Making the Leap

The Leap is a two-headed monster. NHL clubs take on a massive risk when they sign a prospect to a deal – especially with bonuses – and even more so if it is one-way. Thus, we think Leap of Faith.

The gamble clubs take mostly factor players’ readiness for the NHL. Top picks like Nicklas Backstrom and Jonathan Toews were not NHL ready in their draft year and they were both top-four picks in 2006. On the other hand, Patrick Kane made a splash in his rookie season – which was his draft year – and won the Calder Trophy. These were not gambles.

Mike Green was.

The Calgary, Alberta native was picked 29th overall in the 2004 draft, the same conscription that included Alex the Great. He toiled in Hershey for the 2004-05 season before getting called up to play 22 games in 2005-06. By 2006-07, there was no indication he’d become the solid rear-guard point producer he was in Hershey. DC was having none of that.

By 2007-08, under the direction of former Hershey chief Gabby Boudreau, the “Green Monster” was unleashed on the NHL.

His entry level contract counted for $833,000 against the salary cap, did not include pats on the back (bonsuses) and allowed the club to bank money for his future. The Leap of Faith the Capitals took made him their top blueliner, powerplay quarterback, and top minute-man on the team. Last season he became a point-per-game defenseman, awesome output for an unpresumptuous call-up during the 2006-07 season.

Not even Detroit could have made that bargain.

The other leap is the players’ bunny-hop into the NHL from prospect status. July 12th signals the commencement of the newest youth movement in the Capitals organization. First-rounders are a-plenty in 2009’s rookie camp. Anton Gustafsson (2008), John Carlson (2008), and Joe Finley (2005) will be vying for a spot on the Capitals’ youtful corps.

The leap to the NHL is tough. Just ask Quintin Laing, Alexandre Giroux, and Keith Aucoin. All had NHL stints that lasted few and far between, despite some success.

Looking forward to the rookie-eligible crop for this year, Hershey’s got some sniping studs waiting in line for their shot at the big time. Two Quebecers that stand out are Francois Bouchard and Mathieu Perreault. Each had unreal offensive output during their  time in the QMJHL (Q). They’re not quite NHL ready yet, but when they were drafted, they were definitely hyped as future elite scoring forwards.

Look for John Carlson and Anton Gustafsson to really challenge for spots straight out of rookie camp. There’s no doubt in this writer’s mind that they’ll be call-ups throughout next season. Assuming Tom Poti’s groin detaches from his body as it seems to have done the past two campaigns, Carlson will see plenty of time in DC. If Jeff Shultz still can’t untangle himself from his own body or unpeel himself from Verizon Center’s ice, the rookie will see over 41 games.

Gustafsson is a Chocolate City-bound boy this coming season. He played in 25 games and had 10 points for his second division Swedish club, Bofors IK. That’s not going to cut it for a second-line center in the NHL, considering that was the expectation when he was drafted last off-season.

Here’s hoping to rapid improvement and development of our rookies, bargain bounties, and a futuristic mid-July week. OH! And to leaps from both players and management.

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