ARLINGTON, V.A. — Hendrix Lapierre balances on his razor-thin blade, using only his edges to navigate center ice as the Washington Capitals prospects compete to be the last man standing. As he makes one final push, he emerges victorious with a smile on his face as he receives stick taps from his fellow prospects and a hug from close friend Vinnie Iorio.
So far through these first couple days of camp, the 20-year-old appears much more confident, fueled by a new drive and passion. He leads the way for his fellow teammates, asking questions, being front and center during huddles and working tirelessly to perfect each drill. And for Lapierre, that’s all part of the plan. And this year, he has one specific goal in mind.
“To make the Washington Capitals is my objective,” he said with a smile.
Lapierre did just that last fall, cracking the 23-man roster after a stellar showing at rookie camp and training camp. He scored his first NHL goal in his debut and got six games. However, he was skating just 9:35 minutes a night and also competing with Connor McMichael. Ultimately, the Capitals decided to send him back to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to continue his development.
“It’s not a negative that we sent him back,” head coach Peter Laviolette said back in November. “You look back at this year and you think about what a great thing. What a great year for a kid and to be able to come in… to stay on our team and to work in and out of the lineup and every day in practice and to be around guys on what it takes to be a pro and what it takes to play in the National Hockey League,” Laviolette noted. “We’ve got some great examples in here and he had great linemates to learn from and all of that is excellent.”
OMG LAPPY GOAL! pic.twitter.com/8JVyK2By2Y
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 14, 2021
For No. 29, the re-assignment wasn’t easy at first. Not only did he have to process emotions and see where he’d have to build on his game, but he was coming into a new team following an offseason trade from the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
“There was a lot of ups and downs, obviously. When I got sent down to the juniors the first couple of weeks were tough. People were saying to me, ‘You’ll probably have a little bit of time where you’re gonna be a little down or off,’ and I was like, ‘No it’s gonna be alright’ But as soon as I got sent down, I was a little sad. Obviously being here was awesome.”
Still, Lapierre picked his head up, stayed in touch with Tom Wilson and other teammates and made sure to take each piece of advice in stride. He had a career year as he broke out and dished 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points in 41 games. He also worked on improving little details in his game and not only sharpened up on his playmaking, but became more confident in his shot and two-way play.
“I’ve always been a glass half full [person],” Lapierre explained. “I think whatever situation you’re put in, there’s a positive to take out of it, and it’ll only make you stronger… [I was told to] arrive ready this year. And that was enough for me to be motivated and eager to learn and get better.
“Season went well. But as I said, I could have been a little more consistent. And obviously we didn’t win, which was the ultimate goal… but you know, I think I got to grow from that and I gained a lot of experience and I’m ready to come back in September and make my mark.”
And Hendrix wins pic.twitter.com/MwCSsZVgxB
— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) July 11, 2022
Not only did a strong year help inspire him, but he also relished his time up with the big club and is on a quest to get to that point again.
“Just being around those guys each and every day and seeing what they do. I mean it’s a veteran group here, a lot of guys from you know 28, 36, 37 years old. They’ve been there for a while; they know what it takes,” Lapierre explained.” So for me as a young kid coming in, I kind of see what to do each and every day that allows them to have success in the best league in the world. Whether it’s just spending extra time in the gym or taking care of your body in the best way you can. So for me, it was really motivating and it was an eye-opening experience.”
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Now back in the District, Lapierre is starting his path toward the roster with a strong first development camp. The 2020 first-rounder is prioritizing putting on size and muscle. He is also focused on two-way play, positioning and awareness as he looks to keep up with players at the NHL level. Last season, he weighed in at 180 pounds. Now, he’s 6-0, 185.
“My strength is probably my number one priority. Just being big and being able to play 82 games against a man every other night. So I think for me that’s my biggest concern,” Lapierre mentioned. “I think I’ve done a lot of progress so far. But there’s still eight weeks left in the summer, so I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to put on some more weight and get ready. Obviously just little things here and there, little details I try to work on.”
Meanwhile Lapierre scores for the Titan: pic.twitter.com/jM9D2prdfA
— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) February 5, 2022
He also stressed the need to add more consistency to his overall game.
“Just every single night, you know, being there. I don’t think it’s a lack of will or anything. It’s just sometimes, you know, nights go better than others. If it doesn’t go after a period well, maybe you just need a reset and then show something out there,” Lapierre explained. “So a little bit of consistency and I think just my general game, you know. In the D-zone last year when I was a center, I had a little bit of trouble sometimes when other teams would do specific movements. I would sometimes just be standing in the D-zone.
“It’s so quick and the guys are so smart that you kind of have to work to make sure you don’t lose too much energy. But at the same time you’re always at the right spot. There’s a lot of things to work on obviously, but that’s the main stuff.”
In the offseason, Lapierre trains in Montreal at Hockey Etcetera with the likes of Joe Veleno, Anthony Beauvillier and more. Right now, he is focused on heavy weights and eating right. And at camp, he is getting to work on his skating and speed.
“It’s really fun. They’re really challenging us out there,” he noted, adding, “As hockey players you got to push yourself every day. I mean, if you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you won’t get better, right… we got to make it count.”
Going into 2022-23, the 20-year-old is aware that a roster spot with Washington is well within reach. Nicklas Backstrom is out long-term after hip-resurfacing surgery, and there’s no timetable for his return. Regarding that vacancy, general manager Brian MacLellan wants to fill that spot from within.
“I feel really bad for Nicky. He was really good with me when I was here and obviously he’s a tremendous player. He’s done a lot of good to the Washington organization… there is a spot. It’s my job to come in and to make sure that I take that spot. And like last year, I just want to arrive at camp, put no pressure in my head. Just play hockey, have fun and outwork everyone and work really hard. I’m confident in what I can accomplish. And it’s a really unfortunate situation with Nicky… if I can be on that team and he’s there at the same time, that would be the perfect world.”
Still, he knows that nothing is guaranteed. There will be a lot of competition, and it’s not just McMichael. Aliaksei Protas also made his NHL jump last season and will want a full-time spot in the lineup. Then, of course, there are other Hershey Bears still waiting for their NHL chance. But in the end, he knows he can only control what he does. And that’s what will make the difference between the Capitals and the minor league.
“I think if I have a camp like last year, I’ll put the odds on my side. If I have to play in Hershey or whatever. I’ll just be ready for whatever I need to do, and I’ll arrive at camp. And whatever happens, happens,” Lapierre said. “But I just don’t want to have any regrets when I finish camp. But it’s a long time. So right now, I’m just focusing on having fun with the boys here and just really enjoying the experience.”