Few players are able to jump right into the NHL when they are drafted, it takes time to develop into a professional player. Some never make the transition from juniors or the AHL to the NHL. Others are only there for a short period before being sent back down. When players do make that transition and start the season knowing they are in the NHL full-time, players are filled with a mix of excitement and relief.
"It's tougher sometimes when you're on that bubble and you don't want to get too tied into one place or another," said defenseman Nate Schmidt. "But knowing I have that opportunity just to focus on where I am right now and kind of get settled in and move out of the hotel and find a place, all those things kind of play a factor."
"I'm really happy to be here because I got sent down a lot of times the last couple of years so staying around this time is a really great feeling and I really appreciate it," said goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
Schmidt and Grubauer are two players making the jump from the AHL to the NHL this season. Both players have seen time with the Caps before, but were unable to crack the regular roster. That appears different this year with Schmidt expected to team up with Dmitry Orlov as the team's third defensive pair and Grubauer expected to be the team's primary backup goaltender behind Braden Holtby.
But making the NHL is one thing, staying there is another. There is a long list of promising prospects who never were able to reach their potential once they made it into the NHL. If players don't realize that reaching the NHL is not the end goal and continue working to improve, they may end up out right back in the AHL.
"It's just more how you handle it as a player," Schmidt said. "For me, it obviously feels great to know you're going to be in this organization, but it's the NHL. It's a business, you have to make sure you produce and be consistent on a daily basis."
For Schmidt, that means pairing up with Orlov to make up for the loss of Mike Green.
Though he was a defensemen, Green's main contribution to the Caps came at the offensive end of the ice. Obviously Schmidt and Orlov will need to play well on defense, but they also have to make sure the team does not take a significant step back offensively as well.
"I think that we're going to surprise some people because we can move the puck so well and get up in the play and skate," Schmidt said.
"Mike Green's a heck of a player. He's irreplaceable, but I think there are some tangible assets that both Dmitry and I are going to bring to the table."
Grubauer will face a very different task as he goes from being the starting goalie in Hershey to the backup in Washington.
"For me it's going to be a different challenge this year because I probably won't face as many games as last couple of years," Grubauer said.
Grubauer played in 49 games last season in Hershey and one with the Caps, 45 the year before that between the AHL and NHL and 56 in 2013-14 in the ECHL, AHL and NHL. Peters, Holtby's former backup, played in only 12 games last season. Clearly, Peters struggled with the lack of opportunities which started a rough cycle. Peters couldn't get any better without more playing time, but he couldn't get any playing time because he was playing so poorly.
It now falls to Grubauer to be able to step in for Holtby whenever the Caps call on him, even if those opportunities are few and far between.
When asked how he would handle his new role, Grubauer said, "Practice, practice, practice. Prepare yourself mentally for the challenge out there and I think that's all you can do."
Schmidt, who played with Grubauer in Hershey, doesn't anticipate that Grubauer will have any trouble adjusting.
"He has that ability to go in and be that star goalie for us that we need him to be or just to pick up the games if Holts can't go."
That was evident last season in the playoffs when Grubauer was called up from Hershey to start Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when Holtby was sick. Grubauer came in and made 18 saves for the win over the New York Islanders in his only postseason appearance.
Both Grubauer and head coach Barry Trotz also mentioned the importance of having the opportunity to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn on a daily basis this season. For a 23-year-old netminder, that level of coaching will be invaluable to him in his NHL career.
While the move to the NHL was long in coming, both Schmidt and Grubauer's stay will be brief if neither player is able to perform. They may have accomplished their dreams of reaching the NHL, but now the hard work really begins.
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