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Bowey another step closer to playing for Caps

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Bowey another step closer to playing for Caps

The Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League have produced their share of NHL defensemen over the years, from Josh Gorges and Shea Weber to Luke Schenn and Duncan Keith.

None of those blue liners played in more games (259), scored more goals (58) or produced more points (172) than Capitals top defensive prospect Madison Bowey did in his four years in the lakeside town of Kelowna, British Columbia.

“You hope eventually he’ll be a top four defenseman for us,” Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said during last week’s development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It’s all a process and we’ll see how it works for him.”

“Is Madison the next John Carlson?” Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann asked rhetorically. “We hope so.”

Since taking Bowey in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft (53rd overall), the Caps could not have mapped out a better plan for the 20-year-old blue liner from Winnipeg.

In his first season with Kelowna after being drafted Bowey set a Rockets record for goals by a defenseman with 21. Last season he won a gold medal for Canada in the World Junior Championships and captained Kelowna to the WHL title and the championship game of the 2015 Memorial Cup, where the Rockets lost to the Oshawa Generals 2-1 in overtime.

“It kind of gave me a taste of losing a little bit and it doesn’t feel good at all,” Bowey said of his Memorial Cup experience. “But besides that, it gave me a chance to play at a high level against some of the top teams in Canada for my age group.”

Including regular season, playoff and tournament play, Bowey played in 84 games last season and 86 the year before.

“That’s a lot of hockey,” Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden said. “But you can see how much he’s grown in that time.”

MORE CAPITALS: BROWN RE-SIGNED FOR TWO MORE YEARS 

Bowey, who stands 6-foot-1, has beefed up from 195 pounds in his draft year to 210 pounds. He said he’d like to be in the 210-215-pound range in his first pro season, which is likely to begin with the Bears in September.

“He’s a lot stronger than the guy we drafted,” Mahoney said. “If you go back and look at some of those pictures from draft day and then you look at him now, he’s starting to turn from a young adult into a man. Madison has progressed really well. He’s had a couple excellent seasons since we drafted him.”

Reirden pointed out that when defensemen log the kind of minutes Bowey skated in Kelowna, they tend to make more risky plays, knowing they have the speed and talent to erase mistakes. Bowey said his greatest attributes are his skating and his ability to make a good first pass and he’s working on simplifying his game at the pro level.

“In junior you can get away with trying to do too much and making those mistakes,” he said. “But as I played in the World Junior tournament and the Memorial Cup, you’ve got to really limit your mistakes and really make the simple play.

“You know what? Playing in those tournaments really taught me a lot about making that first pass and not looking off my option when I see a play to make. All week (at development camp) that’s something I tried to do and I think that’s huge in the pro game, especially as a defenseman. You want to give up a limited amount of chances at your own net and try to make the most of the offensive chances at the other end.”

Bowey said he needs to be a little more physical in the defensive zone and close on forwards quicker, two areas he said he will work on this summer when he resumes workouts.

Mahoney and Mann said the real challenge for the organization will come at training camp, where Bowey’s skill set could entice the Caps’ coaching staff to re-route Bowey from a scheduled stop in the AHL to a direct trip to the NHL.

“We’ve always said we’d rather overcook them than undercook them,” Mahoney said. “That’s part of what the American League is, it’s a developmental league. It’s a lot easier to go down there and play a lot of minutes and get the instruction you need and learn from your mistakes and make sure you’re ready to step in and contribute in the NHL.

“There’s a danger when you rush players into the NHL too quickly and we do have a veteran defense, so we’re fine with being patient with our younger players and make sure they’re ready to step up and contribute.”

The Capitals took a similar approach with Carlson and Karl Alzner, who played parts of two seasons (2008-10) in Hershey before playing full-time with the Caps.

“I think we’re going to have to be patient with him to some degree,” Mann said. “It’s not an easy position to play and we could potentially have up to three rookie defensemen (Tyler Lewington, Christian Djoos).

“It’s not ideal off the hop, but Bowey will certainly get that first opportunity. He’s going to play some power play. (Bears assistant coach) Bryan Helmer had a great career (as a defenseman) and I think he’s a great mentor.

“There’s going to be some deficiencies defensively that we’re going to need to work on, but he’s got a great pedigree, almost like a John Carlson-type coming in for us. If you look back at Carly, who I had in Hershey as an assistant coach, to me Bows is in that same category. We’re not going to push him, but we’ll see how far we can take him this year.

“They’re both right shots, both big bodies. I see a difference in his makeup in terms of his physicality. He’s becoming more of a man. The American League is not an easy league and he’s going to have his challenges, but I think if we work with him all year. …

“Is he a call-up guy? We’ll see. It just takes time for defensemen. We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’re up t the challenge.”

Bowey, who will be paid to play hockey for the first time in his career, said he is as well.

“Obviously, this is a dream come true for me,” he said. “The real business all starts now. Every time I step on the ice now I can’t take a night off or a shift off. That’s what the pros are all about and I’m really excited about get going.”

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?