects in hockey and could be the next impact player in Washington’s stable of precocious stars.
“I don’t think it is his goal to be great here,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think it is his goal to be great in training camp and to be great in making the team.”
Added Alzner: “It doesn’t matter if I was fifth overall or the last guy picked in the seventh round. I am still here to try out. Everyone is here for a reason, and they are going to take the best player at that time. If I’m not the best player every time I’m here, then they’re not going to keep me.”
Plenty has happened in the nearly 13 months since the Caps made Alzner their third top-five selection in four years (along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) to justify their choice. After a brief time with Washington at training camp last year, he was a standout for Canada in an eight-game “Super Series” against Russia’s top prospects.
After rejoining the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League for a little less than two months, he was back representing his country in the world junior tournament. With Alzner serving as the team’s captain and part of its top defense pairing, the Canadians captured their fourth straight gold medal in the event.
He capped his season by leading the Hitmen deep into the WHL playoffs and collecting a shelf’s worth of trophies, including player of the year honors in the WHL and defenseman of the year for the entire Canadian Hockey League.
“He is very mature as a person and as a player. He thinks the game really well, and there’s not a lot of panic in his game,” said Ross Mahoney, Washington’s director of amateur scouting. “He’s under control, and as a result of that he sees the ice really well and he makes good decisions not only when he has the puck but when he doesn’t. He is usually in pretty good position defensively. He’s got kind of an uncanny ability to deflect a lot of pucks.”
Alzner is not like Mike Green. He doesn’t like to carry the puck through the neutral zone and deep into the offensive end. He’s also not like Dion Phaneuf - he doesn’t try to seek and destroy foes in open ice.
He prides himself on making smart plays, even if it is the simple option. A good comparison might be Washington’s Tom Poti - someone who can eat up lots of minutes, play sound defense and help out on offense when needed.
One guy Alzner tries to model himself after is six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.
“He just does everything right,” Alzner said. “He doesn’t hit all that much - I don’t hit all that much. I heard him say one time, ‘Why would I rush the puck when I can put it in the hands of a guy like [Pavel] Datsyuk or [Henrik] Zetterberg?’ It is the same with me. I don’t like to rush the puck. I want to give it to the guys who are depended on to do that. If I can play anything like him, I’ll be happy.”
One of Alzner’s hobbies away from the ice has been designing his own clothes. While he said Monday it is something he has done less of during the past year, he will have someone to discuss it with should he make the Caps’ roster in a couple of months.
After all, Ovechkin did just launch his own clothing line.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Alzner said of Ovechkin’s new clothes. “If ‘Sid the Kid’ [Crosby] can do it, then I’m sure Ovechkin can do it. I was actually going to look and see if they had anything [from his line] here.”