Barry Trotz didn’t like a whole lot about Friday’s 4-0 preseason loss to the Blues.
One thing he didn’t mind so much, however, was the play of 6 foot 5 center Tyler Graovac.
The fourth liner had a handful of scoring chances and finished the game tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four. The 24-year-old also recorded a couple of hits, won nine of 11 draws and saw a prominent role penalty kill.
“He’s had two pretty good games,” Trotz said of Graovac, who made his debut against the Devils earlier this week. “We’re getting to know him as a player and a person.”
Graovac was acquired via trade from Minnesota in June so that Washington could protect Lars Eller in the expansion draft. Given that the Caps already had four NHL centers, it was believed that Graovac would eventually end up in AHL Hershey, despite a one-way contract that will pay him $650,000 this season.
That thinking, however, might need to change after his eye-opening performance against St. Louis.
“He’s competing,” Trotz said. “He’s a big man, he’s skating well, he’s creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done. His faceoffs have been good. We said there are opportunities and he’s trying to grab one.”
Although Graovac is a center by trade, the Brampton, Ontario native said he’d be comfortable skating on the wing if that’s what it takes to win a job.
“Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward,” he said. “I’m just trying to show all aspects of my game really. [Penalty kill]. My defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little more offense. Speed. I’m going to show them everything I’ve got to the best that I can.”
Graovac said he was playing softball when he found out that the Wild, which had selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, had dealt him to the Caps for a fifth round pick. Once the shock wore off, he came to the realization that a change of scenery might turn out to be good for him. He had split the 2016-17 season between the Wild and the minors.
“It was bittersweet,” he said. “I was with Minnesota since I was 18, but I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from a top-place team in the West to a top-place team in the East that’s closer to home…it was a great change for me.”
Graovac heard the reports that the Caps made the move with an eye on the expansion draft. It’s also likely he’s noticed that his name is often absent from media reports about the youngsters who are vying for jobs in Washington.
But he hasn’t allowed any of that to deter him.
“That’s the vision,” he said of claiming a spot on the 23-man opening night roster. “I try to tell myself that every morning. You put a picture on your wall and you go for it. I try not to look into too many things. Washington wanted me for a reason and I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, we got this kid and he can do a couple of things here for us and actually make us better.’”
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