Photo: John McDonald/The Washington Post
As I [NoVa Caps’ writer Diane Doyle] sit here writing this piece on a hot sunny day in July 2020, I think about what the summer season should represent. Normally, early July is the time for Fourth of July (Independence Day) celebrations in America, Canada Day celebrations in Canada, baseball games, and swimming in the backyard pool. To hockey fans, it’s also the time for NHL teams’ Development Camps, in which NHL teams (and their fans) can get a first look at the team’s prospects and recent draft picks.
However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there are no baseball games, swim meets or pool parties, or any other sporting events going on in the USA, outside of golf and NASCAR. And on the hockey front, there are no NHL Development Camps going on, with the NHL Entry Draft itself being postponed. The only professional hockey events are NHL players conducting small group workouts in preparation for the delayed Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As a result, it’s time to reflect on a past Washington Capitals Development Camp from July 2010, and a very memorable camp from the standpoint of the attendees and the events that occurred.
Many of the events were described in the currently defunct blogs, On Frozen Pond and Caps Snaps, although those particular blogs can still be found on the Internet. Events were also described by Peerless Prognosticator and The Washington Post blog, Capitals Insider.
In the past, the Capitals’ Development Camps were held during the middle of July, but in more recent years, the decision was made to hold it the week after the NHL Entry Draft so that prospects outside of North America would not have to make multiple trips to North America.
Back in 2010, the Camp was held from July 12 through July 17. At the time, similar to now, the Washington D.C. area was in the middle of a heat wave. Then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau directed the camp, along with his Assistant coaches Dean Evason, Bob Woods, and Blaine Forsythe (the only one of the above group still with the team). The camp was held the summer after the team had captured the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the league, only to fall in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in extremely disappointing fashion.
The prospects taking part in camp that year included players the Capitals drafted in 2008 such as one of the team’s two first-round picks Anton Gustafsson (son of former Capitals forward Bengt Gustafsson), Stefan Della Rovere, and Braden Holtby, 2009 draftees such as Marcus Johanssson (first-round), Dmitry Orlov (second-round), Cody Eakin (third-round), Patrick Wey (fourth-round), and Garrett Mitchell (sixth-round), and 2010 class draftees Evgeny Kuznetsov (first-round), Stanislav Galiev (third-round), and Philipp Grubauer (fourth-round). There were also prospects from prior drafts including defenseman Joe Finley. Nearly all the draftees from the draft classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010 were present, except for defenseman John Carlson, the team’s other first round selection in 2008, who had earned a full-time role with the Capitals by the time the 2009-10 season ended, and forward Dmitry Kugryshev, a second-round pick from 2008, who had issues getting a visa.
Braden Holtby had played most of the 2009-10 season with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears, although he had been expected to be the starting goaltender for the South Carolina Stingrays, the team’s East Coast Hockey League affiliate, but due to injuries to the Capitals’ primary goalies Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov throughout the season, as well as to fellow prospect Michal Neuvirth, this scenario failed to come to fruition. Some observers were surprised to see him at the 2010 Development Camp, and it was unknown whether the Caps needed another goalie in camp or Holtby wished to get in extra work, as he had gotten Lasik surgery earlier that summer. Holtby had started the first game of the Bears’ run to the Calder Cup Championship and played in two other games but ultimately yielded the crease to Neuvirth.
The 2010 camp was the first time that forward Marcus Johansson, the team’s first-round selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, would be present. Due to prior commitments, he was unable to attend the 2009 camp. I looked forward to seeing him and the other members of his draft class. The 2009 draft class came at a time that was of important note to me, as that was the year in which my younger child graduated from high school (so the prospects of that particular class were ones born during her birth year and immediately prior). This included Johansson who was from Sweden; Orlov who was from Russia; Eakin, a Canadian with flaming red hair; defenseman Patrick Wey, who was attending Boston College; and Garrett Mitchell.
Among the draftees of 2010, I was intrigued by Kuznetsov and made an interesting connection to his last name. One one occasion, I had researched the Russian word for “blacksmith” and discovered it was “Kuznets”. Upon seeing the surname of the Caps’ prized prospect, one of my first thoughts was how I could make jokes about “Mr. Smith comes to Washington” in regards to Kuznetsov. The setup for me was just too perfect.
