Caps' Knuble: 'It's been a good road'

Caps' Knuble: 'It's been a good road'
December 19, 2011, 1:36 pm
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It might have been humiliating at the time, but Mike Knuble can laugh about it now.

Late in the 1999-2000 season, at the age of 27, Knuble was traded from the New York Rangers to the Boston Bruins for forward Rob DiMaio.

When Knuble arrived in Boston his new teammates shared the story about DiMaios reaction on the team bus when informed hed been traded for Knuble.

They said my name and he said, Who else? Knuble recalled. And they said, No, thats it, Rob.

DiMaios disgust seemed warranted at the time. After all, Knuble had scored just 32 goals in 203 career NHL games. DiMaio had scored 65 goals in 548 NHL games.

Today, its fair to say Knuble is getting the last laugh.

The Capitals 39-year-old right wing will play in his 1,000th NHL game Tuesday night when the Nashville Predators visit the Verizon Center.

In 999 career NHL games, Knuble has scored 271 goals and has assisted on 260 others. Oddly enough, Knuble has scored 221 of those goals after turning 30 years old.

Ive lived two different careers, Knuble said.

The first career was largely undistinguished as a hard-working but light-scoring winger for the Red Wings and Rangers. A 1995 graduate of the University of Michigan, Knuble played sparingly as a 22-year-old rookie on the Stanley Cup champion 1997 Red Wings, but had his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup the following season after playing in 53 games in the regular season and three in the playoffs.

You learn to keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, Knuble said of his first two seasons in Detroit, where he was coached by Scotty Bowman. Thats when guys were starting to work out after games. It was a great experience for a young player. That was just a well-oiled machine.

Knuble cracked the 15-goal mark in his first season with the Rangers but was dealt to the Bruins the following season for DiMaio. Knuble managed just 15 goals in his first two seasons in Boston, but when he was united with Joe Thornton and Glen Murray on the Bruins top line, Knuble experienced a resurgence at the age of 30, scoring 30 goals for the first time in his career.

They changed my career, Knuble says of Thornton and Murray. It was a magical year and Im reminded of it every summer.

That reminder comes in the form of a 2003 Jeep that was awarded to Knuble when Bruins fans voted him as the teams Seventh Man Award.

Since that breakthrough season, Knuble has recorded eight straight seasons of 20-plus goals and has played with some of the games greatest players. He teamed with Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne to score a career-high 34 goals with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 and netted a combined 55 goals in back-to-back seasons playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

When I first met him he was named Out of Control Mike, Capitals defenseman John Erskine said. He was just all over the place. Pucks would go in off his butt, off his head. Thats what you need. Someone who can drive the net like he does. Thats how you create goals and hes made a living doing that.

Despite lacking the speed of his linemates, Knuble has somehow managed to remain effective in and around the crease, a place once considered a power forwards graveyard.

Especially with the rules back in the day, Erskine said. Defensemen were allowed to crosscheck you hard in the back. He took a lot of abuse, Im sure.

For the amount of physical pounding he has taken over the past 16 NHL seasons, Knuble has been remarkably durable. He attributes his overall health to good fortune and a lot of hard work off the ice.

Former teammate Danny Briere thinks theres more to it than that, saying Knuble is the recipient of good karma.

Hes one of the nicest guys in the game, Briere said. Hes one of those guys who put in a lot of work to get to where he is. It wasnt given to him and it wasnt easy for him, but he persevered.

They say good things happen to good people and hes definitely deserving. Im sure all the people who had a chance to play with him are happy for him. Hes honest and hes a hard worker. Hes a gentleman from top to bottom.

Knuble has spent much of this season on the Capitals fourth line and his offensive numbers (three goals, six assists, minus-7 in 31 games) reflect a diminishing rate of return. Knuble is on a one-year contract this season and will turn 40 on July 4, but has not ruled out the possibility of playing one more season in the NHL.

As long as my body feels good, he said. It would have to be the right situation. My role would be a little different than it was a couple years ago, but I still physically feel good and mentally Im still interested in playing.

You never want to make a statement one way or another, but Id be very interested in playing again.

For now, Knuble is trying to make the most of what could be his final season in Washington. He said he has reached a point in his career where he can take a deep breath and appreciate how far hes come since that rookie season in Detroit.

A lot of things have to go right to be around this long, he said. I appreciate it and Im aware of it. Im thankful. Ive been around long enough that I can appreciate it. Its been a good road.