Washington Capitals centre Jay Beagle has been in D.C. for the entirety of his 10-year NHL career. Since 2008, he remains a constant in the dressing room and on the ice; and though he’s played with a lot of the same players for the last few seasons, this year is a bit different following some fairly major changes to the Caps roster.
“It’s exciting. I mean, y’know, this group has been together quite a while. The team in the past has been set usually going into training camp, maybe one spot open,” Beagle told Sporting News “So, it’s a different dynamic, it’s a different feel to it this year. It’s exciting and I think it’s always good when you have a kind of season… like we did to kind of have some youth come in and have a little refresher.”
A New-Look Team in the Nation’s Capital
So far, Beagle’s right. This season is unlike ones that preceded it for the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, who finished with 120 points two seasons ago and 118 last year.
The Capitals are just 8-6-1 in their first 15 games, following their third consecutive victory, Monday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Arizona Coyotes.
Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt are no longer with the team, and last spring’s rental, Kevin Shattenkirk, also departed during an offseason where general manager Brian MacLellan had to make major personnel decisions in consideration of salary cap ramifications.
MORE: NHL mixed bag: Moving on from Duchene trade, finally
MacLellan did resign free agent T.J. Oshie and add role players, like Devante Smith-Pelly. However, the Caps placed much more emphasis on giving opportunities to youngsters within their system this season. Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey all are rookie contributors at the NHL level now.
As one of the leaders and veterans on the team, Beagle said he is always ready to help the prospects as they transition to the next level, but ultimately, he doesn’t see himself as a teacher because the Caps’ up-and-comers already possess strong skillsets.
“All these guys are really good players,” Beagle said. “It’s just a matter of if they have questions, I’ll assist them, something like that. If they ask a quick question, I want to be there to help them with that, but we got a great group of young guys who are all great players, so anything I can do to kind of help, I try and do that.”
While also serving as a role model to his teammates, the 32-year-old centre set a number of goals for himself this season. Though he didn’t make too many changes to his offseason regimen, he did put more work into handling the puck and improving his hands, in addition to getting faster and stronger in order to keep up with the rest of the league.
“The game is so fast now,” Beagle said. “It’s a speed game and you know, we have a lot of young, fast guys. That’s what you need because every other team is getting faster.”
His work around with puck and stickhandling is improved this year. He is seeking to build on last year’s career-high 13 goals, 17 assists and 30 points. So far, he has five points (2-3-5) in 15 games, and is one point shy of 100 in his career.
However, for the 6-foot-3, 218-pound two-way forward, his primary focus continues to be killing penalties. He leads all Capitals forwards in shorthanded time on ice, averaging 3:33 minutes per game on the PK.
“Penalty kill is my main role, that’s what I do,” Beagle said. “I want to be the go-to guy for penalty killing and do a job. Over the past couple years, we’ve had the top-five [PK] in the league, so I definitely want to kill.”
Establishing a Culture
Off the ice, Beagle makes himself a positive influence in the locker room and said that the team makes an effort to bond and spend time together away from the rink.
“When you go on the road, y’know, you’re together and going out for dinner and stuff. Just being yourself, getting to know guys,” Beagle said. “We’ve had a great group of guys here for the last four, five years. It’s been a lot of fun.”
MORE: Matt Duchene’s Senators debut: When, where, how to watch, live blog
Whether it’s road trips or team dinners, Beagle emphasized the importance of fostering relationships with his teammates, especially with a lot of the players being a long way from home.
“You try to make it like a family, because, y’know, a lot of us don’t have family here,” Beagle said. “It’s nice to just be close with the guys.”