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Capitals See Opportunity For Suzdalev With Hershey Bears — If He Wants It



Washington Capitals
Alexader Suzdalev. (WHN File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Last season, Alexander Suzdalev often seemed like an afterthought.

Thirteen months ago he made the jump to North America, joining the WHL’s Regina Pats after two seasons playing in Sweden. Despite Suzdalev’s success — 86 points in 66 games — future No. 1 overall draft pick Connor Bedard drew most of the attention, forcing Suzdalev to play second fiddle.

But even in an offseason with former first-round picks Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre contending for NHL playing time, much of the attention — or speculation, rather — at the Washington Capitals camp surrounds where Suzdalev will suit up this season.

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“The plan would be we’d like to see him make the jump and play in the American League,” Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said Sunday at McMullen Ice Arena, where the team is hosting its rookie camp.

Whether Suzdalev’s talent will ease the transition to the professional ranks was never in question. He was Regina’s No. 2 scorer last season, collecting 38 goals and 48 assists, one year after averaging more than a point per game in the Swedish J20 Nationell junior league.

But playing at 6-foot-3, 171 pounds with the Pats, Suzdalev’s lack of strength raised concerns about his physicality on the ice and whether he would be routinely overmatched — a common sentiment shared about 18- and 19-year-olds around the league.

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“[We wanted him to] get a little bit stronger, be able to be better at holding position in front of the net for deflections or winning more puck battles in the corners, those sort of things,” Mahoney said. “He’s always had the skating and the skill in a sense, but he was a little bit a little bit light.”

Suzdalev reported to camp having added 10 pounds to his playing weight from last season — all muscle, according to Mahoney.

“He actually trained really hard over the summer, too,” Mahoney said. “He’s probably made one of the biggest improvements strength-wise.”

A natural left winger, the numbers game is on Suzdalev’s side with two open spots at the position in Hershey. Having an audience of Todd Nelson, the Bears’ head coach who is leading rookie camp, can’t hurt, either.

“We’ll see how everything works out,” Mahoney said. “It’s up to him. You know, I always say, these kids coming, where are they gonna end up? Well, that’s up to them. Make it difficult on the coaches to make these decisions difficult.”

Capitals rookie camp will wrap up on Tuesday before training camp opens with Thursday’s Media Day. The team will open the preseason slate on Sunday, hosting Buffalo.

Jared Serre covers the Washington Capitals for Washington Hockey Now. He is a graduate of West Virginia University.