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Capitals Training Camp Notebook: Eller, Kuznetsov Start Strong On Day 1; Backstrom Out

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Capitals forward Lars Eller impressed in the skate test.

The Washington Capitals officially hit the ice Thursday for the opening day of training camp. Twenty-nine forwards, 18 defensemen and six goaltenders took part in their first official on-ice sessions before taking part in the infamous skate tests.

Here are a few takeaways from the opening day of training camp.

Eller Leads Way In Skate Tests

The Capitals took part in their famous skate test to open their first day of training camp. Players are no strangers to the annual challenge, which Peter Laviolette mentioned was a good way to see which players are in shape and looking strong on the ice.

Lars Eller stood out in the opening test, leading the pack and showing agility and endurance throughout. He didn’t appear to drop off at any point. The Danish pivot said that he’s at full strength.

“I feel really good. I had an offseason that was not interrupted by further injuries or reaggravating anything,” Eller said. “So I had just a good summer of being healthy, good training. I’ve been over here most of the time, so my body feels really good at this point and nothing nagging me right now from last year.”

Tom Wilson was also among the standouts during the skate test, as was Evgeny Kuznetsov, who Laviolette and general manager Brian MacLellan said is in great shape.

Keep an eye on them going forward.

Backstrom Listed As Week-To-Week, Opening Up Possible Spot

The Capitals announced that Backstrom will miss the start of training camp and is week-to-week as he continues rehabilitation on his hip. Backstrom has been dealing with “wear and tear” from a lingering hip injury that dates back to 2015, according to Brian MacLellan. Surgery is not on the table, but he was not on the ice a lot over the summer.

“We will see how he responds here. I think he’s feeling better now,” MacLellan said of Backstrom’s availability. “We will see how it goes over here the next few weeks, a better indication of where he’s at over the next few weeks…  I think anything is a possibility. Depends on how he responds here over the next couple weeks.”

With Backstrom potentially out, there is the opportunity for several players to step up and compete for a roster spot. One of them is Connor McMichael. However, Peter Laviolette pointed out that a lot of players could compete for a spot beyond the 2019 first-rounder. He’s also open to having some wingers play at the center position.

“Somebody’s going to make the team,” Laviolette said. “At some point, we’re going to need players. So without throwing names on the table here, there will be opportunity. And it’s up to players, including Connor, to make the most of that.”

Kuznetsov Ready To Bounce Back For Capitals

Going back to Kuznetsov, he appears to have a positive mindset and is in great shape to start camp. He said that he’s “mentally here” and is ready to put a tough 2020-21 in the rearview, while also using it as motivation.

“It was one of the years you want to forget, but at the same time, you want to remember,” Kuznetsov explained. “It is like when you lose the game in the playoffs or any Game 7, you sit in the locker room and feel that pain. And next year, you don’t want to feel that pain again… you can use that as a target, as a goal.”

Here’s more on what No. 92 had to say about last season, his current mindset and how he looks to return to top form.

Carlson, Kempny Back On The Ice

The Capitals have two key blueliners back on the ice to start this season. John Carlson was dealing with a “chipped or cracked” piece of his kneecap. He had surgery to extract that over the offseason and said he was able to continue training shortly after.

“I think I could kind of start pretty quickly after, not very intense. But it wasn’t like I was laid out for a month or anything like that. In that sense, it wasn’t too crazy,” Carlson said of getting back into training. “I think maybe the first week or two of skating was a little more tame than it would have been, but after those two weeks of skating, it was back on par with everything else.”

Carlson says he’s feeling ready to go and it’s “nothing of worry.”

Michal Kempny is also back skating and is looking to draw back into the defense corps. The 31-year-old was out for the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign after undergoing surgery to repair an Achilles injury. He was conditioning in Hershey to close out the year and work toward a return, but was reinjured when he collided with an ice shoveler during a break.

Still, he is looking to make his mark and draw back into the lineup, while also vying with guys like Martin Fehervary, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Alex Alexeyev to fill Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara’s roles.

“I think he’s an aggressive defender,” Carlson said of No. 6. “He gets up and down the ice great and he’s smart with the puck. I think he’s just one of those in-your-face guys that really helps out the team a lot. It’d be great to see him back… Just to see what he’s overcome and battled through. Rehab is by far the worst thing you could possibly do for anything and especially when you’ve got to come into the rink and we’re going on the ice having fun, joking around with each other and he’s just rehabbing and rehabbing and rehabbing and getting stronger to make it back after the first one. Then this, mentally it is really, really tough.

“But also, the injuries that he has had are not the easiest to rehab. They’re very strenuous and tedious, and it takes a lot of energy and will to do it. That’s the type of person he is, and I’m looking forward to seeing him feel good again.”

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