Chuck Gormley

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Capitals think Zach Sanford 'could be ready' for NHL

Capitals think Zach Sanford 'could be ready' for NHL

Among the 30 players who gathered for the Capitals’ development camp earlier this month, no one stood out more than 21-year-old left wing Zach Sanford, and his strong showing could earn him his first pro contract.

At 6-foot-4, 191 pounds, Sanford towered over many of his rookie teammates and excelled in every facet of the camp, from the skills competitions to the final-day scrimmage at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Even though Sanford told me during camp that he was looking forward to his junior season at Boston College, two reports (here) and (here) indicate the Capitals think the Salem, Mass., native might be better served competing for a spot in the NHL in September.

“He’s certainly got an NHL body,” Capitals director of player development Steve Richmond said. “He looks like he could be ready. We’ll see.”

Taken by the Capitals in the second round (61st overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, Sanford has grown an inch and added six pounds in the past three years. Last season he recorded 13 goals and 26 assists for 39 points in 41 games with the Eagles, leading them to the Hockey East regular season title and a spot in the Frozen Four.

“This year was personally really good,” Sanford said. “I set a couple personal goals that I reached, but I think for the team, more importantly, we made it to the Frozen Four, which is huge and always one of our goals. To be a leader and play an important role on that team was definitely really cool for me.”

Sanford said he is a lot bigger and more mature than when the Capitals drafted him, but when asked if he expects to compete for a roster spot with the Capitals in September, he hesitated.

“I really haven’t thought about that much,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going back (to BC) next year and being an upper classman and leading there and take it day by day and see what happens. Just keep getting better.”

It is no coincidence that the Capitals may have an opening at third-line left wing, where newly signed Brett Connolly and rookie prospect Jakub Vrana are expected to compete for ice time. But as Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said, Sanford is two years older than when Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky made the Caps’ roster as 19-year-olds.

“It’s a veteran team, but it’s up to them to come in and turn some heads of the coaching staff and make decisions hard for them,” Mahoney said. “Tom Wilson did it. Andre Burakovsky did it. That’s all part of it.”

During the NHL’s draft combine in 2013, Sanford had the third-lowest body fat content among the 100 prospects at 7.4 percent. At the time he drew comparisons to James van Riemsdyk, a tall, lanky forward taken by Philadelphia with the second overall pick in 2007.

Since then, Sanford had gotten progressively stronger and has developed into an offensive force around the net and along the boards. After being drafted by the Caps, Sanford put up 17 goals and 18 assists in 52  games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, then netted seven goals and 17 assists in 38 games as a freshman at Boston College.

After a breakout sophomore season, the Capitals may be thinking Sanford is ready to play pro hockey next season, if not in Washington then with the Hershey Bears. The Caps have 43 players under contract for next season, well below the 50-man limit. Earlier this month Sanford said he’s starting to feel like a part of the Capitals’ extended family.

“A week every summer definitely helps makes you feel more at home here,” he said. “I think coming back and seeing all of the same faces is really good for all of us.”

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Will Ovechkin follow similar path as Datsyuk?

Will Ovechkin follow similar path as Datsyuk?

If you’ve ever wondered how and when Alex Ovechkin would sever his ties with the Capitals and the NHL, look no further than one of the players he admires most.

On Friday, Detroit Red Wings legend Pavel Datsyuk completed his transition from the NHL to the KHL by signing a two-year, 500-ruble contract to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Datsyuk’s contract is worth roughly $7.8 million in American currency.

Datsyuk, who will turn 38 on July 20, walked away from the final year of his contract with the Red Wings. In 14 seasons in Detroit, Datsyuk recorded 915 points (314 goals, 604 assists) in 953 games, helping the Wings to Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008.

RELATED: WILL NHL CRACKDOWN ON FIGHTING?

Ovechkin, who will turn 31 in September, has five years remaining on the 13-year, $124 million contract he signed with the Caps back in 2008. He has a no-movement clause and will earn $10 million in each of those five seasons.

If he remains with the Capitals through the end of that contract, Ovechkin will be 35 years old and will have played 16 seasons in Washington. Maybe he would have gotten his name engraved on the Stanley Cup a time or two as well.

Ovechkin has said on a few occasions that he would someday like to return to play in Russia and it would be more about his love of country than his love of money. Ovechkin has represented Russia in three Olympics and 10 World Championships and played 31 games for Dynamo Moscow during the NHL’s 2012-13 lockout.

In his 11 seasons with the Capitals, Ovechkin has done everything but lead the Caps to a championship. In 839 games with the Caps he has 525 goals and 441 assists for 966 points. He has another 41 goals and 41 assists for 82 points in 84 playoff games.

So for those wondering, the Capitals’ window to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin is now at five years and counting … backward.      

MORE CAPITALS: HOW LONG WILL THE CAPS STAY TOGETHER?

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Is the NHL looking to cut back on fighting?

Is the NHL looking to cut back on fighting?

By now, you know the drill. The NHL is like the AHL’s big brother, convincing it to ride recklessly down the schoolyard steps before hopping on its bike to do the same.

Sometimes that’s a good thing.

Like two years ago, when the AHL adopted a seven-minute, 3-on-3 overtime. One year later the NHL introduced five-minute, 3-on-3 overtimes and the fans overwhelmingly approved.

Now, in an obvious attempt to cut down on fighting majors and (many would agree) eventually remove it from the game, the AHL will issue game misconducts for “staged” fights and punish those who fight the most.

Under the AHL’s Rule 46:

  • Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.
  • During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.
  • During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.
  • In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the player’s total for this rule.

RELATED: HOW LONG WILL THE CAPS STAY TOGETHER?

Early last season, one NHL coach told me that he believes the NHL will eliminate fighting altogether within five years and that there would be a dramatic drop in open-ice hits in the coming seasons because of head injuries.

He may be at least half right.

Clearly, the days of enforcers squaring off before faceoffs is becoming a thing of the past. And so is the one-dimensional player whose primary role is to protect his teammates by fighting every five or six games.

According to Hockey Fights, last season the AHL had 22 players finish the season with 10 or more fighting majors. The NHL had just four – Colorado’s Cody McLeod (12), Vancouver’s Derek Dorsett (11), the Islanders’ Matt Martin (11) and Montreal’s Mike Brown (10).

Capitals right wing Tom Wilson is a perfect example of an NHL tough guy fighting less frequently. As a rookie in 2013-14, Wilson established himself by dropping the gloves 14 times. The following year he fought 12 times. But last season Wilson was assessed just seven fighting majors in 82 games.

But if you ask most fighters in the NHL, they believe the league is going the wrong way by punishing guys who drop the mitts. In fact, many enforcers think if the league took out the instigator penalty the result would be fewer cheap shots and cleaner hockey.

That’s too old-school to fathom, especially when you consider many players coming into the NHL have never had a single fight in their amateur careers because, well, they’re not allowed.

So, how do you feel about the AHL cracking down on fighting? And, perhaps more importantly, would you watch the NHL if fighting was completely taken out of the game?

MORE CAPITALS: HOW WILL CAPS LOOK NEXT SEASON?