- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2011

George McPhee admittedly took a risk Friday night by trading the Capitals’ first-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Troy Brouwer before the NHL draft even started.

It worked out when the players Washington was interested in were taken before the 26th pick, but McPhee felt even better after talking to Brouwer soon after.

“It’s amazing how you feel about somebody after a three-minute conversation,” McPhee said. “But he sounds like the kind of leader that we’re looking for.”

A leader is exactly what the 25-year-old right wing wants to be with the Caps, and he feels his experience of winning the Stanley Cup will go a long way toward allowing him to fill that role.

“There’s no boundary on leadership age,” Brouwer said Monday on a conference call. “Whether … you’re wearing a [captain’s] letter or not on a team, that doesn’t mean you’re not a leader.”

It’s going to take some time for Brouwer to get a feel for the Caps’ locker room and determine what kind of void he’ll be able to fill. But one thing seems certain - Brouwer is willing and able to put his playoff experience to use.

“I’d rather just go out, play hard and try and lead by example and pitch in where I need to pitch in,” he said. “Every team needs guys that are going to speak up and make sure that everyone knows what their roles are and what they should be doing. You need guys that lead by example and work hard and everyone will follow from there.”

With Brooks Laich set to become an unrestricted free agent Friday, Brouwer could slip into his spot as a positive presence on and off the ice. Brouwer is listed as a right wing but said Monday he feels comfortable on the left side,as well.

McPhee and members of the Caps’ front office saw Brouwer play on all four lines in Chicago and love his versatility.

“I could play on the penalty kill, I could play in a shutdown role, but I could also be put on that first line to finish my checks and create room for [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews,” Brouwer said. “If I was to play on the top line in Washington, I don’t think I would change much.”

Left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom could get a lot more space playing with a guy like Brouwer, whose sandpaper style will help the Caps’ lineup no matter where he lines up.

Of course, there’s the matter of the Caps working out a deal with the restricted free agent. But like McPhee, Brouwer isn’t concerned.

“They are interested in signing me, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded a first-round pick for me,” said Brouwer, who acknowledged not talking much about a new deal with Chicago and hearing buzz last week about a trade. “I have no doubts in my mind right know that we will be able to work out a deal, quickly I think.”

Once those details are finalized, Brouwer can go about the process of not only carving out his niche with the Caps but helping to solve their biggest problem.

“They got a lot of good players, and I think their only weakness is that they just need to get over that hump in the playoffs,” he said. “They’ve had a good team for a long time, and they just need to have a lot of good confidence and make sure that they’re doing what they need to do to win a Stanley Cup and bring one to Washington.”

NOTE: The Caps made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Brouwer, defenseman Karl Alzner, goalie Semyon Varlamov, right wing Francois Bouchard and center Mathieu Perreault, ensuring they could match any offer made by another NHL team after July 1. Long-term deals still are able to be worked out with those players.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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