ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals rookie defenseman Martin Fehervary walks confidently out of the locker room at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, cool and collected after an optional skate. At first glance, it’s hard to remember that he’s only a rookie. The pressures of being a freshman don’t appear to weigh on him.
Reflecting on what led him to this point, he sports a grin as he makes an interesting confession.
“I didn’t want to play hockey when I was really young, you know?” Washington Capitals defenseman Martin Fehervary admits.
A young Fehervary spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ house in the village while growing up in Bratislava, Slovakia. He’d constantly play soccer and keep things “simple,” and fell in love with the game. Ultimately, at the age of four, things changed when his father, Mario, led him to the ice.
“I was really loving the soccer, but father was just really big fan of the hockey. He just said my little brother played hockey, too, so he just said, ‘You doing hockey,'” Fehervary laughed. “And I just went for first practice, and I remember just said right away after practice, like, ‘This is unreal. I want to do it.'”
Fehervary went to the Svišt Hockey School founded by his parents and up until he was around 10, he played forward. However, his coach needed someone to play defense and needed a reliable, smooth skater. He turned to a more-than-willing Fehervary.
From that point on, he never looked back. With the support of his father, who raised him and his siblings after his mother passed away from lung cancer, Fehervary quickly climbed the ranks and made his way to Sweden to continue his development. His skill set and ability as a shutdown, competitive defenseman went unparalleled. And ultimately, he caught the attention of the Capitals, who took him in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft.
While his physical play and fearless play made him noticeable, it was his skating that really stood out — and continues to stand out. It is something that has made him an effective player at the highest level and makes him one of the toughest to match up against.
“Definitely the biggest part of my game. I know when I’m skating, when I’m feeling really good, my game’s way better,” Fehervary explained. “I can join in rush, I can play really good defense with that skating.”
Fehervary never trained with a skating coach, but it’s something that he built on over the years. Still, he can’t really explain how he got so good at it.
“I don’t know, I got really good power in my legs. It just came, I don’t know how,” he smiled.
“He’s an excellent skater. He defends by skating. He closes distances and gaps with his skating,” head coach Peter Laviolette added. “I think he thinks the game really well.”
Coming into the 2021-22 campaign, general manager Brian MacLellan said he expected Fehervary to make the full-time jump to the NHL. Fehervary had been building his game overseas and showed great play in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, picking up 31 points, 61 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of plus-25 through 80 total games. He also got six games with the big club in 2019-20 but spent his shortened campaign with Hershey.
The expectations didn’t weigh heavy on Fehervary, but instead, pushed him to train and work hard in the offseason. He worked on the ice and off the ice, building on his strength and skating. An injury held Fehervary out of the Olympic Qualifiers for Slovakia, but he recovered in time for training camp. The 6-2, 199-pound blueliner came to camp in good shape and impressed with his shutdown ability, smooth skating and maturity.
“I [had] to really prepare for it well, I show up, and I think I was really good,” Fehervary explained. “I was really well prepared, and I had a really good, tough summer. Just practice hard and I just wanted to play in the NHL. I know that I deserved it, and I can be an NHL player. that was just my mentality.”
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Not only did Fehervary make the opening night roster, but rather quickly, he made the jump to the first defensive pairing with veteran and star John Carlson. He has remained a constant this season, as the two have complemented each other well and have found chemistry.
“This has been a guy that we have not protected. We haven’t pulled him off the ice or watched for matchups or changes. He’s handled players of all you know different calibers and he’s been terrific,” Laviolette said of No. 42. “He’s done a great job defensively, he’s provided offensively. We continue to push him to try to get more out of him offensively with his skating and his skills. He’s had an excellent start to the first half of the year.”
Rather quietly, Fehervary has been one of the league’s best rookies. Through 49 games, he has three goals and six assists. He ranks first among rookie blueliners in hits (139) and plus/minus (19), and he sits seventh among freshmen in average ice time per game (19:30 minutes). Additionally, his 76 blocks are the second-highest on the Capitals.
“He’s a young guy, but he doesn’t seem young when he’s out there on the ice. Not many guys beat him in practice or in games,” Tom Wilson said. “He’s such a good skater and he’s helped our team a lot back there this year. I think that’s been an area that we’ve cleaned up a little and he’s definitely a big, big part of it.”
Just your everyday shorthanded, odd-man rush, D-man tally…
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So far, Fehervary’s been living up to expectations, so much that he arguably could have been Olympic-bound had the NHL not opted out. He admitted that he was “a bit jealous” to see Slovakia take home bronze at the Olympics, but he was really excited to see his nation medal for the first time. Still, he’s making the most of his NHL experience, still trying to build on his skillset and soak in wisdom from the experienced group around him. In his spare time, he likes to go carp fishing. He’s also a big fan of rap music but can listen to anything.
“I’m trying to enjoy the life. You know like, my whole life I was just dreaming about to be an NHL player and playing in NHL was really, really a dream since I was really young,” Fehervary said. “Trying to be grateful for it. Just enjoying every game, every practice, being around with the boys like Ovi or Backy, Carly. It’s been unreal for me. I’m just enjoying here and just playing as best as I can.”
Something else that has taken the Capitals aback has been his maturity and ability to play top-pairing minutes and be one of the hardest rookies to match up against, and the team has also enjoyed seeing him continue to expand on his skill set while maintaining his identity.
“Marty’s a great kid. He’s awesome to have around,” Wilson added. “Another guy that’s humble, that puts his head down, that works. And just a ton of fun to have around and see like the guy, the player and the person that he’s becoming. And out on the ice, he’s taken a huge jump, and you know, a ton of responsibility thrown at him… he’s such a good skater and he’s helped our team a lot back there this year. I think that’s been an area that we’ve cleaned up a little. He’s definitely been a big, big part of it.”
“I think you said it: consistency,” Laviolette said with regard to what has made Fehervary so good. “… He’s done a great job defensively, he’s provided offensively. We continue to push him to try to get more out of him offensively with his skating and his skills. He’s had an excellent start to the first half of the year.”
Going forward, Fehervary hopes that he can continue growing his game especially when it comes to joining the rush and contributing on offense. Since being drafted, he has looked up to fellow Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny. Fehervary also believes there’s room to expand on his ability, but in the end, he’s found the identity that he wants to carry with him: a hard-to-beat, shutdown guy. And with that, he thinks that will make all the difference as Washington looks to make a deep run.
“Definitely, that’s my game, and I’m trying to play hard against everyone,” Fehervary said. “You know, that’s what I have to do. I like to going hard. You know, even in practice, I like to compete a lot and try to push ourselves between each other and the team. I think that makes the team better. And obviously, in the game, I’m going always 100 percent. I’m trying to help the team as best as I can. But you know every time I think I can get better.”