Capitals’ 2020 first-round pick, Hendrix Lapierre, only played in 30 games in junior last season due to the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the QJMHL season.
That lack of playing time does not seem to have paused Lap’s progress. Instead, Lapierre has been one of the most noticeable and impressive players on the Capitals two games into the preseason.
Lapierre, who made his NHL preseason debut on Sunday, has assisted on four of the Capitals’ first six goals. He is making a push to be the guy that gets Nicklas Backstrom’s roster spot if the Swedish center is unable to start the season due to a hip injury.
Lapierre is wearing number 29.
#1 – Secondary assist on Joe Snively goal
Lapierre didn’t have to wait long to get his first preseason point. After winning a faceoff in the Capitals’ offensive zone, Joe Snively potted a rebound in front of the net 4:15 into the game. The goal was the Capitals’ first of the preseason.
#2 – Secondary assist on Garrett Pilon goal
Two periods later, the center showed off his great skating after he gained the offensive zone and sent a slick backhanded pass down the wall to Martin Fehervary. The defender found Garrett Pilon wide open in the slot for a nifty backhander.
#3 – Primary assist on TJ Oshie breakaway goal
Three nights later, Peter Laviolette gave Lapierre a jersey again. The center responded with another two assists. First, the high-end prospect found TJ Oshie wide open for a breakaway. Oshie clanked the shot off the pipe and in.
#4 – Primary assist on Mike Vecchione PPG
Later in the second period, Lapierre registered a secondary assist on a Mike Vecchione power-play goal.
With Nicklas Backstrom likely to start the season injured according to Lars Eller, Lapierre is now in competition with several other veterans and prospects to make the team as the team’s substitute center.
That group includes guys like Michael Sgarbossa (55 NHL games), Brian Pinho (2 games), Garrett Pilon (1 game) as well as prospects like Connor McMichael (1 game) and Aliaksei Protas. TJ Oshie also filled in at center at times last season, but the team prefers to utilize him on the wing.
If Lapierre wins that battle, which now appears to at least be a consideration, he would carry a cheap cap hit ($894k). The Capitals need to consider salary as they’re already snug against the cap. They also need to further consider it if they do not want to put Backstrom on long-term injured reserve. Putting Nicky on LTIR would require him to miss the first ten games of the season. Ten NHL games is an important watershed mark for Lapierre as well because the first year of his entry-level contract would kick in and the Capitals would be unable to slide it until later, meaning they’d lose a year of team control on Hendrix. If the Capitals expect Backstrom to miss 10 games or less, Hendrix could certainly be an appealing candidate to fill the spot.
One of Lapierre’s shortcomings, at least in the NHL preseason so far, is his performance in the faceoff dot. He lost 9 of 11 draws against the Bruins on Sunday. But a day later, the 19-year-old prospect was taken aside by Capitals assistant coach Blaine Forsythe to help improve that aspect of his game.
Hendrix Lapierre is working on the finer points of faceoffs with assistant coach Blaine Forsythe this morning. Lapierre had two assists last night vs. the Bruins but won 2 of 11 draws. #Caps pic.twitter.com/g5xb8KUG1n
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) September 27, 2021
The hard work paid immediate dividends. Lapierre won 10 of his 14 draws against a young New Jersey Devils team, notably going six of seven against former number one overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
Laviolette clearly likes what he sees as he slotted Lapierre ahead of Connor McMichael in the lineup and sent him out as one of the Capitals players in the six-on-five scenario at the end of regulation.
After Wednesday’s game, Lapierre got a huge vote of confidence from Capitals star TJ Oshie.
“I think he’s confident in his game,” Oshie said. “I think it shows on the ice. Just the way he was carrying the puck out there, he looked like he was just playing free and making his reads, and a lot of times they were the right ones. He got the puck deep a few times when we didn’t have numbers and made some great plays when we did. I thought he did a great job tonight.
“I spoke with him yesterday during our skate,” Oshie added. “He kind of came to me and asked if I could help him with anything I saw that he needed to do or change. I just told him to play his game and have fun. Have fun and work hard. That was it. I helped him with one adjustment on the faceoff – a D-zone faceoff. That was it. He played really, really well I thought.”
this kid's 19??! pic.twitter.com/4TN4nxPGYQ
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 30, 2021
Meanwhile, Laviolette said that Lapierre had “another good showing” and improved a lot from his first game, competing on pucks more and showing huge improvement in the faceoff dot. “You could notice his speed with the puck and how he attacked the game, able to generate some offense,” Laviolette said.
“He’s young, but that’s what Training Camp is for. For people to come in and make a case for something. He’s looked good through camp and now he’s gotten an opportunity inside of games and situational play. So far he’s done a good job.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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