No hockey season ever goes according to plan. Players that were counted on get hurt or underperform and unexpected surprises always emerge.
Last year for the Capitals it was forward Eric Fehr. The one-time first-round draft pick, traded to Winnipeg two years earlier during a salary-cap crunch, didn’t even have an NHL deal. He had to wait until the lockout lifted in early January and signed a contract just before training camp. He wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the roster.
But Fehr, healthy again after yet another shoulder surgery the year before, had produced while playing in Finland during the lockout. He then scored nine goals and had eight assists in 41 games for Washington and signed a two-year contract extension worth $3 million.
That scoring rate (.41 per game) fell short of Fehr’s career best (.57) in 2009-10, but was beyond acceptable for a player signed off the street for $600,000. So who is the Caps’ 2013-14 version of Fehr?
You could argue that player isn’t on the roster yet. Brooks Laich was hurt last season, but if he’s healthy the team expects numbers close to his career norm.
Matt Hendricks was that player when he signed a tryout contract during training camp in 2010 and yet became a key contributor that season. Someone like Mathieu Perreault would count if he became a big part of the power play and put up 45-to-50 points.
Or maybe it’s a rookie like top prospect Tom Wilson or one of the young defensemen. Tomas Kundratek showed some offensive flash last season and had 16 goals in 49 games with AHL Hershey – though with Mike Green and John Carlson ahead of him on the depth chart his power-play time will be limited.
Whenever restricted free agent Marcus Johansson signs – and his agent, Marc Levine, isn’t talking right now – he could be a candidate. But if Johansson is playing top-line minutes with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin he won’t exactly get credit as a surprise even if he far surpasses his career-best 46 points. He’ll more be meeting the expectations imposed on him as a former first-round pick who begins the season still just 22.
So who is your pick? Choose a player – even someone not expected to make the opening night roster - whose emergence as a key contributor would legitimately be an unexpected boost.