Hope For Eminger

Caps defenseman Steve Eminger played in just one of the team’s first 21 games this season. Since Bruce Boudreau took over as Washington’s interim coach last week, Eminger has played in one of three games. Even though he will not be in the lineup for Wednesday’s game with Florida, Eminger finally sees a glimmer of hope for himself. Boudreau has said that he wants all 23 players to play, and wants all 23 to feel like they’re part of the team. After spending much of the first quarter of the season in limbo, that’s music to Eminger’s ears. Playing once or twice a week is far better than playing once a month.

“It’s a chance,” says Eminger, “and I guess that’s what I didn’t get in the first two months was a chance. That’s all that we could ask for. We have eight defense[men] here and everyone has to play. Everyone can contribute. If that’s the role that we’re going to be put into, I don’t think guys are going to complain. Obviously you want to be there every night and you want to be playing every night, but we have healthy bodies that are going to contribute so if that’s going to be the game plan, you’ve just got to be ready and be ready to step in when it’s your chance.”

Eminger played in Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres. It was just his second game this season and his first in the team’s last nine games. We wondered whether it was harder for him physically or mentally.

“Both,” says the 24-year-old rearguard. “I was talking to people, talking to my dad after the game, and I said, ‘Playing, you don’t know what to expect.’ It might be kind of silly listening to this, but you almost forget what a bodycheck feels like, you almost forget what a one-on-one is going to be like, what a two-on-one is going to be like. You can do it in a practice, but a game is completely different. You get what is referred to as tunnel vision where you just see straight ahead of you and that’s it. I’m not seeing guys on my side and that’s going to come by playing.

“When you’ve played two games in two months, I don’t care if you’re Scott Niedermayer coming back. I think you’re still going to need that time to get adjusted. Hopefully the coaches can bear with me. I know myself that we’re closing in on 30 games and you don’t have that time to have those mistakes and make those mistakes. But I might need some time to get into that groove. Already in practice today after [playing in] this game I felt better already.”

The first of Washington’s three first-round draft choices (12th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Eminger made the Caps in the fall of 2002 as an 18-year-old kid on what was then a pretty good Capitals team. After 17 games with the parent club, the Caps excused Eminger to play in the World Junior Championships. He was then returned to his junior club, the Kitchener Rangers. Eminger helped lead Kitchener to a Memorial Cup championship, often playing 30-35 minutes a night. The book on him was that he would become a solid and steady NHL blueliner for a decade or so.

Eminger split the 2003-04 season between Washington and the club’s AHL Portland affiliate. After a strong start with the Caps in 2005-06, he leveled off and then suffered a bad ankle injury in mid-January. Just as he was hitting his stride again, the season ended. Last season, he was scratched several times, including six consecutive games in February. Washington won only one of those games, and was 2-9-3 in the 14 games in which Eminger did not play last season, regardless of the reason.

This fall, a training camp ankle injury limited him in the preseason and he started the regular season on injured reserve. The Caps started the season with three straight wins, but even after the losses began piling up, Eminger remained out of the lineup. He finally made his 2007-08 debut in Atlanta on Nov. 6, but was right back in the press box then next night and every game since since until Monday.

Hindsight is 20/20 and there will always be a debate about whether the Caps might have done more or might have done things differently with Eminger. You don’t see many 24-year-old former first-rounders being buried by teams that drafted them, especially when that team is at the bottom of the league standings. It can’t be good for a player’s confidence.

“I don’t think it’s a positive thing on your confidence,” he admits, “not playing and feeling that you’re not wanted. It’s a different feeling. It’s a frustrating feeling, because the only thing that you want to do is play and play for the team. The way that I always look at things and look at life is things work out for a reason. You still try to figure out what’s going to evolve around this, why did this happen, what’s going to happen with your career. But like I said, things always happen for a reason and hopefully something positive turns out out of this.

“I have confidence in myself. I know what I can do. When I get in that groove, when I get a shot, when I play games, when I get back into it, I know what I can do. It’s just a matter of — and it seems like I am — getting that shot. With Bruce here, he told us we were all going to play and I guess that’s the shot I need.”

