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2023 Free Agency

Run It Back? Free Agent Hunter Shepard Would Welcome Return To Capitals Org



Hunter Shepard, who took home the Calder Cup MVP trophy, will hit free agency on July 1. (Mike Zitek/The AHL)

When free agency opens on Saturday, the market won’t be the first thing on Hunter Shepard‘s mind.

“I’ll probably be fishing on Saturday,” Shepard told Washington Hockey Now, “so I’m gonna try to stay close to the house so I have cell service.”

While Shepard, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to have numerous suitors after a breakout season, a return to the Washington Capitals organization is at the top of the 27-year-old’s list.

“Obviously, the way things went this year, I think it’s a good fit for me, for sure,” he said.

After initially serving as the Hershey Bears’ No. 2 goaltender last season, Shepard took on an increased role during the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs. He started all 20 of the team’s postseason games, tallying the league’s second-best goals against average

For his efforts, Shepard was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, given to the playoff’s most valuable player.

“For me personally,” Shepard said, “this was probably a career-changing year for me … It’s been kind of an uphill battle the last three years, so just to have the opportunity to be up here all year this year and, as the season went on, getting more playing time and obviously the playoffs going the way they did, can’t really ask for a better way to have my first whole year in the American [Hockey] League go.”

With fellow Hershey netminder Zach Fucale departing to the KHL, Shepard would likely lay claim to the team’s top goalie spot if he were to return. The Bears have two other goalies — Clay Stevenson and Garin Bjorklund — listed on the team’s roster, while Washington’s 2018 fourth-round pick Mitchell Gibson, who signed a one-year entry-level contract for next season, also stands to be in the mix for playing time.

Seven other members of the Hershey Bears’ 2023 Calder Cup-winning roster are slated to hit the market, while two others have already signed contracts overseas.

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