I was also intrigued by Galiev, the young Russian forward who had played in several Canadian junior leagues, and also noticed that Philipp Grubauer was German, the same nationality as Capitals goaltending great Olaf Kolzig. Among the older prospects, Holtby also evoked memories of Olaf Kolzig, as he too was reputed to be feisty in playing style.
There was also defenseman Joe Finley, a giant-sized prospect who was drafted in 2005, but was set back by a ruptured artery in his hand that required surgery. He was looking at a “make or break” year in camp, as he was starting the last season of his entry-level contract. Finley was also writing a daily diary of camp for the On Frozen Blog, which discussed the activities on ice, as well as the off-ice activities in which the players participated.
Days 1 and 2 (Monday, July 12 and Tuesday, July 13)
From the outset, the prospects were divided into two groups, although as the days progressed, individuals may have been assigned to a different group. Group A included Kuznetsov, Orlov, Eakin, Finley, and Holtby, while Group B included Johansson, Galiev, Wey, and Grubauer. On the first day, Group A practiced in the morning and Group B practiced in the afternoon, with the second day schedule reversed. Practices included drills for various skills, including shooting and defense, and also featured wind sprints and the dreaded “Herbies. Finley reported in his diary for On Frozen Blog that his defensive partner was Orlov and it was a challenge for them to understand each other due to the language barrier at the time.
Boudreau shared his observations on camp attendees. Within Group A, he was impressed with Kuznetsov’s leadership and ability to make a saucer pass on the fly. In his first day observing Group B, he was impressed with Johansson, saying, “It’s my first look at him, and he carries himself like he’s going to be a very good player. He’s got the Nicklas Backstrom stride, almost. He’s a better skater than Nick, but he’s big in the back[side], so you can see where he can control the puck and will be hard to knock off the puck. You can see that he sees the play real well. But, again, it’s one day. It’s an awful lot easier to doing it with nobody in front of you than on Wednesday when guys are taking runs at you.” Overall, Boudreau felt that Johansson had a chance at making the Capitals’ Opening Night roster for the 2010-11 season.
Johansson himself spoke to the media, “It feels good to get going. I feel a little rusty, but you get over it…” In response to questions, he answered that he had spoken to both Anton Gustafsson and Backstrom and admitted he was rooming with the former at Development Camp.
Within the first two days, it was obvious to some observers that Kuznetsov and Orlov were the 2010 camp’s “odd couple”. While it was natural that they were drawn together due to speaking the same language and participating in the same practice group, they were a contrast in personalities, as Kuznetsov’s exuberance was a contrast to Orlov’s more quiet demeanor.
Day 3 (Wednesday, July 14)
Day 3 of camp consisted of an early practice for Group A, a late morning practice for Group B, and then a scrimmage between the two groups at 3:15 P.M. The practices that day did not involve playing with the puck but instead were skate tests, to include an “S” curve test to test speed in making turns, a top speed test, sprint test, and neutral zone agility. Ice conditions were not good that day, due to the extremely hot weather outside.
For the scrimmage itself, Group A was the Red Team and Group B was the White Team. The scrimmage itself was a 4-4 tie that featured two goals and one assist by Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov scored on a redirection and also on a crossing pass. In this scrimmage, all penalties were handled as penalty shots as the players had not yet worked on special teams. It also featured two fights, one involving Finley. Johansson, on the white team, had no points.
Day 4 (Thursday, July 15)
Day 4 featured no practices but a scrimmage at 9:15 AM. Holtby, who did not play in the original scrimmage, played for the white team. The White Team had staked Holtby to a 3-0 lead, but a confrontation between Holtby and Kuznetsov occurred during the second period. The incident occurred after Kuznetsov brushed against Holtby while Holtby had left the crease to play the puck. Holtby had failed to get back to the crease and another player knocked the puck into the net. When Kuznetsov went to celebrate with teammates, he said something to Holtby, who reacted by whacking Kuznetsov in the back of the leg. Kuznetsov grimaced, then got up and had choice words for Holtby.
