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Chandler Stephenson will spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Humboldt

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USA TODAY Sports

Chandler Stephenson will spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Humboldt

The Stanley Cup will travel with each Capital player this summer making stops around the world along the way, but few stops will be as meaningful as the one it will take with Chandler Stephenson.

Stephenson, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, intends to spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

The hockey world was stunned in April with news of a devastating bus crash involving the junior hockey team Humboldt Broncos. A total of 16 people were killed and 13 injured when a truck crashed into the bus carrying the team.

Saskatoon is only about 90 minutes away from Humboldt and Stephenson felt a personal connection to the tragedy.

"I knew a couple of guys on the bus," Stephenson told reporters after Thursday's game.

Every player on a Stanley Cup winning team gets to spend a day with the Cup. To help with the healing process, Stephenson has pledged to bring the Cup to Humboldt. He spoke further about his plans at the team's final media availability on Wednesday.

"That's obviously something that I've been wanting to do and something that's special and close to home for me," he said. "Yeah, it's something that I'm looking forward to."

The crash deeply affected the entire hockey community. "Humboldt Strong" became a rallying cry as did "Sticks out for Humboldt" as sticks were left out all across North America in honor of the victims.

For a tragedy that was felt across the hockey community, it seems fitting that as part of the healing process the Stanley Cup be brought to Humboldt for the victims and their families to enjoy.

Said Stephenson, "When the day comes and the people and family and friends there, it's going to be special."

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

The Capitals had a very familiar look to them when their first group took to the ice for Sunday’s practice. With 41 players on the roster, the team is still split into two groups with each practicing at different times. The first group on the ice Sunday, however, looked an awful lot like what the Caps’ lineup could look like on opening night:

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

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

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

With Dowd playing on the fourth line with the rest of the NHL roster, did head coach Todd Reirden tell us Dowd is the front-runner to win the center job?

Jay Beagle’s departure in the offseason left the team in need of a fourth line center and it has been an open competition all throughout camp. Sunday’s lineup seemed to be the best indication yet which way the coaches may be leaning.

But don’t read too much into that, Reirden said. That job is still very much up for grabs.

“I still think it's a competition,” Reirden said after practice. “The lines will be different tomorrow. We just wanted to do a particular practice that involved that group of more veteran roster guys, it's still definitely a full-on competition. You'll see different players in that game on Tuesday and you'll see different lines tomorrow. That was just by design to get some familiarity with some players that have played in the past together and see how that looked at this stage of camp.”

Dowd also said after practice that he certainly did not take Sunday’s lineup to be any indication of where he may stand with the coaches.

“I spent so much time my first couple years of pro just trying read in to where you are, what's the lineup and it just causes a lot of worry,” he said after practice. “You ask a lot of players, it's just a waste of time. I just find my name and move on and that's the case every day.”

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Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

There is a lot of excitement over Capitals’ new winger Sergei Shumakov.

The transition from the KHL to the NHL, however, may take longer than the preseason will allow.

When Evgeny Kuznetsov heard the rumors about Shumakov possibly moving to the NHL, he was quick to reach out.

“I call his agent and call him and they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple teams,’” Kuznetsov said. “And, then, ‘What do you mean a couple teams? It’s only one team.’ Then, after that, they signed after a couple of days.”

Thus the transition from the KHL to the NHL began.

General manager Brian MacLellan worked to keep the Capitals’ championship roster largely intact and made very few additions to the team.

Nic Dowd was signed on July 1 to compete for the fourth line center role left open by Jay Beagle’s departure. The second addition was Shumakov, a Russian player about to turn 26 with no North American experience.

Shumakov appears to be the latest of the low-risk, high-reward moves MacLellan has routinely made since taking over as general manager. The team took similar chances on Brett Connolly who has become a staple on the Caps’ bottom six and Devante Smith-Pelly who signed in 2017 after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract.

“We see a player that has the ability to score and high-level skill,” MacLellan said of Shumakov. “We're not sure how it translates over here yet. We're just going to let him come in and find his way and put him in some spots and see what he can do."

Shumakov hails from the same town as Kuznetsov, Chelyabinsk, which is why Kuznetsov first reached out to Shumakov to recruit him.

“We’ve been together from 5 to 17 years old and play on the same line, so it’s always nice to have your friend,” Kuznetsov said.

But as excited as he is, Kuznetsov is also not naïve to the challenge that now faces Shumakov.

Fans are understandably excited about what Shumakov can add to the team as a tremendously skilled winger who scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games in the KHL last season. But the transition from the KHL to the NHL can be a challenging one.

What makes it so difficult?

“Everything,” Kuznetsov said. “The language, the game, the lifestyle, the mentality. It’s not easy when you’re 26 and you have to change everything in your life.”

The ice is smaller in North America meaning players have less room to maneuver. That makes the game faster paced and a lot more physical.

It is a transition that not everybody is able to make. For every Kuznetsov, there is a Vadim Shipachyov who lasted only three games in Vegas last season before he went back to the KHL.

That makes the preseason critical not just for the team to evaluate Shumakov, but also for him to adjust to the game.

Camp got off to an inauspicious start as visa issues delayed his arrival. Shumakov missed the first two days of camp and did not hit the ice until the fourth day. There is also a language barrier to work through as he does not speak English. When he finally did get on the ice, Reirden grouped him with the team’s other Russian players who could quickly get him up to speed on everything the coaches were saying.

Shumakov made his preseason debut on Friday and showed he is very much still a work in progress. He took a high-sticking penalty on his very first shift and ultimately finished the game with one shot on goal and no points.

With the regular season looming, Shumakov will likely need more time to adjust than the preseason will allow. One option that the team has, however, is to send Shumakov to the AHL. Not only is Shumakov on a two-way contract, but he is also waiver exempt meaning there is no risk in re-assigning him to Hershey.

The best thing to help Shumakov transition will be to play as much as possible. With the regular season only two weeks away, he may need a trip to Hershey before he is ready.

“He’s a skilled player and he can bring a lot of offensive chances to our game,” Kuznetsov said. 

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