As the battle for the two open jobs on the Capitals’ blue line intensifies, one guy you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on is Madison Bowey.
His ankle is 100-percent.
He dropped a dozen pounds over the summer in an effort to get quicker.
He’s also as determined as he’s ever been.
“You have that extra motivation because you know [that] this year there’s a chance it’ll be your year,” said Bowey, who is expected to make his preseason debut Wednesday night in Montreal. “This year is my best opportunity.”
Indeed, it is.
Bowey might have made his NHL debut a year ago, but a gruesome ankle injury caused by an opponent’s skate blade sidelined him from late December him until mid-March. A week after the 2013 second round pick returned to the Bears’ lineup, he took a puck off the face, suffering two small fractures near his orbital bone in the process.
“Wearing a fishbowl a week after you just got back [from being out] three months was tough,” he cracked.
It wasn’t a completely lost season, though.
“It was the [second round] playoffs series against Providence when I really felt like myself again,” he said. “It was tough. I came back [in the regular season] and felt good and then I started kinda feeling it again. But in that Providence series, I really felt like that was my best, that I was getting back to my game. It was our last series and I ended off on a good note and I felt really good about my game heading onto the offseason.”
Bowey also entered the offseason knowing that he had some serious work to do in order to get his ankle back to 100-percent.
“Injuries happen,” he said. “Obviously, it’s what you do after that injury and how you bounce back. This summer was huge for me in that regard. I really got three months of hard training on and off the ice and I think that went a long way for me. I feel great.”
In addition to rehabbing the ankle, Bowey skated regularly with fellow Winnipeg residents Cody Eakin, Eric Fehr, Jonathan Toews and Travis Hamonic, among others.
Bowey also focused on dropping some excess body fat. Although he already considered himself nutrition conscious, he managed to lose a dozen pounds by cutting carbs and giving up ice cream.
As a result, he’s now listed at 6-2, 198.
“I felt 210 [pounds] was too much for my legs to handle,” Bowey said. “I feel a lot better on the ice and more explosive. I feel more mobile for sure. My cardio is way better than it was a year ago. I can skate well, and that’s huge in this league. Right now you can see the teams that are successful, their ‘D’ are mobile, they like to join the rush and contribute offense.”
He added: “There are two spots open and there’s a lot of great guys competing for it. I feel really confident in myself right now going into the preseason. It’s up to me to really just focus on the little things that I do right and not try to do too much and make sure I know when to pick my spots when the time is right. Hopefully I can help contribute to this team this year.”
One doesn’t have to look very hard to find a spot for Bowey in the lineup. As a right shot, he could fit very nicely on the third pairing alongside Brooks Orpik, a 15-year veteran who could also serve as a mentor for the 22-year-old.
Bowey has put himself in position but it’s no slam dunk that he'll make the opening night roster. He doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, the competition is stiff and Coach Barry Trotz is still waiting to see if he's able to put it all together.
“Probably like all of the defensemen, he’s had some really good moments and he’s had some moments of uncertainty or not so good moments,” Trotz said. “Tomorrow he’ll get an opportunity to be in a game and show what he can do. That’s really what separates everything. He practices well. He moves well. He’s got the skillset to do the right things. But can he make the strength and the skill and the skating translate into productive play in an NHL game? That’s the next step for Madison.”