WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a “last chance” showing in the Washington Capitals’ preseason finale against the Philadelphia Flyers, Hendrix Lapierre felt complete.
The 19-year-old is one of a few young forwards still in the mix with training camp winding down. Washington’s current roster sits at 27 and needs to be at 23 for opening night. With a final round of cuts looming, Lapierre is aware of the magnitude of the situation — and welcomes it.
“I think I did everything in my power,” Lapierre said about making the case to stay, adding, “Lots of things to work on obviously, but I feel like I played in my style, I played relatively good and at the end, it is not my decision. But if I leave, I am happy with what I’ve done, and if I make the team, I will be super happy, too. So I really got no regrets and if I look back at it, I am kind of happy with the way I was here.”
Coming off a strong rookie camp, the 2020 first-round pick hit the ground running in training camp. He was showcasing his speed, hockey IQ and playmaking ability in practice and translated that over into game situations. In four preseason games, Lapierre picked up five assists, six shots, four takeaways, two giveaways and a shot block, while also drawing two penalties.
“He’s a smart, creative player. You can see it in the way he plays the game,” Laviolette said.
When it comes to improving, Lapierre still has work to do in the face-off circle. The 6-0, 180-pound pivot won just 18 of 39 draws (46.15 percent) over the course of the preseason but did show improvement down the stretch.
READ MORE ON WHN: How Lapierre Went From Long Shot To Capitals’ Shortlist
He also needs to work on sharpening up his two-way play and adapting to the hard-hitting, physical style that the league has to offer. He got a big taste of that in the Capitals’ brawl-filled victory over the Flyers on Friday.
“It was awesome… I thought it was a really, really good game in terms of intensity, and it really shows what a game is like, what a real game is like, I feel like, in terms of intensity. So it was great to be a part of it,” Lapierre explained.
Right now, there is technically room for No. 29 to make the jump to the NHL roster. Nicklas Backstrom still has yet to hit the ice as he continues to rehab a hip injury, and it appears unlikely that he’ll be ready for the season opener. Taking that into account, Washington needs another center, and Lapierre could fill that void along with Connor McMichael, who seems ready to start the year in the NHL.
Laviolette was interchanging McMichael and Lapierre as the third-line center with Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie, and both proved to have chemistry and fare well there.
Then, of course, comes the question of Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals captain left Friday’s tilt in the first period with a lower-body injury following an awkward hit on Travis Konecny. He was favoring his left leg as he went down the tunnel and didn’t return. Laviolette said that it wasn’t just a precautionary decision to sideline him for the remainder of the game and that he will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
With Ovechkin out, Laviolette experimented with Lapierre on the first-line left wing alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, which could also be a potential solution if Lapierre — or even McMichael — can play the wing.
If Lapierre does start the season up in D.C., he will be able to play nine games with the team before being sent back down or remaining on the roster, which would burn a year of his entry-level contract.
“He’s a super talented young kid. Awesome, awesome, awesome guy,” Oshie said of Lapierre. “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. He’s very interested in learning from players and coaches… I think he’s just gonna get better and better and it’s really fun playing with him.”
Washington is off Saturday and will practice again on Sunday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. The Capitals open their season against the Rangers on Wednesday.