After this incident, Holtby was not the same. He wandered too far from the crease and gave up another goal, ultimately giving up four goals in two periods. Johansson had a better day than he had the day before, as he scored a goal which tied the game up at 4-4 and nearly scored another goal less than a minute later. The final score in the contest was 6-5, with Galiev scoring the game winner for the White Team.
Boudreau spoke about the incident after the scrimmage. “Kuznetsov is, skill-wise, pretty good but I think we’ll have a word with Kuznetsov. Because in North America you can’t taunt or make funny moves. When he did that, he was having fun maybe, but he gave a little taunt to Holtby. After [the goal], he sort of went, ‘Ooooh’ and laughed him. That’s not going to go well with North American people. …And I’m going to have a little chat with Holtby.”
After the scrimmage, there was an outing to Pev’s Paintball in which the players were divided into Team USA and Team World, with then-Capitals forward Brooks Laich, who was also in town, part of the latter.
Day 5 (Friday, July 16)
Day 5, a Friday, was practice day, with the prospects working on the power play and practicing shooting in breakaway/shootout situations. The day was noted for an incident involving Orlov and Kuznetsov. The two countrymen had finished practice, completed their media obligations, and decided to get lunch. However, Kuznetsov spotted a table full of baked goods that blog readers had prepared for the media. which included red velvet cupcakes. The two prospects ate two red velvet cupcakes in quick succession. Once they had grabbed their fill, they piled plates high with cupcakes to take to the locker room.
Chris Gordon/Caps Snaps Blog
Day 6 (Saturday, July 17)
The last day was the only one I attended, which included the annual Fan Fest. That day’s schedule included an early morning open skate for fans, equipment sales, and activities for children, in addition to the prospects scrimmage. I attended the early morning skate which was relatively uncrowded and I got the pleasure of waving to Joe Finley and Cody Eakin, who were getting ready for the scrimmage. Once the skate was over, I joined a meetup involving several fans who frequented one of the blogs and was able to associate some faces with screen names at long last. On that day, Laich was also a guest who signed autographs at the time the scrimmage was scheduled to begin. I opted against doing that as I already had Laich’s autograph and did not want to risk losing a good seat for watching the scrimmage. In this case, the crowd at the scrimmage was standing room only, with every seat in the bleachers filled and numerous fans standing in the upstairs balcony as well. Immediately prior to the scrimmage, Capitals Majority Owner Ted Leonsis spoke to the fans about the “State of the Capitals”.
The scrimmage itself , which started at 10:00 a.m. was a low-scoring affair in which Team White beat Team Red in a 3-2 shootout. It include two fights, one involving Finley and the other involving Stefan Della Rovere. Andy Miele, a free agent invitee to camp, scored the winning goal in the shootout against Holtby. The game included injuries, with both Anton Gustafsson and Jake Hauswirth leaving early due to injury.
Once the scrimmage was over and after grabbing lunch, it was time to get the autographs of the prospects at camp. That day, they were divided into two separate groups, with the fans standing in one line for the first group and then proceed to the other line to get the rest. The prospects were dressed and each had a name tent in front to identify them. But, when getting the autograph for a prospect with dirty blond hair, I noticed he did not have his name tent in front. As I did not recognize the prospects out of uniform, I needed the name tags to identify them. So, I asked the prospect his name and he answered, “Stalin!” At that point, I figured it must be Kuznetsov. That afternoon, I posted my Facebook status as follows, “Mr. Smith came to Washington, made a great impression, and said he was Stalin.”
In a post scrimmage interview, Bruce Boudreau said the following, “It is hard to imagine another place where three thousand people would come out for a summer scrimmage. It is quite a testament to the enthusiasm of the fan base.”
