By scoring in his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals, Hendrix Lapierre joined an exclusive club. His goal, the Capitals’ third in a 5-1 season-opening win over the New York Rangers, saw him become Washington’s sixth debutant scorer since 2000.
For the record, Christian Djoos, Nathan Walker, Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Klepis, and an unknown Russian named Alex Ovechkin are also on the list.
“It was so fun,” Lapierre said of his NHL bow. “I was just sitting on the bench before the game looking at everyone and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing, that’s a dream come true.’ To cap it off with a really good win, it was a perfect night and the fans were incredible, the atmosphere was incredible, it’s tough to put into words, honestly. It couldn’t have been better.”
Lapierre has been impactful for the Capitals since the start of training camp. By the end of preseason, he was tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov for the most points on the team (five) and finished joint-fourth in the NHL for assists (five). However, Washington must handle Lapierre’s NHL deployment with care. Here’s why:
Hendrix Lapierre’s CBA Headache
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows NHL teams to test rookie players for nine games. Prospects from the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) can be returned to their junior club at any point in the season before they dress in their 10th NHL game. Once a player has dressed in their ninth game, their contract kicks in, beginning their NHL service and shunting them towards free agency. Lapierre, who is signed in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), is affected by the rule — meaning the Capitals have a situation on their hands.
To complicate matters further, there is an agreement between the NHL and CHL that blocks 18- and 19-year-old prospects from featuring in the American Hockey League (AHL). Lapierre, born in 2002, turns 20 in February, so he cannot feature in the AHL this season.
The choice facing the Capitals is simple: should Lapierre be kept around for nine games or more? At the time of writing, he has appeared twice in the NHL, leaving Washington with seven games to play with until the CBA forces their hand.
What Should the Capitals Do?
The Capitals should stretch out Lapierre’s NHL stint for as long as possible, before sending him back to the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan. With Nicklas Backstrom currently on long-term injured reserve, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has a hole to fill in his line-up, and Lapierre can help him fill it by committee.
Backstrom is struggling with the same hip injury that saw him turn down an invitation to skate for Team Sweden at the 2021 IIHF World Championship and could be out for a while. Connor McMichael could be deployed as the Swede’s sole replacement, but that wouldn’t be wise. The Capitals have an age problem. They’re old — and there is no sense in throwing one youngster into the mix when two are available.
Moreover, McMichael is eligible for the AHL and doesn’t require waivers — meaning the Capitals can demote him whenever they like with no negative consequences. As a result, he’s likely to bounce between the NHL and AHL throughout the season, notching valuable ice time as he goes.
Lapierre, by contrast, cannot move freely. Once his NHL stint is done. It’s really done.
So, the Capitals should use him sparingly — perhaps swapping him with McMichael once every three games — until his nine-game allowance is used up. Doing so would allow both players to make the most of their time on the roster while reducing the pressure on them to make an immediate impact in the NHL.
Moreover, Backstrom could/should/might be ready to return to the line-up by the time Lapierre has completed his nine-game mission. In other words, it’s a waiting game for the Capitals.
T.J. Oshie: “He’s a Super Talented Young Kid“
Aside from the CBA considerations that will drive Lapierre’s deployment, he has made a significant impact on and off the ice. T.J. Oshie, who had the primary assist on Lapierre’s goal, is especially impressed by the Canadian. “He’s a super talented young kid,” Oshie said. “Awesome, awesome, awesome guy. He’s fun to be around. He’s smiling in the locker room. You can tell he’s really enjoying himself. He’s working hard and is very interested in learning from players, from coaches.”
Unsurprisingly, Laviolette has also taken to the 19-year-old. “Lappy made plays,” Washington’s head coach said last week. “He’s a smart, creative player. You can see it in the way he plays the game. I thought that line [Sheary-Lapierre-Oshie] was good [against New York]. It was effective for us.”
For now, Lapierre’s dream run will continue. The boy who grew up idolizing Ovechkin will play two lines beneath him for seven more games. There are happy days for Lappy ahead.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from the UK, who covers the Washington Capitals for THW. He is a recent graduate from the University of Warwick and is currently studying a postgraduate degree in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London. To stay up-to-date with Luke’s work, you can find his tweets via @LukeJames_32.