The Capitals turned in a disappointing effort against the St. Louis Blues on Friday, losing 4-0. However, one, and maybe the only, bright spot was Tyler Graovac. The forward was the Capitals’ best player all night long.
The Capitals traded for Graovac early this offseason to allow the team to protect both Tom Wilson and Lars Eller in the expansion draft. While he was not expected to be an important piece for the team this season, Graovac proved tonight that he deserves at least a closer look for a roster spot on opening night.
“We’re getting to know him as a player and a person, and he’s competing,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “He’s a big man, he was skating well, he was creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done, his faceoffs have been good. We said there’s opportunities and he’s trying to grab one.”
Graovac has moved back and forth from wing to center with the Capitals. While a constant change in position would be tough for some, Graovac has seen it as an opportunity to employ his entire skill set.
“I talked to coach the first day of camp,” Graovac said after the game. “Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward. Just trying to show all aspects of my game really. PK, do the best I can. My defensive side. Tonight try to show a little more offense. My speed. They want speed. Really trying to fill the roles here. Doing the best I can.”
That skill set was evident on Friday. Graovac recorded four shots on goal and two hits, as well as winning nine of 11 faceoffs. He also produced the Capitals’ best scoring chance of the night. Graovac took a pass in the neutral zone and drove wide, getting around the defenseman right to the netmouth. The puck would end up in the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed because it was kicked in by Mathias Bau.
Graovac also showed off his quickness, generating a chance off the rush. From his own defensive zone, he chipped the puck up the ice. He sped past the defender, getting to the puck and again taking it straight to the net.
Showing off his off-the-puck instincts, the center also produced a number of chances, like this one, by crashing the net and causing chaos around the crease.
Graovac showed more than just offensive ability. The center helped break up a number of possible chances against.
Deep in the defensive zone, a Blues player maneuvered past Taylor Chorney. Graovac recognized it and crashed down to meet him, resulting in a hit that knocked the player off the puck.
Graovac showed off his tenacious forechecking as well, fighting for the puck and eventually gaining the puck in a high-danger area.
Although Graovac was not able to dent the scoresheet, he certainly made an impact on the game. If he continues to show that spark, he may well get an opportunity with the Capitals. And, in a new situation, an opportunity is all Graovac wants.
“I was actually at a baseball game playing some slow pitch for the first time,” Graovac said. “I got a call after the fourth inning. The GM Chuck Fletcher said, ‘Grao, we traded you to Washington.’ It was bittersweet. I was with Minnesota since I was 18. We had a good year last year, but I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from, the top place in the West, to the top place in the East closer to home – really I just want to stay here and show what I have.”
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