ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals center Dylan Strome hears the countdown and rushes back to the goal line. He stops on one edge before doubling over, eventually taking a knee and trying to recapture his breath. Aliaksei Protas does the same, and at that point, Hershey Bears forward Ethen Frank is down on the ice, exhausted and lying down as he recharges.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were also doubled over as they left the ice following the final part of Friday’s informal skate: back and forth rushes up and down the ice, likely in preparation for that Sept. 22 infamous skate test that opens camp.
“It’s fun,” Hendrix Lapierre assures me at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase, adding, ‘We always finish with the skates, which is pretty tough. But it’s fun, it’s fun to be around those guys, what they do in the summer… you may think, ‘Oh those guys must play golf all the time and stuff in the summer.’ But it’s actually they care about their body and there’s a reason why they have so much success. It’s good to be with them and to allow myself to be in that position as well.”
Lapierre and good friend Vincent Iorio were present on Friday, as well as Protas, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Carl Hagelin, Dylan Strome, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Joe Snively, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Alex Alexeyev, Brett Connolly, Charlie Lindgren, Peter Laviolette III, Sam Anas and more. The skates have become more crowded, going from about five Capitals to start to about 15-20 depending on the day.
These workouts, though, are by no means “casual.” They’re intense, and players are feeling the effects of it.
READ MORE ON WHN: Ovechkin Safely Back In North America, Joins Washington Capitals
Washington’s sessions kick off as early as 8:30 a.m. Some players take the ice for work with skating coach Wendy Marco. Marco has been working with several Capitals, including Oshie, Lapierre, Lars Eller and more. Lately, though, one player that’s stood out when it comes to his skating is Hathaway.
Hathaway has stayed out for longer to work with Marco, and has also been pushing himself to go hard in the skate tests. His powerful stride is noticeable as he makes his way up and down the ice, forcing himself to escape his comfort zone and get faster. No. 21 is also taking as many pointers as he can from Marco and others as he looks to improve and hasn’t been quick to leave the ice or end practice.
The same can be said for Strome, who looked fast in the skate tests and has been in high spirits while showcasing his quick hands, speed and crafty play so far. He is looking to prove his worth as he begins his one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Another standout is Protas. The 6-6 forward already towers over his teammates, but heading into training camp, he looks bigger. It’s easy to see that he’s put on size and muscle, and it shows as he plays with agility and speed.
But, beyond the standouts, there are leaders and others making a statement. And perhaps the biggest headline on Friday was Alex Ovechkin.
The Great 8 is safely back in North America after spending the offseason in Russia, and his return is a welcome one as he lifted the spirit of his teammates and immediately shifted into the role of the fun-loving but hard-working captain. He led the way in scrimmages, went all-in on drills and caught up with Iorio and his teammates before taking part in the grueling skate testing himself.
Carlson, meanwhile, continues to establish himself as a leader, serving as a role model to the younger guys in attendance while working with Ovechkin and the coaches on ice to help lead by example. Lapierre mentioned that he has also been working with No. 74 in the mornings to get better and get more in NHL shape.
As for other updates, Hagelin was in a non-contact jersey for the second straight day. The 34-year-old left behind the powder blue on Thursday as he looks to come back from a ruptured choroid in March. Hagelin permanently lost some of his vision but will rely on eye training and compensating with his right eye in order to see the puck and get back to playing in NHL games.
Alexeyev, who is coming off shoulder surgery in June, is still in a non-contact sweater.
Lindgren was at informal skates for the second straight day.. No. 79 is rocking a Capitals-themed lid, with a red, white & blue color scheme, the “Weagle” at the crown and “Linds” on the chin. He is making some strong saves and showing that he could be one of the best signings of free agency as he forms Washington’s revamped tandem with Darcy Kuemper.
Training camp officially kicks off on Sept. 21 with physicals and off-ice testing. On-ice sessions begin on Sept. 22. Before that, the rookies will hit the ice for rookie camp from Sept. 15-19.