Eminger skated just under 10 minutes against Buffalo. He appeared to be skating well, and he picked up an assist on Washington’s only goal. He was a minus-2 on the night, but about the worst thing you could say about is performance is that he was trying too hard to make an impression. It’s understandable.

“A couple of unlucky plays there,” he reflects. “I guess you can hold back on your first game or you can get involved. I was playing on a lot of adrenaline, I was really excited and I wanted to get after it and get involved.”

He would have been just minus-1, but he parked himself on the bench just as Alex Ovechkin scored. Although he assisted on the goal, Eminger did not get a plus-1 on the play.

“Yeah, I just stepped off,” he says. “[Defense partner John] Erskine and myself just stepped off as he scored.”

Eminger knows he can play better, and he knows the team can play better. Right now, he is happy to be feeling like he is part of the team again and looking forward to what the rest of the season holds.

“[I] definitely feel rejuvenated,” says Eminger. “It does feel like the start of the season to me in a way, because obviously I haven’t really started the season. This feels like a start to me, that’s the way I am looking at it. I woke up today and I felt good, even though I wasn’t in awe of my game [Monday]. But I felt good. I felt back with the team, and back with that hopefully winning attitude. I haven’t won this year, and I want to win.

“When we were losing, I felt bad. I felt bad for the guys. But it didn’t feel like I was really losing. When we won, it didn’t feel like I was winning. It wasn’t like the rotation that we’re going to be in now. I’m not in tomorrow, but when we lose or win, I am still going to feel it. I haven’t had that feeling this year. Getting that feeling, anyone who has been part of a team knows what I am talking about.”

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34 Comments on “Hope For Eminger”

  1. Chopseuy Says:

    Mike, I had some discussions in these boards last on Eminger. I’ve always thought he is not good enough to be playing with the big boys on a consistent basis. Him and Beech were responsible for more opponents’ goals, giveaways, and unnecessary penalties last year, in my opinion. You insisted that he is a very talented young player that needs more time to develop, I’ve always thought that the team has given him ample time to show what he can do for the team already. Obviously, Hanlon didn’t see anything in him to give him ice time even when he was healthy and the team was struggling. At least Sudsy had a goal in the only game he played in. Emmy had an awful game against the Sabres. I still don’t see why he should replace any of the dmen on the roster, as bad as some are. cough Erskine cough…

    I’m still waiting to be proven wrong.

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    You’re entitled to your opinion and I respect it. I’m more or less pointing out that the Caps could be doing a better job of managing their young blueline assets. Most years, you only get one first-round pick. You ought to do everything possible to help them (and the later round picks) succeed.

    Eminger himself said he could have played better than he did on Monday, and I know that’s the case. Two games in 52 days. That’ll happen. Coaching changes sometimes have a positive effect on certain players. One thing’s for sure, this change won’t hurt Eminger any.

  3. Jed Says:

    I really like Eminger. When he has gotten into something that resembles a groove, I’ve seen glimmers of what could be. I know that he hasn’t played great hockey for the Caps thus far, but I really believe that they rushed him into the league before he was ready, and he needs the time that he would have had in the minors to develop. There are very few defensemen who come into this league and are really good right off the bat. It is a much, much harder position than offense and I really don’t think that people understand that unless they’ve played hockey. Most defensemen don’t actually come into their own until their 3rd or 4th season in the league, if you take into account the fact that the Caps may have brought him up too quickly, he may still need a year. But, defensemen are too valuable a commodity to just give up on. Give him time, and games, and I still think he’ll come around.

    By, the way, Mr. Vogel and I are not the only ones who like him. The Hockey News selected Eminger as their “break-out season” selection for the Caps at the beginning of the season (though, knowing that he wouldn’t get to play the beginning of the season might have changed things a bit). And, I’ve heard numerous guys on XM sing high praises for him!

