- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2011

George McPhee’s offseason additions to the Washington Capitals have been hailed by many around the league and just about everybody within the organization. It’s tough to discount - at least on paper - that bringing in players such as Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward add something substantial.

But those moves - especially up front - have made it hard on a few young players who would love to make the leap to the NHL in a few weeks. With roster spots hard to come by, this week’s rookie camp and main training camp (which starts Saturday) is Chapter 2 of what could come down to a battle between centers Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren.

“Cody’s a little quicker, but Matty’s stronger, got a little more experience, a little older,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Game time is probably going to show a little bit more. Practice you can show a lot of things, but we’ve all been around hockey - we’ve heard of great practice players that didn’t make it and gamers. So we’ll see.”

The first chance for that will be in Thursday’s rookie game against Flyers prospects in Philadelphia. But until then and well after, each player is eager to make a statement that he belongs with the Caps when the roster is pared heading into October.

Eakin, 20, with some grit and an ability to play a third-line role and skate on the power-play and penalty-killing units, didn’t fare well in Chapter 1 in July at development camp. Sjogren, 23, who played against older players in the Swedish Elite League for three seasons, outmuscled him often in scrimmages, particularly on faceoffs.

That experience, when Eakin admitted being out of shape after a long junior season, served as a wakeup call.

“I think development [camp] kind of scared me the most,” he said. “Obviously, not having a lot of time before that - coming in not in the best shape, the whole summer that was in the back of my head and giving me that extra motivation and kind of play it over in your head to make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Eakin was on the ice a few weeks later and committed himself to hitting the gym five days a week. He showed up this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and already has made an impression on Boudreau.

“You can see a little bit more determination on his face, and I think it’ll show,” the coach said. “The first thing that goes through my mind is he’s here to fight for a job.”

Eakin may have a steep climb given his age and physical limitations compared to the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Sjogren, who was courted by the Montreal Canadiens among others before signing with the Caps over the summer.

The big Swede also has the belief that he can play at this level.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” he said.

Against rookies this week, Boudreau would love to see that Eakin and Sjogren “stand head and tails above” the rest of the competition. They’ll face the big boys on a day-to-day basis soon.

But even then, Boudreau was quick to say that this competition might take a while.

“In the end it’s going to be the beginning of October when you’re going to see if Cody or Matty - if the cream comes to the top and see who stands above the rest,” he said.

NOTE: The Capitals have sold about 9,500 tickets for Tuesday’s Baltimore Hockey Classic against the Nashville Predators, according to 1st Mariner Arena general manager Frank Remesch. The capacity is expected to be 11,111, barring last-minute changes.

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