All in all, it was a very memorable Development Camp, especially in light of what the players subsequently accomplished. Most observers felt that Kuznetsov and Johansson were the prospects, outside of any goalies, closest to playing with the Capitals, but most felt that expecting Johansson to step immediately into the role as a second-line center might be too much to ask and he probably needed more seasoning. Cody Eakin looked as though he would be ready to play in the AHL, at least, but due to age restrictions, would need to return to junior hockey. Holtby looked relatively shaky on occasion but given that he had recently had Lasik surgery, it was understandable. He already had proven his success at the AHL level during a season which he was supposed to be spending in the ECHL. Joe Finley had one last blog entry. He had bought a Brooks Laich jersey and gotten Laich to autograph it. His plan was to have it auctioned off at the golf tournament that his friend T.J. was putting on later that summer. T.J. was a teammate of his with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. In later years, that particular friend became VERY well known to Caps fans.
What Happened to the Main Prospects at Development Camp 2010?
Marcus Johansson – Johansson earned the role of center for the Capitals for the 2010-11 season, generally playing as either a third-line center or second-line center, and served as a first-line center when Nicklas Backstrom missed time with a broken finger. He was moved to top-line left wing starting in the 2012-13 season, and was traded to the New Jersey Devils for two draft picks (a second-rounder and a third-rounder) prior to the 2017-18 season, and currently plays with the Buffalo Sabres. At the time Johansson was drafted, he was perceived to be part of a strong crop of young Swedes from his draft group, which included Magnus Paajaarvi, Matthias Tedenby, Marcus Krüger, and Jacob Markström. As it turns out, he has emerged as the best of the Swedish forwards from that approximate time frame.
Evgeny Kuznetsov – Kuznetsov remained in Russia until the end of his team’s 2013-14 season in the Kontinental Hockey League. The wait for what was long considered the Capitals’ most prized prospect seemed to drag on forever, but during 2014, there were numerous hints dropped on social media that he would finally arrive, including a screenshot of his passport and visa. Kuznetsov finally arrived in Washington in March 2014. The following season (2014-15), he earned the job of second-line center, and was part of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning team of 2018 and remains an integral part of the team’s Top 6 forwards.
Cody Eakin – Eakin made his NHL debut in December 2011, but primarily played with the Hershey Bears that season. He was traded after the 2011-12 season to the Dallas Stars for center Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro ultimately lasted just one year with the Caps. Eakin played with the Vegas Golden Knights during 2017-18 and was part of the team that met the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals. He is currently a member of the Winnipeg Jets.
Anton Gustafsson – Returned to Sweden during the 2010-11 season, playing with the SCL Tigers and has remained in Sweden since then.
Joe Finley – Played with both the Hershey Bears (AHL) and the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) for the 2010-11 season. After that season, he signed a contract with the Buffalo Sabres and played in five games with the team during the 2011-12 season, but mostly played for their AHL affiliate in Rochester. He played in 13 games with the New York Islanders in 2012-13, which marked the end of his NHL career. After that, he played in the minor leagues and overseas in the Finnish League.
Braden Holtby – Returned to the Hershey Bears for the 2010-11 season, but was called up to the Capitals on several occasions, including his NHL debut. He was back with the Bears for the 2011-12 season but was called up by the Caps at the end of the season and served as their starting goalie for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since the lockout of 2012-13, he has been the Caps’ number one goalie.
Stanislav Galiev — Returned to Junior hockey for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Started his professional career in 2012-13, starting with the Hershey Bears but spending most of it with Caps ECHL Affiliate, the Reading Royals. Was with the Bears for 2013-14 and 2014-15 but was finally called up to the Caps at the end of the 2014-15 season. He was with the Caps in 2015-16 but was usually a healthy scratch. Played 2016-17 season with the Hershey Bears and left after that to play in the KHL.
Patrick Wey – Wey was recalled to the Capitals during the 2012-13 season. He suffered a concussion during a fight with Rich Clune of the Nashville Predators that season and never played again. He retired in 2015 and planned to finish his degree at Boston College.
Stefan Della Rovere – Della Rovere was traded to the St. Louis Blues for fellow forward D.J. King, who was expected to serve as an enforcer for Washington, but was barely good enough to even play with the Capitals. He ultimately played in seven games with the Blues for the 2010-11 season, but never appeared in the NHL after that.
(Event recaps obtained from the Caps Snaps, Peerless Prognosticator, and the Washington Post Capitals Insider blogs)
Additional photos from reader Marge (@MargeFro87)
By Diane Doyle