"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
-- George Bernard Shaw
Some might think it a modest achievement that Eric Fehr set his second best career marks in goals (13), tied for his career best in assists (18), and set a second best career mark in points (31) last season. He set career highs in games played (73) and average ice time (14:45). However, given the journey of the former first round draft pick, 2013-2014 was a fine season.
Fehr, who was the 18th overall pick in the 2003 entry draft, has endured back injuries, multiple shoulder injuries, rib injuries, was traded away, returned as a free agent, and remade himself from a big goal scorer upon his draft by the club to more of a checking line, two-way winger in his current edition.
Fehr found his place last year on a third line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward that provided the Capitals with consistently solid play. There was a consistency in his game as well, despite what might be considered modest scoring numbers. Although he finished the 2013-2014 season with 31 points, he registered points against 21 of the 29 teams against whom he played, including 11 of the other 14 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Fehr did this while learning a new position on the fly. Drafted and playing most of his career as a right winger, Fehr was converted to center under head coach Adam Oates. He was a solid possession player, at least in the context of the team for which he played, finishing fourth among all Capital forwards who played the entire season in Washington in Corsi-relative at 5-on-5 (+2.04 percent). And, he did that while recording the third lowest share of offensive zone starts among forwards (46.76 percent; source: war-on-ice.com). What it meant in terms of performance was that he and his most frequent linemates – Joel Ward and Jason Chimera – all ranked in the top four on the team among forwards in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
Over the last two seasons Eric Fehr has remade himself into a reasonably reliable goal scorer, despite where he has been deployed. Among forwards playing for the Caps in each of the past two seasons Fehr ranks sixth in goals per game (0.19, which works out to 16 goals per 82 games). In fact, since his career best 21-goal season in 2009-2010, Fehr is fourth among forwards currently with the team in goals per game (0.23; minimum 150 games played).
Last season was a career high for Fehr in games played – 73. The nine games he missed was a nine-game stretch in November in which he was a healthy scratch. That might have been a product of his being a minus-8 in his first ten games of the season, although in one of those odd quirks that seemed to populate Adam Oates’ tenure as coach, Fehr was benched after he went 0-4-4, plus-3 in four games.
It is hard to find a lot to fault in Fehr’s game last season if it is placed in context. He was put into a new position that he seemed to accept willingly. He eventually came to play that position on what was not considered a scoring line, perhaps not what was envisioned when he was a prospect years ago. He took to it as well as one could expect. Which is not to say he is a long-term option at that position; his faceoffs might have been better (46.0 percent), and his assists/60 minutes at 5-on-5 (0.99) ranked tied for 80th among centers. It was a good first year at the position, though, especially having to learn it on the fly. It just might not be a long term solution.
The Big Question… Where will Eric Fehr play?
It seems unlikely that the Adam Oates experiment of making Eric Fehr a center will proceed in 2014-2015. It does not mean that Fehr has a position waiting for him, though. He could play on either side of the top two lines or provide some productivity for the fourth line. He could, in a pinch, fill in at center on the third line, but that seems for the moment to be a fall-back position for the club.
Where Fehr plays might depend on how new head coach chooses to deploy Alex Ovechkin. If Ovechkin is redeployed to left wing, where he played before Oates assumed the coaching responsibilities, Fehr could be a top line right winger. If Ovechkin was on the right side of the top line, and Marcus Johansson was to move back into his top line left wing position, Fehr might be on the left side of the second line.
One other thing to wonder about with Fehr this season is whether he will get any more power play time than he has had. Last season Fehr averaged 0:36 a game with the man advantage (less time than Jason Chimera, who had 0:50, and Dustin Penner, who had 0:56)), down from 0:49 in 2012-2013.
In the end…
Eric Fehr has shown himself willing to play any role the team needs. He has played all three forward positions and has played on all four lines in his eight seasons (over two tours) with Washington. What he has not had in any of those eight seasons was a permanent home, a position he could call his. Even last season, when he played primarily center, it seemed a stop-gap sort of move. This season, at least to start, he seems to be once more a man looking for a steady role.
Whatever role he plays, it could be at a bargain. Looking at comparables from capgeek.com in terms of age and value, Fehr is in the neighborhood of such as Cody McCormick, Mike Santorelli, Tanner Glass, Drew Miller, Nate Thompson, Jim Slater, and Gregory Campbell. Fehr compares well to that group, especially given is adaptability and versatility.
Lurking there, though, might be a goal scorer yet. As noted, Fehr has scored goals at a 16-per-82 game pace the last two seasons, and his is not far removed from a 21-goal season (2009-2010). It might get him a look at a scoring line role or on the power play. Whatever role he is asked to play, though, it seems Eric Fehr is ready to give it a shot.
Projection: 77 games, 16-16-32, plus-2
Photo: Bruce Bennett