Stanislav Galiev knows what he’s up against.
He knows the forward lineup in Washington is stacked with skill and experience. But Galiev also knows what Coach Barry Trotz told him at the end of last season. And that’s why the 24-year-old Russian was one of three Capitals on the ice before 8 o’clock on Friday morning. Two of the players—Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson—were sharpening up for the World Cup of Hockey. Galiev, meanwhile, was getting in some extra skills work ahead of next month’s training camp, which figures to be the most important three weeks of his pro career.
“Trotz told me I have to step up my game,” Galiev said following a 70-minute, high-tempo skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He’s going to give me a chance.”
Last season was a difficult one for Galiev, who made the Capitals out of camp but didn’t have a clearly defined role. Still, he was kept on the NHL roster since he’d be required to clear waivers in order to play in Hersey. And clearing them was no sure thing. As a result, the speedy winger played sparingly in 24 regular season games, accumulating 30 shots, no goals and three assists while averaging 9:07 of ice time.
“It was a tough year,” Galiev acknowledged. “I was happy I made the team in training camp. I knew it was going to be a tough year, that I got to prove it to Trotz to be in the lineup every night. Plus I was a rookie. We didn’t get much injuries. And the team was winning; we were unbelievable. I understand everything.”
“But,” he continued, “I still think that year helped me. I improved myself a lot, even watching the game from on top. I was watching the best players in the world do some small stuff that could help me. Plus I got to practice with the big guys.”
As the 2016-17 season approaches, it’s not any easier to find an opening in the Capitals’ lineup. But, as Galiev said, he can’t worry about the depth chart. He can only worry about performing so well in camp that it forces Trotz’s hand.
“We’ll see where he’s going to put me in training camp, what line, what position,” said Galiev, whose skillset best suits a spot on one of the top three lines. “I’m looking forward to this camp. I’m not nervous at all. I know what I have to do. I have to use my speed. I have to be strong on the puck. I have to make plays. And I have some confidence because I played 24 games.”
Galiev said he hopes his speed and hard right-handed shot—as well as the fact that he can either wing—will work in his favor as he attempts to displace a more experienced (and higher paid) forward.
“I think speed definitely helped [the Penguins], with a couple of young guys,” Galiev said. “You can put the pressure with speed. It’s a lot for the defense [to deal with]. I agree, speed is my biggest strength. So is my shot. I could be really good on the forecheck…first guy on the forecheck and the first guy on the backcheck. That’s what I’m looking to show to Trotz and bring to the team.”
“I can also play left wing,” he added. “I played left wing in junior, so it’s not new for me. I think it’s actually easier for you if you’re a right shot to play on the left wing. In the offensive zone, from a transition, you can step to the middle and take a shot right away.”
When camp begins in a few weeks, Galiev’s contract will become one-way, with a salary of $575,000, and he’ll officially enter the make-or-break phase of his tenure with the Capitals. After the season, he’ll be a restricted free agent.
“It actually helps your mind knowing you’re on a one-way,” Galiev said. “You still have to worry about [things]. But you feel more comfortable going through training camp. And again, I know I have a chance to play, and I’m going to prove to everybody that I can play in this league.”
[RELATED: CAPS TRAINING FOR WORLD CUP]