Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Unique Capital

Thinking about the trade on Sunday of Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks, if you look back at the history of the Washington Capitals, you could make the argument that Mathieu Perreault is unique.  Perreault is that player who, as the last player the Caps picked in the 2006 NHL entry draft (177th overall)), became “the little player that could.”  Undersized, with all the baggage that goes with that sort of thing in as physically demanding a league as the NHL is, Perreault painstakingly climbed the development ladder, one rung at a time, until he made it. 

After he was drafted, Perreault spent two more seasons with Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before graduating to the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  His apprenticeship at Hershey reflected slow but steady progress in terms of the number of games he played there and those he played when called up to Washington.  In 2008-2009 he spent the entire season in Hershey, playing in 77 regular season games and another 21 in the playoffs.  The following year his games played in Hershey dropped to 56 in the regular season, while he was brought up for 21 regular season games in Washington.  The scales tipped a bit more the next season – 34 games in Hershey, 35 in Washington.

Finally, in 2011-2012, his apprenticeship was complete.  He spent the entire season in Washington, playing in 64 games and surprising with 16 goals, tied for fifth on the team with Brooks Laich. 

Looking back over the draft history of the team, it is hard to find a parallel to Perreault, a player taken in the sixth round who climbed high enough to play in 159 regular season games for Washington.  Only one player from the 2006 draft drafted lower than Perreault – Derek Dorsett (189th overall) has played in more NHL games than Perreault.

If you go back into the distant past of the franchise, perhaps a parallel could be drawn with Wes Jarvis, a 14th round pick in the 1978 NHL amateur draft, and like Perreault, a somewhat undersized center.  He, like Perreault, split time between Washington and Hershey over a three year period, but in his case, the splits weighted more toward Hershey over time, unlike Perreault.  He would be traded in 1982 with goaltender Rollie Boutin to Minnesota for goalie Robbie Moore and a draft pick.  It was a trade of little consequence for the Caps.  Moore played in one game for Washington, and the draft pick became Anders Huss, who never played in the NHL.  Jarvis went on to play in 93 more games for three different teams but not making much of a mark.

Maybe Andrew Brunette comes to mind.  He was a seventh round pick in 1993 (174th overall) whose perceived disadvantage was not size, but speed.  He climbed through the ECHL (with Hampton Roads) and the AHL (with Portland and Providence) before he got his shot in Washington.  He never could seem to catch on, though.  Over three seasons he played in a total of 62 games, recording 18 goals in the process.  He was lost to the Nashville Predators in the 1998 expansion draft.  He developed a reputation for having great hands and a goal-scoring touch.  After leaving Washington he went on to record 250 more goals in 1,048 games with five different teams.

Perhaps Richard Zednik is an apt comparison.  Zednik was a 10th round pick in 1994 (249th overall).  He spent two years with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League before graduating to the Portland Pirates in the AHL in 1995-1996 (he got one game in Washington that year).  He split time between Portland and Washington the next season and graduated for good in 1997-1998.  Once with the team, “Zed” became a fan favorite.  There was quite an uproar when he was traded (with Jan Bulis and a draft pick) to Montreal in the midst of a stretch run for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a draft pick in March 2001.  After leaving Washington, Zednik went on to score another 137 goals in almost 500 games for four teams (including a brief return to D.C. in the 2006-2007 season).

Perreault, however, seems unique.  Just the optics of it.  A slightly built, mop-haired youngster playing center in the National Hockey League in the land of the giants.  A kid who kept plugging at every stop on the development ladder, always (it seemed) dogged by the perception that he was too small or too offense-oriented, to too something else.

But now, he will play on the left coast, reunited with his coach from Hershey and Washington, Bruce Boudreau.  And the return?  John Mitchell (a minor leaguer two years older than Perreault) and a mid-round draft pick.  Not much, it would seem, for a player who averaged 18 goals per 82 games over his last two seasons.  For the Caps, we suspect it will be a trade of no consequence.  The Ducks will get a guy who, if nothing else is said about him, certainly has the virtues of perseverance.

Good luck, Matty.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

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