When the Washington Capitals released their 2021 Rookie Camp roster and schedule on Wednesday afternoon, the instant reaction was to scan through the names and see who was invited. Taking place Sept. 18-20 at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, VA, the Capitals will be bringing in 10 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies for the three-day workout. All practices over the weekend will be free and open to the public, as long as they are abiding by local regulations, while the rest of the team will report for physicals on Wednesday, Sept. 22 before the start of training camp on Sept. 23.
Among the 20 players attending camp is 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, who made his NHL debut with the Capitals early last season against the Buffalo Sabres but spent most of the year with the Hershey Bears in the AHL.
Three picks from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will join McMichael at the Capitals rookie camp, while the rest of the players will be comprised of prospects and several undrafted players. With the Caps having rostered 21 of the available 23 spots, it is not likely that many—if any—of these attendees will crack Washington’s opening night roster. However, the rookie camp will still give fans an inside look at what the future holds for the nation’s capital.
Will Connor McMichael Prove He Belongs
A product of Capitals legend Dale Hunter’s development with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), McMichael has all the tools to be a top-six forward for Washington. Although he did see action in one NHL game last season, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Sabres in the team’s sixth game of the season, the majority of his year was spent with Hershey. In his first AHL season, McMichael led the team in goals and points with 14 and 27, respectively.
While the true test will come on Thursday when McMichael takes the ice during full training camp, a dominant rookie camp will go a long way in the eyes of the Washington brass. If he can prove himself to be the best player on the ice during every drill, battle, and scrimmage over the weekend, it will be almost impossible for the Capitals not to roster him coming out of training camp.
Who Will Step Up Between Hunter Shepard and Ryan Bednard in Goal
When Hershey signed goaltender Ryan Bednard to a one-year, AHL contract last month, the message was loud and clear from the Washington front office to Bears’ third-stringer Hunter Shepard. There will be a competition to back up Zach Fucale and Phoenix Copley as the organization’s goaltender of the future.
Both Bednard and Shepard spent a majority of last season in the ECHL and did see limited action in the AHL, Bednard went 1-1-0 with a 2.61 goals against average (GAA) and .915 save percentage (SV%) in two games with the Syracuse Crunch, while Shepard posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.00 GAA, .969 SV%, and one shutout in three games in Hershey. Bednard had a slightly better season in the ECHL, going 20-6-8 with a 2.43 GAA, .917 SV%, and four shutouts over 35 games played, whereas Shepard went 12-6-2 while posting a 2.55 GAA, .922 SV%, and one shutout in 21 games.
All this to say that the competition between these two will be at the forefront of thoughts as the rookie camp unfolds. Bears head coach Scott Allen and his assistants will be the staff that is overseeing the weekend camp on the ice, which should give both goalies extra incentive to be at their best. While the true competition will be between Fucale and Copley at main camp should either Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek go down this season, this weekend will provide a glimpse into what depth awaits the Capitals in the crease.
Can Vincent Iorio, Dru Krebs, and Hendrix Lapierre Make Some Noise
While most of the eyes will be on McMichael and fellow 2019 Draftee Aliaksei Protas, there will also be a lot of interest in what the 2020 and 2021 draft classes can do at camp. Although the Capitals have Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehérváry waiting for their shot in main camp, the play of Vincent Iorio and Dru Krebs over the weekend could create good problems for Washington to have. With a current defensive core that has an average age of 30.9, Capitals fans are excited for the prospect of multiple young defensemen knocking on the door. Should Iorio and Krebs have a great rookie camp and showcase their skating, shooting, and playmaking abilities that got them drafted in the first place, they will have a serious chance to contend for a roster spot in main camp.
Finally, Hendrix Lapierre, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft will have ample opportunity to showcase his “top-ten talent” according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Along the same lines as McMichael, should Lapierre dominate in the rookie camp, he could very well make an argument for a spot on the roster throughout the preseason. Pairing his quick hands with great vision, Lapierre has a natural playmaking ability that could be invaluable on this year’s Capitals team. While injuries have been a constant setback for the 19-year-old, a successful rookie camp could be all the confidence Lapierre needs heading into the 2021-22 season.
This weekend will feature many storylines that will eventually play out over the next few years for the Washington Capitals, as fans are able to get the first sneak peek at what is to come. As a team that is stuck between a potential rebuild and one final run at a Stanley Cup with its current roster, any type of success from this weekend will be well received in DC.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Detroit Red Wings, hosts The Grind Line and THW Podcasts, and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.