Christian Djoos hit the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Friday morning, joining about a dozen veterans and prospects for the team’s informal practices.
Although training camp doesn’t begin until Sept. 15, players have been trickling back into town in recent weeks for a variety of reasons. Djoos’ reason for showing up early isn’t a hard one to figure out: The opportunity of lifetime is in front of him, and he wants to make sure he’s as prepared as possible.
“It’s a good chance for us,” he said, referring to all of the youngsters who'll be angling for an NHL job later this month. “We just got to make the best of it and take the chance. This year there's a bigger chance for us to play. We're happy about that.”
When Djoos arrived a year ago, the Caps did not have an opening on the blue line. This year there’s a couple of ‘Help Wanted’ signs, if you count the spare, and Djoos has as good a chance as any prospect of earning a full-time job.
“I’m going to come ready to camp and see what happens,” the soft spoken Swede said after the 75-minute session, which included Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Jonas Siegenthaler, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, Vitek Vanecek and Devils’ forward Marcus Johansson.
No one questions Djoos’ skill or ability to produce points from the backend. In fact, he ranked third in the AHL in points by a defenseman last season, racking up 58 (13 goals, 45 assists) in just 66 games.
What no one knows about Djoos, however, is whether his body can stand up to the rigors of the NHL.
Djoos was listed by the Caps last season at 6-0, 164 pounds. He told reporters on Friday that he’s bulked up to 168 pounds and hopes to continue to add weight in the coming weeks. To put that into perspective, consider this: Even if he got up to 170, that would still leave him as the lightest defenseman on the roster…by a lot. Taylor Chorney was the lightest last year at 191.
“For sure, I need to get bigger,” he said. “We’re working on it every day here in the gym and back home over the summer. It feels good, getting bigger and stronger.”
The Capitals have him on a high calorie diet that requires him to eat much more than other players.
“You just got to eat everything almost,” he said. “Not the bad stuff but you gotta eat all the time. Just trying to do that every day.”
He then cracked: “I just got to keep eating, keep eating, work out, then maybe one day just explode and gain some pounds.”
Djoos said he’s learned to compensate for his slight build while playing in Hershey the past two years.
“You kind of have to, especially over here with the smaller rink,” he said dodging big hits. “It’s faster. You got to move your head, look over your shoulder all the time. Of course, you get hit sometimes [but] that’s part of the game.”
Where exactly Djoos fits into the Caps’ plans is TBD. But considering the season he had last year, the team’s need to replace a puck-moving defenseman and the fact that he’d need to clear waivers in order to return to Hershey, there’s a good chance he’ll at least start the season in Washington.
“They want to see me keep playing the game as I did in Hershey,” Djoos said, asked what the coaching staff has told him. “Move the puck good. Good first pass. And still do what we’re going to do in the defensive zone, too. Just got to do the same things and step up a little bit, be a little bit better.”
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