- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

There was Karl Alzner, fresh off a 90-minute practice, filling up cup after cup of Gatorade - the consequence of losing a shooting game with his Washington Capitals teammates.

It could also be a preview of things to come, with Alzner filling the role of the water boy. If that’s the case, as veteran Mike Green put it, Alzner is the perfect rookie.

The captain of Canada’s gold-medal-winning world junior team and reigning Western Hockey League player of the year is just that: a humble rookie defenseman fighting for an NHL roster spot.

“It’s fun,” Alzner said. “I like competition. This is helping me work hard to get prepared for the season. I’m gonna be in great shape after this because of how hard I’ll have to push myself.”

The 6-foot-2, 206-pounder is battling veterans John Erskine and Milan Jurcina for a starting spot on the Caps’ roster. Players who have blueline spots sealed up, barring injury, are Green, Shane Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti.

Alzner, who turns 20 Wednesday, has the puck-handling skills and defensive acumen to be a fixture with the Caps well into the future. But the immediate question is whether the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft can put it all together in camp in time to be one of the top six defensemen.

“He’s got a good savvy, good poise about him and doesn’t try to make it too hard,” assistant coach Jay Leach said. “He has to play the game the way we expect him to play, which I think he’s doing. … [But] he hasn’t made the team. He’s not automatically on the team here; he’s still battling for a position.”

Automatic is the furthest word from Alzner’s mind. Though he exudes confidence in the defensive zone, the Burnaby, British Columbia, native has about as much humility as could be expected from someone with his accolades.

Instead, he has considered all the outcomes of camp, including the possibilities he will be the team’s seventh defenseman and watch games from the press box or be sent to Hershey of the American Hockey League. Still, he mirrors his calmness with the puck in his personality off the ice.

“Whatever happens is fine with me,” Alzner said. “Obviously, I want to play here, and if I do, that’s great. … Skating in practice, I’ll be asking question after question. I’m sure they’re gonna be sick of me by the end of the year.”

No one will grow sick of Alzner if he continues to impress coaches as he has so far in camp. Coach Bruce Boudreau even paired the rookie with Green in Wednesday’s Group C practice because the two will play together Thursday night in the Caps’ second preseason game.

And if it doesn’t work out, perhaps a season with the Hershey Bears isn’t the worst thing for a young player - as Green proved. Green polished his defensive game during Hershey’s 2005-06 Calder Cup championship season, and Alzner could use this year to develop some chemistry with other Caps prospects.

“He’ll get a chance to play a lot of minutes,” Green said. “And any time you’re playing lots, you’re able to work on a lot of stuff - get a real feel for the pro game.”

Alzner could get his first preseason feel for the pro game Wednesday at Carolina because he’s listed as part of the Caps’ lineup for the game.

As he has proven throughout his brief career, Alzner can adjust to any level and any scenario presented to him. Because of that, the coaching staff expects him to fight to the last day for a starting position.

“He’s trained very hard, so it’s like getting ready for a test in school,” Leach said. “He’s a kid that has prepared himself well. He’s ready for the test.”

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