Ryan Zimmerman. Devin Thomas. John Wall.
What do each of these players have in common? Each are young superstars, highly touted in their sport, and are expected to be a catalyst on the field – making plays to lead their team to victory. Even though Wall is not an official member of the Washington Wizards roster yet, his addition will no doubt make a tangible impact on the franchise.
These athletes are also united in another way – they each wear the uniform number of 11. Will another #11 be the spark that the Capitals need to reach the next level? The answer lies in Keith Aucoin.
Aucoin, who wears number 20 when playing with the Capitals, is the an energetic- yet undersized- Center for the Hershey Bears that set career highs for goals (35) and points (106) this season. He’s also been asked to five-straight AHL All Star games, he’s the highest-scoring American born player in AHL history, and he hasn’t one more than two games in a row without a point since November 2008. He doesn’t know any other way than to battle, being unrecruited by a college to play hockey, working his way through the ECHL, CHL and AHL after going undrafted, and rising to take the AHL’s Les Cunningham Plaque for league MVP and John B. Sollenberger Trophy for leading scorer this season.
So why is this #11 important to the Caps? He’s already signed to a 2-year extention for the Capitals, freeing up money that might be spent on UFA Center’s Eric Belanger, Brendan Morrison, or Tomas Fleischmann (if he is still concidered a center *shudder*). He “can make all the plays, he’s a smart player and he’s as good with the puck as anyone,” as Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau once remarked. Boudreau also made mentions that other members of the Caps roster should learn from his ethic stating: “Here’s a 5-foot-7 guy, there’s a reason he’s leading the American league in scoring. He’s 160 pounds soaking wet and he’s finishing checks and winning battles against big guys. There’s no reason that our other guys can’t do that.”
So why haven’t we seen more from the 31 year-old AHL superstar? Might be due to precognitions due to his size, or it might be due to the fact that he hasn’t been able to prove himself in the 8:45 TOI/G he played his is 9 appearances with the Capitals this past season. Aucoin also has a “downside” – that he’s been known to pass first instead of shoot – but to me this is very minimal when looking at risk versus reward. Line mates like Eric Fehr (if re-signed) would benefit from playing with not only an experienced line mate, but someone who is strong in the face-off circle and is known for his abilities as an assist man. Additionally, Aucoin’s .68 PIM/G during the regular season (.13 PIM/G in the playoffs) would benefit a team not known for it’s penalty-killing abilities. And most certainly, the Capitals would benefit from a player who has scored at better than a point per game average every year since 2005/06.
We will have to wait to see how the off-season plays out for GMGM, but I know if they are looking for value while filling out their center position – an answer for the third line lies right up the road.