Theme: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau
It has been a long time coming for Eric Fehr. A scoring machine in Canadian juniors (146 goals in four seasons with Brandon, including 50 or more in each of his last two seasons), the 18th overall pick from the 2003 draft stepped into a scorer’s role with the Hershey Bears in 2005-2006. In that season he put up another 25 goals in 70 regular season games, then added eight in 19 playoff games, one of which was the overtime game and series clinching winner in Game 7 of the Calder Cup semifinal against the Portland Pirates. In 2006-2007 he was on a pace to score 44 goals for the Bears when the injury bug hit.
After taking the ice on January 26, 2007 for a game against Norfolk it would be almost a year (January 9, 2008) until he would take the ice again (coincidentally, against Norfolk once more), the time lost to a back injury. Since then, things have gone slowly for Fehr. He was 3-4-7 in 11 games with the Bears in that 2007-2008 season and 1-5-6 in 23 games with the Caps. The following year he dressed for 61 games with the Caps, recording 12 goals and 25 points. Last season he topped 20 goals for the first time (21 in 69 games), but the most noteworthy aspect of his 130 games with the Caps over the past two years might be his relative lack of playing time. In those 130 games with the Caps he averaged less than 12 minutes a game and seemed to be in the dog house of Coach Bruce Boudreau as often as not.
What Fehr was last year, though, was extremely efficient as a goal scorer. Among forwards dressing for at least 50 games, only three averaged more than Fehr’s 1.48 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (behindthenet.ca). And that is a who’s who of scorers – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Sidney Crosby. Among those same forwards dressing for at least 50 games he ranked in the top 20 percent in goals-allowed/on-ice per 60 minutes (behindthenet.ca). Fehr also was a respectable 8-6-14, plus-8 in 23 games against teams in the Eastern Conference that would make the playoffs.
The one thing that appeared to characterize Fehr’s goal scoring last year was his streakiness. He opened the season with three in his first 14 games, then followed that up with six in eight contests. Then it was an eight-game drought followed up by six in 12 games. One in 12 games was followed by a stretch in which he had six in nine games. He ended the regular season without a goal in his last eight games, but had three in the first six games of the opening round playoff series against Montreal.
Fearless: Fehr’s goal progression with Washington is starting to look like that which he had in juniors. In Brandon he had successive years of 11, 26, 50, and 59 goals. In his first three years in Washington he has had 1, 12, and 21 goals. It is not inconceivable that he could top 25 goals this season.
Cheerless: Four things might have to happen for Fehr to top 25 goals. First, he has to be healthy. He had back and shoulder injuries that were pretty serious matters, part of that slow walk to 20 goals you hinted at. Second, he has to get some power play time. He had three power play goals last season, but he was eighth among Caps forwards last season in average power play ice time, seventh among returning forwards. Third, he’s going to need more than 12 minutes a night. That might be hard to do given how set the Caps are among their top-six forwards. Last, he might have to put up a few more multiple-goal games. Last year he had one, that against Montreal in November that is his only multiple goal game to date in his career.
In the end…
Eric Fehr might be Mike Knuble in waiting. He does not have the bulk that Knuble brings for getting in close and whacking away at loose pucks in the crease, but he has the hands and the size to be the designated big-body on either of the top two lines going forward. If he can find a bit more consistency, avoiding those lengthy stretches without a goal, he could find himself topping that 25-goal mark. The thing is, last year he seemed to put the injury bug behind him. He played in only six of the first 16 games of the season last year, a product of recuperation from shoulder surgery and a rib injury. After that he missed only three of the remaining 66 games of the year.
In July Fehr signed a two-year, $4.4 million deal with the Caps. That is as tangible an indication as any that the Caps have certain expectations for Fehr. He has been a goal-scorer at every stop so far – 146 goals in 279 games in juniors (43 per 82 games), 50 goals in 121 games in Hershey (34 per 82-games), 36 in 178 games in Washington (17 per 82 games). There is a lot of attention being paid to John Carlson as he begins his first full NHL season on the Caps’ blue line. There is a lot of angst being expended over the situation at center on the second line. But if the question is which of the Caps might enjoy a “breakout” season, we are thinking that Eric Fehr – finally – could be that player.
73 games, 26-25-51, +18