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Hitting Reset: After Rough Go In Florida, Rybinski Turning Page With Capitals

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Washington Capitals Henrik Rybinski

ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals prospect Henrik Rybinski waits in line, taking a deep breath as he waits for his turn in drills. Once the whistle blows, Rybinski digs into the ice, quick on his edges as he speeds in and goes on the forecheck for a scoring chance. Watching him skate, it’s clear that he’s taken steps to add to his game as he continues his winding road to the NHL.

It’s all part of the hard-working mentality for Rybinski, whose short time in Sunrise with the Florida Panthers led to a complete change in mindset.

“I always told myself I want to get better every single day,” he says matter-of-factly after practice.

Still, he admits that it’s not always easy to stay consistent and stay true to that work ethic, especially when starting anew with a different organization and still having a lot to prove.

“Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you’re tired, you’re sore, you didn’t sleep well, you had a bad game or something,” Rybinski said. “I don’t really try to think of [my goals] in the long term. Just, ‘hey, what am I going to do today to get better? What am I going to do the next day? Just kind of think in that mindset and then when you look back on the year, ‘Oh, I got better at this and that.’ That’s kind of my mentality.”

Rybinski first fell in love with the game at the age of six thanks to his parents, who decided on the name “Henrik” to put a Scandanavian touch on the name “Henry,” an ode to Rybinski’s mother’s Danish roots. He and his dad grew up watching the Montreal Canadiens on TV, where he dreamed of one day skating on the same ice that childhood heroes Tomas Plekanec, Saku Koivu and the Kostitsyn brothers did. And once he hit the ice, things just clicked, and from that point on, he was hooked.

“The passion and love for it just came from playing and going to the skates,” Rybinski said. “It just kind of happened.”

Rybinski worked his way up the ranks and ultimately found himself drafted by the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. However, he’d request a trade in pursuit of more ice time, and in 2018-19, he made his way to the Seattle Thunderbirds, where he had 35 points in 33 games.

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In the middle of a driver’s education course in June 2019, Rybinski’s phone rang. It was his agent, letting him know that while he was in class, the Panthers drafted him in the fifth round. He left in the middle of the course and made it to his hometown rink in Vancouver to do press and put on the jersey for the first time before heading back to class afterward.

The dream had started to come together for Rybinski. However, it would be his post-draft year that would turn his career in an unexpected direction.

In 53 games in 2019-20, Rybinski dished 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points and also racked up 61 penalty minutes and had a plus/minus of minus-14. Taking inconsistency and other factors into account, the Panthers didn’t maintain a lot of interest in Rybinski. So, they left him unsigned, and he ultimately hit free agency.

“I didn’t have a great year my first year after getting drafted, and then COVID hit. And they maybe didn’t see something,” Rybinski said of Florida. “I respect what they saw and then just tried to move on.”

And he did. As a free agent, Rybinski put on a show in Seattle, racking up 21 goals and 44 assists for a career-high 65 points in 47 games. He also had 18 points in 19 playoff games to help the Thunderbirds to the WHL Final.

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While in Seattle, Rybinski garnered a lot of attention from Capitals scout Danny Brooks, who was impressed with his overall play. It led to a three-year, entry-level deal for the 6-1, 172-pound forward.

“Really intelligent player, really smart player. good hands. I think when he was younger, he probably had to work on his strength, which he has done and I noticed the gains he’s made from the development camp to now,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said of Rybinski. “He was drafted by Florida and for whatever reason, they hadn’t signed him… we think we’re really fortunate to get him.”

Rybinski was also happy to not only see his hard work pay off but to get a second chance at the NHL. And this time, he would make sure things went differently in Washington.

“[It’s] the opportunity to chase the dream… every kid wants to play in the NHL. For me, it was kind of having three more years to try and chase my dream that I had since I was a kid,” Rybinski said. “Just a good feeling.”

Going into 2022-23, the 21-year-old assumes that the plan for next season is to lace ’em up for the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He is willing to play center or right wing and has been working on adding a lot to his game. However, for him, the most important thing for him to work on going forward is his shot.

“I’ve always been a pass-first player. I like to dish more than I like to shoot and score. So yeah, just work on how to get open, put myself in a good spot where I can get the puck and score, what technique I should use. Just kind of working on that. So more of a threat for my shot and that would also help me in moving the puck because the opponent has to guess maybe he’s going to shoot it and score or something. So that’s something I’ve been working on and I need to improve still.”

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Beyond that, though, he’s sharpened up on his skating, has gotten faster and isn’t afraid to engage in puck battles. He also has quick hands and a high hockey IQ, and he can make a lot happen in the offensive zone. Off the ice, he’s also been getting more into tennis — which he admits to hating when he was younger — to improve his cardio and vision.

Rybinski will be at Capitals training camp starting Thursday and believes there; he has a big opportunity not just to set himself apart but to learn from the likes of Alex Ovechkin and others and see what it takes first-hand to be an NHL player.

“You realize how good everyone is. It’s not junior; these are the best players in the world. So it’s awe4some to be able to compete with them and get to see what they do and learn from them. Just honestly be a sponge and try to absorb as much information as possible… I just watch and learn from everybody, what everyone has to offer and try to put it together.”

With regard to the road ahead, Rybinski isn’t thinking too far into the future; he’s just sticking to his same mindset.

“I’m just going to go out and play and whatever happens, happens,” Rybinski said with a smile. “I’m just gonna enjoy it and just bring 110 percent every day.”

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