Hendrix Lapierre is back with the Washington Capitals for his third Rookie Camp appearance since being drafted 22nd overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old forward who took the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Saturday is a far different player from the baby-faced junior star who first walked into the same facility in 2021.
Since that first appearance, Lapierre has made his way into six NHL games, scoring his first NHL goal in his debut as a surprise addition to the 2021-22 Capitals’ roster. Perhaps more importantly, he got his first full year of professional hockey last season with AHL’s the Hershey Bears, where he was an integral part of the Bears’ championship team.
Now, Lapierre says he’s ready to step into a leadership role as one of the “veteran” names at this year’s camp. And he’s using what he’s learned from his past pro experience to help guide him.
“I’m just trying to [be a leader], if guys have questions, be there for them or show the way on the ice,” Lapierre said Saturday. “Today we did drills that we did during the whole season [in Hershey]. I think me, [Vincent Iorio], and [Henrik Rybinski] were just kind of trying to go first to show what the drill looks like. Just little things like that. When I had my first rookie camp a couple guys helped me and now I guess it’s my turn. I enjoy this role.”
During Lapierre’s first rookie camp in 2021, he shared the ice with older prospects like Hunter Shepard, Connor McMichael, Riley Sutter, and Bobby Nardella. All four of those names would eventually become Lapierre’s teammates on Hershey’s 2023 Calder Cup-winning squad.
The coach of that championship squad, Todd Nelson, spoke about the importance of older prospects like Lapierre taking younger peers under their wings over the next several days.
“These guys are kids,” Nelson said. “These junior hockey players; mom and dad take care of them until they move away from home and then they have a billet family. When they’re here, they’re on their own. So, you look at other players to help them out. Guys that have been around because they were in that spot at one point. It’s important having a presence of guys that have been here before.
“It’s simple as, ‘How do we get to the rink? Where are we going for dinner? What are we gonna eat to take care of ourselves?’ So, it’s nice having those guys that have been around take care of those younger players.”
Lapierre got a crash course in leadership from a veteran-laden Bears team that faced multiple deep holes in the playoffs but never wavered. The Bears went down 2-0 in the Cup Final series against the Coachella Valley Firebirds and then quickly went down two goals on the road in Game Seven of that series.
Lapierre credits learning from watching past NHL talent like Dylan McIlrath and Aaron Ness during those moments as invaluable lessons for him moving forward.
“Winning itself is a formative experience,” Lapierre said. “You don’t realize it but just going through the emotions and the ups and downs when you lose a game and you play the day after. We had such a veteran group – you see guys are just so composed and no one has too high or low of emotions. So, for me as a young guy seeing those guys not be stressed and just keep pounding the stone and eventually good things happen. For me, it was eye opening.”
Playing as long as the Bears did, well into June, meant the roster had pretty short summers and the youngest players were unable to attend the Capitals’ development camp in July. To ensure that he’d make it to training camp in tip-top shape, Lapierre says he switched around how he normally trains in the offseason.
He put less focus on strength building and more focus on getting faster and taking care of his lower body.
“I was in Montreal during the summer and I tried something new. It was more focused on moving properly and speed. We knew that if I was only training for seven weeks, weightlifting stuff we didn’t have that much time to go through the phases so it was [more] about moving properly and feeling good on the ice. Whether it’s hand-eye coordination or just my feet.
“At the start I was a little surprised at what we were doing but as the summer went on I started to feel really, really good.”
Nelson agrees with the young centerman, pointing out that Lapierre was easily a standout during a hard first day of practice.
“You can tell the guys that played one season of pro,” Nelson said. “You just can. Just a bit more maturity. That was a very intense practice and [Lapierre and Iorio] were leading the charge. It was maybe an eye opener for some younger players coming in.”
Lapierre recorded 30 points (15g, 15a) in 60 games for the Bears last year. He would add an additional six points (3g, 3a) in 20 playoff games. As things currently stand, the Quebec native is set for another full season in Hershey barring any sort of preseason surprise.
He says he’s prepared for both the possibility of making the Caps’ NHL roster or heading back to Chocolatetown.
“I know that if I have to play 82 games this season I’m ready for it and if I have to play 72 games I’m ready for it. I think our run helped a lot and I’m extremely grateful to have been a part of that team last year.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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