From Rentals to Family
Five months ago, before the NHL went on pause, the Washington Capitals made two acquisitions just before the trade deadline to help bolster both their offense and defense as they prepared for another playoff run.
Forward Ilya Kovalchuk played seven games in Washington before the season stopped and defenseman Brenden Dillon played ten.
Getting traded is an adjustment in the best of circumstances but spending just a few weeks with your new team and then having three months apart before jumping back into the playoffs is a different experience.
But it’s one that may present some upside.
Having months to look at video and a summer training camp to prepare for the playoff gives these new players time to learn the system they might not have otherwise had.
“To watch a little bit more video of certain things, to have conversations in these informal skates we're having for the last few weeks and just to get to know guys. I feel a lot more comfortable already,” Dillon said.
Carl Haglin got traded to the Capitals around the 2019 trade deadline and agreed that having the extra time to learn a new system would be beneficial for his new teammates.
“That's valuable time for them to get used to the system more. Maybe watch some more video with clinic coaches then when you first get traded here. You know, it's hard, you get to watch one video then you got to play a game right away.”
Head coach Todd Reirden said he’s seen a difference in Dillon this summer.
“Coming back he already seems more comfortable going through this a second time. Obviously wasn't a full season that he was with us but he was with us for a number of games, got a feel for us and then took the time away to have a chance to reflect. Now he's come back, understanding exactly what's expected of him and the impact he can have on our team.”
Reirden was impressed with the work he saw Kovalchuk put in over the break and returned to the Capitals one of their best conditioned players.
“His training back in California was really, really high end. I’m certainly proud of him for sacrificing and really doing everything that he can do for him to be able to play a big role and secure that first Stanley Cup.”
Both new players said their new teammates have made them feel welcome since they came over five months ago.
“Off the ice it's easiest to fit-in with the team. I don't know why but it's so easy for me to get to know the guys and hang out and especially because we spent the last ten days before the break on the road, and that helps to grow your chemistry,” said Kovalchuk. “It’s easy especially with all those Russians here and Ovie obviously is the captain. He brings all that energy and he wants the guys to hang out together and be a family.”
Dillion said that over the break his new teammates made him feel like a part of that family.
“Over the last couple of weeks, months, I've definitely gotten a lot closer with the guys. I bought myself an Xbox and I've been having a couple tee times with a few of the guys.”
Veteran Capital T.J. Oshie said it feels like both player have been with the team all season.
“They came in right away and both were awesome. They fit in perfectly. We got Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov, Samsonov for Kovalchuk to kind of help him. But he meshes very well with the North American guys and now the other guys from Europe as well. Dillon, I mean, it's hard not to like that guy, unless you're playing against them. So he fit in really well.”
Oshie also always knows first hand both players can contribute a lot when the puck does finally drop again.
“I never like playing against either of them. Kovalchuk is very, very smart, very patient. I feel like he does a really good job of exploiting a weakness in a defense. And I always thought it was hard, as kind of a 200 foot forward, to defend him.
"Dillon, I had a lot of battles against him and I really hated battling with him down low or trying to get to the net.”