Capitals’ Lapierre, McMichael & Fehervary Key to Fast Start

It’s been a good fortnight for the Washington Capitals’ rookie class of 2021. Teenage wonder Hendrix Lapierre scored on his debut. Prospective defensive stud Martin Fehervary also added a puck to his collection, he scored his first NHL goal versus the New Jersey Devils. Connor McMichael has impressed too, notching two assists in the Caps’ 7-5 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Players at the top of Washington’s roster have also excelled. Alex Ovechkin is as prolific as ever. TJ Oshie already has four goals and one assist. Tom Wilson, believe it or not, leads the team in helpers, as he has seven to start the year.

Related: Capitals’ Tom Wilson is More Than Just a Physical Presence

For a team without its star centre, Nicholas Backstrom, the Capitals are certainly in a good place.

Peter Laviolette’s squad is 4-0-2 to start the season. It’s been a strong start and the Capitals’ emerging talents have played an important, supplementary role. If Washington’s form is to be sustained, their rookies must continue to inspire – and it looks like they will.

Lapierre’s Debut Goal Sparked Rookie Surge

Washington’s Calder-eligible gold rush began on opening night when Lapierre lit the lamp against the New York Rangers. “I knew when I called [for] the puck, [Oshie] was going to pass it to me and I got lucky,” Lapierre said. “I just put the puck at the net.”

Fortunately for Lapierre and the Caps more broadly, the puck slid in and the rest is history.

Hendrix Lapierre’s debut goal gave the Washington Capitals a 3-0 lead over the New York Rangers.

“He’s a young kid that maybe wasn’t slotted right away, but you come into training camp and you work hard and you try and make a team, the door opened up with Nick  going on the IR for a little bit and we needed somebody to step up,” Laviolette said of Lapierre’s role.

The Canadian certainly has. Through three appearances to start the season, Lapierre hasn’t looked out of place on the Capitals’ roster. He has injected youthful exuberance into Laviolette’s third line while playing with the discipline of a forward beyond his years.

Although Lapierre is unlikely to spend the whole season in Washington – CBA rules will see him returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League soon enough – his impact on and off the ice will be lasting. He’ll be a full-time Cap in the years ahead.

Connor McMichael: Faceoffs a Work In-Progress

Washington’s other first-round, Ontario-born rookie is also performing well. McMichael is still waiting on his first NHL goal – but it will surely come soon. Through his opening four appearances of the season, the 20-year-old centreman has registered two assists and two penalty minutes. But he has been lively.

“He played a really smart game, a strong game, they controlled a lot of the play out there, possession of the puck and they did some good things,” Laviolette said of McMichael’s performance against New Jersey. “He got better as the game went on, too.”

Connor McMichael, Washington Capitals
Connor McMichael, Washington Capitals ( Sammi Silber / Washington Hockey Now )

Moreover, McMichael will continue to improve since his underlying numbers are fine. He has registered nine shots from fifteen attempts while averaging 12:02 time on ice (TOI) this season. The single biggest area of concern for the Canadian is face-offs. Of the 40 draws he has contested in 2021-22, he has won just 15.

Once McMichael improves in the circle, ideas about demoting him will dissipate.

Martin Fehervary Already Comfortable in Capitals’ Top-Four

On the backend, Slovakia’s Martin Fehervary is having a fantastic rookie year. He has been a constant figure in Washington’s lineup, registering two points (one goal, one assist) in six appearances. Moreover, he has adapted to his top-four role well despite making the majority of his starts in the defensive zone.

Fehervary’s TOI has increased since the start of the season, rising from 17:55 against the Rangers and peaking at 20:34 versus the Devils. The Slovak Winter Olympic hopeful entered the season dreaming of cracking Laviolette’s roster. A fortnight into the campaign, the quality of his performances have seen him become a key player.

Take his goal against the Calgary Flames as an example.

Martin Fehervary lingered behind Tom Wilson, waiting for a drop pass, before scoring the first goal of his NHL career.

As Washington surge up the ice, Fehervary stays with the play in anticipation that a drop pass would come. Once it did, he peeled inside from the right and fired a smart shot into the net as a veteran would.

“I feel every game more confident,” Fehervary said to reporters at Capital One Arena. “I’m playing a lot of minutes. I’m really happy for every chance I got and I’m just trying to do those small things right. Compete, play hard, battle.”’                                                   

Fehervary is an NHLer now, he won’t be going back to the minors.

Capitals’ Rookies Deserve Praise For Early Impact

The Capitals are ticking along nicely. Laviolette’s stars are performing well, the team’s goaltending has improved, and Washington’s rookies are starting to deliver on their promise.

Backstrom’s return from injury will complicate matters for McMichael and Lapierre – but Fehervary is here to stay. Although Washington’s 22-year-old defenceman has garnered less attention than his fellow rookies, he is the young player to watch because of the significance of his role.

Unlike McMichael and Lapierre, who are temporarily stepping into the team to cover for Backstrom, Fehervary’s promotion is permanent. The Capitals approached pre-season knowing that they needed someone to fill Brenden Dillon’s skates – and their Slovakian blue-liner has.

Capitals fans should be encouraged by their team’s fast start to the season. Not only because Washington’s stars are excelling but also because the organisation’s rookies have been a breath of fresh air. Long may it continue.