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Caps hopeful talks fish, chickens and toothpaste

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Caps hopeful talks fish, chickens and toothpaste

You don’t need to apologize to Sean Collins if you looked at the 19 remaining forwards on the Capitals’ training camp roster and said to yourself: Who the heck is Sean Collins and why is he still wearing a Caps jersey?

“I don’t mind,” Collins said with a laugh. “I don’t think my name was one of the ones they mentioned as someone who could challenge for a roster spot and that’s fine. I’ve never really been a blue chip prospect. I’ve always flown under the radar.”

That is, until Barry Trotz compares you to Joel Ward, another late bloomer who flew under the radar until the fall of 2008 when Trotz gave him his first real NHL opportunity with the Nashville Predators at the age of 27.

“What I’ve learned with Sean is that he does a lot of things that Joel Ward does along the boards,” Trotz said. “He’s caught our eye.”

Like Ward, Collins, 26, has taken the road less traveled to the NHL. In fact, it’s a road that’s never been traveled.

Signed by the Caps as a free-agent left wing on July 1, Collins, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, began his playing career with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Waywayseecappo is a First Nation reserve in rural Manitoba.

“There are people from Manitoba who never heard of them,” Collins said of the Wolverines.

RELATED: Veteran Caps show their support for Derek Roy

Collins played two seasons in Waywayseecappo and when he recorded 51 goals and 64 assists in 60 games in 2007-08, Brent Brekke, then-assistant coach at Cornell University, invited him to Ithaca, N.Y. for a campus visit.

“The crowd, the campus, everything was beautiful,” Collins recalled. “And obviously, the education there is one of the best in the world, so it was a no brainer to commit there.”

Collins completed his second season in Waywayseecappo and became the first Wolverines player drafted by the NHL when the Columbus Blue Jackets made him their final pick (187th overall) of the 2008 NHL draft.

Three months later he began his collegiate career as a checking-line center on a Cornell team that included Blue Jackets forward Riley Nash and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens.

It didn’t take long for Collins, a finance major, to fall in love with the agricultural school and the hockey program.

“Coming from the prairies of Saskatchewan, you’re a little bit isolated,” he said. “You’re in Ithaca, New York and you’re walking by waterfalls every day on the way to class and you’re within a few hours of New York City.”

But it was the hockey atmosphere that Collins embraced the most.  

“When Colgate came to town, fans threw tubes of toothpaste on the ice,” he recalled. “And when Harvard played us, the fans threw fish at them because they were from Boston Harbor.”

It all started years before, Collins said, when hockey fans from Harvard tied a live chicken to the Cornell goalpost between periods of a game. The next time Harvard visited Cornell, the tradition of fish throwing began – and never stopped.

“They tried to make it illegal for fans to bring fish in, but they’d find a way,” Collins said. “They’d come in the day before and tie fish up in the rafters or hide them under the garbage cans. Whatever they could to get them in.”

On the ice, Collins relished his role as a checking-line center and did not play an offensive role with Cornell until his senior season when he had what he called a “coming out party” with 13 goals and 13 assists in 35 games.

He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets following his senior year and spent the next three seasons splitting time between the Springfield Falcons of the AHL (45 goals, 68 assists in 203 games) and the Blue Jackets (3 assists in 19 games). When it came time for the Jackets to renew Collins’ contract this summer, they opted to let him go.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Springfield and Columbus,” Collins said. “They gave me my start.

“I just felt like I needed to showcase myself to a different organization and see if a fresh set of eyes would see me differently than an organization that had seen me play seven years at development camps. You get pigeon-holed and I think they saw me only as a call-up guy.”

With two more preseason games remaining on the Caps’ exhibition schedule, Collins said he knows the odds of making the Capitals’ opening-night roster may be stacked against him. But if Trotz is already comparing him to Joel Ward, his goal of impressing a new coaching staff already has been realized.

“I just needed a new opportunity, a new challenge,” he said. “I’m really enjoying it. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere coming into a locker room where the expectation is to win the Stanley Cup, and it’s genuine.

“Maybe some other organizations the expectation is just to make the playoffs and here they hold everybody to a higher standard. It’s a great group of guys and I just hope I can find a role.”

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

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What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

If there was one thing the Caps needed to address at the trade deadline, it was defense.

Washington ranks only 20th in the NHL in defense with 2.98 goals against per game. Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos have played well in their rookie seasons, but their play has also been marked with rookie mistakes. To have both in the lineup in the playoffs would present an obvious weakness and matchup opportunities for opposing coaches to exploit.

On Monday, the Caps attempted to address their need for defensive depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny, a 27-year-old blue liner with good skating ability and offensive upside.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS

So what does this mean for the lineup?

Given the immediate need the Caps have on defense, it would not make sense to make a trade for a No. 7 defenseman who won't play. Having Kempny sitting in the press box does not address any of the team's issues on the blue line. Unless Brian MacLellan is planning on making another move, Kempny was brought in to play.

As a left-shot defenseman, he will most likely play on the left. Barry Trotz may ultimately need someone to play someone on their off-side, but asking a player who has played in only 31 games this season to step into a new team and play on the right is a lot to ask.

Let's get this out of the way: Kempny was not brought in to replace Brooks Orpik. His addition will not push Orpik to No. 7 in the lineup. Moving Orpik into the top four, however, certainly does not make this team better. If Orpik is staying put on the third pair, it seems most likely that Kempny will ultimately play to the left of John Carlson.

Here's a possible lineup:

Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Christian Djoos-Brooks Orpik

Extras: Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey

If this is the route the Caps choose to go, this would most likely mean moving Bowey to Hershey for the rest of the regular season as he is still waiver exempt. Placing Chorney on waivers to move him to Hershey, however, would not be out of the question.

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The Orpik-Bowey pairing has looked slow in recent weeks and moving Djoos to that pair provides a lot more mobility. Trotz will ultimately need to shelter the third pair, but it is easier to shelter one defensive pair than shelter two rookies playing on two different pairs which was the situation facing Washington before the trade for Kempny.

Kempny may start on the third pair and have to work his way up, but, barrig any further moves or glaring chemistry issues, the most likely scenario is that we will ultimately see Kempny in the top-four.

A third-round draft pick may seem like a steep price for a defenseman who played only 31 games this season, but he played well whenever he was in the lineup. If he is able to step into Washington's top-four, that third-round pick ultimately will not look like such a high price tag.