- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ask any of the guys on the Washington Capitals who played with Tomas Fleischmann for Hershey in the American Hockey League, and they will tell grand tales of his wizardry with the puck.

Before this season, memories of Fleischmann in Hershey were the only evidence of these skills, but now the 24-year-old wing from the Czech Republic has found his way in the NHL.

“You’ve only seen a little bit of it - he’s outstanding with the puck,” defenseman Mike Green said. “If you watch the spaces he puts the puck through on guys and how shifty he is, it is just incredible.”

Through the first 17 games, Fleischmann was tied with Green for third on the team with six goals. He scored one in both games against the Devils this past weekend, and both were momentum-shifting tallies.

Both also offered a sampling of Fleischmann’s abilities. With the Caps clinging to a 1-0 lead Friday night, Fleischmann worked himself free in the middle of the New Jersey defense and roofed a one-timer from Viktor Kozlov past goaltender Scott Clemmensen.

The next day he took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and skated around John Madden - one of the best defensive forwards in hockey - before snapping off a wrist shot to tie the game at 1-1.

Several times this season, Fleischmann has used his skills to do things he didn’t do last year, when he had only 10 goals in 75 games. Things like knocking the puck out of the air with his stick and putting the puck through defenders’ legs.

“I did that stuff in Hershey, but usually I’ve needed some time to get use to a new league or a different level,” Fleischmann said. “Now I feel a lot better than last year. I don’t even know what I do sometimes, I just do that. It works so far.”

Added Brooks Laich: “It is tougher to beat NHL defensemen, and I found that out too. Guys that are skill guys get so used to relying on skill. They get so used to beating guys; they think they can beat anybody. You play against defenders - bigger, faster, stronger guys - your little tricks sometimes don’t work. I think he’s finding a good combination of speed, hard work and then mixing in his skill.”

The book on Fleischmann before this season was simple: skilled but frail; shows flashes of brilliance but also stretches of ineffectiveness; gets pushed around by bigger, stronger players.

Fleischmann spent this summer working out and trying to add muscle. He came to camp not only with extra definition to his frame, but increased confidence as well.

“I put a couple of kilos on - not too much, but every year a little bit more helps and to keep my speed was an important thing,” Fleischmann said. “I try to play with speed, win some battles and go to the net. I needed to put some weight on. When I was younger, I was too skinny. I just keep working out every year, and it is getting better.”

Added defenseman Milan Jurcina: “He got an opportunity last year, and now he has a lot more confidence. The way he plays, he needs the confidence and that is all he can work with. He’s a great player, actually - skilled guy, great skater. If Coach trusts him, he can pay him back.”

Now Fleischmann is starting to play like the guy who had 114 points in 102 games with Hershey- including 53 postseason points in 39 contests. Last season was a breakout campaign for Laich, and this year could be one for Fleischmann.

Their development gives the organization a six-pack of skilled building blocks, adding to the feared foursome of Green, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

Laich said Fleischmann, notably one of the quieter guys in the dressing room, is “coming out of his shell.” While Fleischmann may be reserved with the media and some of his teammates, his roommate on the road, Jurcina, knows better.

“He’s really hyper - really, really hyper,” Jurcina said. “I joke with him and tell him I want a new roommate because he’s so hyper sometimes. It is great to have him around. Our English is not that good, so we talk in our language a lot.”



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