- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stefan Della Rovere was buzzing around the ice Wednesday, hitting just about everyone in his path.

He had no qualms with lining up defenseman Joe Finley, who stands 8 inches taller and checks in at about 50 pounds heavier. Still, a run-in with the end boards proved to be one collision he couldn’t get the best of.

Della Rovere’s physical play was one of the highlights during the first scrimmage of this summer development camp for the Washington Capitals, but he left the contest with a shoulder injury.

“It is unfortunate - it is development camp, and everyone is here to show what they’ve got,” Della Rovere said. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow and go from there.”

Few other prospects can match Della Rovere’s rise in the past 13 months. Last summer, he was an afterthought following his selection in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by the Caps.

Since then, Della Rovere has had a standout season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, been a surprise selection for Canada’s entry in the world junior championships and signed his first professional contract. He is likely to spend another year in Barrie before his pro career begins in earnest, but the rough-and-tumble grinder is now much higher on the organization’s prospect depth chart.

“He’s really come along,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “Talking to him [Monday] morning, it is amazing how much more mature he seems to be from a year with that kind of experience.”

Seventh-round picks rarely make Canada’s WJC roster, and it was especially staggering to see the 18-year-old Della Rovere on a club typically dominated by 19-year-olds. Not only did Della Rovere play and help the Canadians to a gold medal, but he also made quite a name for himself with his big hits and pesky antics.

“He’s a very competitive kid, and we drafted him on that basis, but then he started scoring a lot of goals last year that raised a lot of eyebrows and got him an invitation to play for Team Canada,” McPhee said. “To play for Team Canada right out of the draft from the position he was drafted in was a great thing for him and our organization.”

Added Della Rovere: “It is something I worked really hard for. I never thought in a million years I would make that team, but it just shows that a little bit of hard work pays off in the end. I worked really hard last summer, and I want to be on that team again this year if I have the opportunity.”

It is easy to compare him to a guy like Washington’s Matt Bradley because of his willingness to throw his body into anybody on the ice, but he also proved last season he can score. Della Rovere had 27 goals and 51 points in 57 games for the Colts.

The day the Caps drafted Della Rovere he had a couple of fresh scars on his face from the previous season. He might add another one this week - a stick to the face from John Carlson required stitches Monday just above his lip.

“Growing up, I’ve always played a physical game with a lot of emotion,” Della Rovere said. “Last summer I really worked on my skating a lot and trimmed down a lot. It really paid off.”

If he does suit up for the Caps someday, Della Rovere is likely to be an instant hit with the fans and teammates for his willingness to sacrifice his body.

He likely will return to Barrie for another year, and now he will be a favorite to make Canada’s WJC roster. Della Rovere made his pro debut with two games in South Carolina of the ECHL late last season and spent about three weeks practicing with the Hershey Bears during their run to the Calder Cup.

“It has been a pretty exciting year so far with the world juniors, the [contract] signing - it has been a long year, but it is good to come into this camp with a lot of confidence knowing that I’ve signed,” he said. “I know I still have to work hard and fight for a position in the future.”

Notes - The Caps signed restricted free agents Shaone Morrisonn, Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque and Kyle Wilson to one-year contracts and Steve Pinizzotto to a two-year deal Wednesday.

Assistant general manager Don Fishman said defenseman Jeff Schultz didn’t accept his qualifying offer by the 5 p.m. deadline. He remains an RFA and property of the Caps, but that offer, a 5 percent raise from last season, is off the table.

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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