The temperature outside touched the low 90s, but inside MedStar Capitals Iceplex, it still felt like hockey season. There is no sign of Alex Ovechkin or Braden Holtby during the Washington Capitals’ development camp — it’s the time of year where Shane Gersich is one of the most veteran players on the ice.
Gersich is participating in his sixth development camp with the Capitals. This week — Tuesday through Saturday — Gersich is balancing being a leader for the new kids in town and continuing to improve his own game.
For others, like 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael and 2018 first-rounder Alexander Alexeyev, the development camp in Arlington is about getting some in-person attention from NHL coaches.
“It’s about coming in and learning what the culture is here in Washington,” Gersich said. “They emphasize that a lot in the video meetings, and we get the chance to get in the weight room with Nemo (strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish) … There’s so much you can take away from these camps, and if you use it right it’s definitely to your advantage.”
The camp is a mix of on-ice drills and testing, video meetings to learn some system basics from coach Todd Reirden and a general introduction to the NHL way of life. The 30 attendees this week are a mixture of past draft picks, players for the AHL affiliate Hershey Bears and free agent invitees.
The group includes McMichael, a forward whom the Capitals made the 25th overall pick in last week’s draft in Vancouver, Canada. McMichael plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, coached by Dale Hunter, a former Capital star center.
McMichael said he flew to Washington the day after he was drafted, adding he’ll be able to “soak it all in” once development camp is over. His goals for the week are simple.
“I just want to meet new people, learn what the Capitals organization is all about,” McMichael said, “learn new things and have some fun.”
Gersich’s first camp was days after Washington chose him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. He came year after year while attending the University of North Dakota, and even in 2018, after he appeared in three regular-season games and two playoff contests for the Stanley Cup-bound Capitals.
After a year with Hershey where he was never called up to the Capitals, Gersich knows the importance of this week for guys on the fringe.
“For me, there’s still things I want to work on. I’m not where I want to be yet,” Gersich said. “You want to be up with Washington. So it’s a good chance to get in front of the top guys’ eyes and then show them how much you learned the last year and how much better you got.”
Brooks Orpik, who retired from the NHL Tuesday after 15 seasons, said development camps weren’t the norm when Pittsburgh drafted him in 2000.
“I was talking to some of them (Tuesday), telling them that my first day I guess as a pro was the first day of minicamp,” Orpik said. “I don’t care how confident you are, you’re pretty nervous. You’re playing with all the big guys and you have the ability to do it. But trying to hit Mario Lemieux on his tape is pretty tough when it’s your first day as a pro.”
Orpik’s main advice to the camp participants was to take advantage of the week.
“This is a luxury these guys have,” he said. “There’s a lot of resources, so I think just to use it wisely. Everyone always tells you (your career) goes by quick when you’re younger and you kind of laugh it off, but it definitely does.”