  4. Scai Says:

    Eminger has gotten more than his fair share of “shots”. In fact for the last two seasons he was flat out handed a top 6 spot. Two seasons should be enough time to show you belong in this league. Unlike Green, Jurcina, Morrisonn, Schultz he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities he got. Eminger has noone to blame but himself for sitting on the sidelines now.

  5. K Says:

    I think both Emminger and Sutherby got a raw deal this year by Hanlon. I don’t know why but I’m all for giving Emmie a chance with a new coach who may be able to help him develop into something great. I mean look at how well Sutherby is doing now that he’s moved on. I think with the rebuild going on and such that a lot of younger players didn’t get the oppurtunity to develop as they should have in the AHL and are therefore being hurt now by that lack of oppurtunity. I believe in BB, he’ll turn this team around!

  6. MrSmitty Says:

    Defensemen take longer to develop than forwards. At 24 years of age, you have to give him a few more years to reach his full potential. And to judge him over the past two years is also difficult because he has not had much help from veteran blueliners. Pairing with Erskine or Shultz will not make his numbers look any better even though he might be playing well. While he has his share of bad games, tell me which one of the Caps defensemen hasn’t? They have all looked pretty bad at times.

    I’d like to see Emminger have another two years to develop. He has the skills, he just needs experience.

  7. KV Says:

    Currently we are losing…Allot! I’ll let Boudreau try anything at this point. With the lineup the Caps have it’s ridiculous to lose this much. If one player has a bad game it shouldn’t cost them. Eminger is not so far off each night to even warrant this discussion. Kolzig has been slowing down a great deal the last few years but you wont see too many fingers pointed there, even after pucks go through the 5 hole on routine shots. Overall I think the D is playing well. You can’t win games with 1 goal.

  8. chopseuy Says:

    Emmy scratched again tonight…Schultz, who has the weakest shot in the NHL, is playing instead…Schultz, who has less experience than him, is playing instead…Erskine, for crying out loud, is playing instead…

    Fact: Mike Green who is 2 years younger, has 2 years less experience, and who also has been “rushed” into playing in the NHL, is poised to become this team’s legitimate stable number one dman.

  9. Jim Says:

    giving up 3 goals is more important for a d-man than assisting on 2. we’ll see if he wants it, he has to BOTH use his brain and play hard.

  10. MrSmitty Says:

    While I like Green, he still has to play better in his own end. He has a great offensive upside, but he is still careless in his own zone. Of course, that goes for just about all of the D-men wearing the Red, White & Blue this year.

  11. strungout Says:

    Trade him…while he still has some value.

  12. don Says:

    I am not one to blame one person very often for a loss (think Gonchar vs Pitt in the playoffs) but it seems Emminger cost 2 or three games at least last year single handedly. Giving the puck up right in the slot inside our blueline and with nobody but the GK behind him. It just seemed he did it too often.

    By the way, what is it with the Russian forwards and their stick handling skills. Semin and Koslov both will make unreal moves through traffic and then literally whiff or just leave the puck behind after the great moves–kinda weird.

  13. don Says:

    What value?

  14. bill ball Says:

    Eminger could potentially shine with an experienced and steady D partner. We saw this with Witt.

    Last season’s gamble of playing too many young D at once and bolstering them with only a few veteran journeymen was a constant train wreck. It’s very difficult to develop guys this way. I think it was more or less a wasted season for Emmy and others.

    Jettisoning the journeymen was good, but bringing in yet another offensively minded D man for this season has improved passing, but hasn’t steadied the back line so much.

    It seems you have to pay through the teeth for a good stay at home guy, grow your own, or make a trade.

    Until we need that last piece, I doubt mgmt will overpay. Growing guys takes time. Alzner and other stars from the rookie camp can’t save us now, and probably not next season either. Trades are few in this league right now.

    You know what you’re getting with Erskine.

    That last pairing is going to continue to be dicey lest we see some exponential development from Schultz or Emmy, or some changes in the roster.

  15. gawferstud Says:

    He’s done. He can’t handle the puck, he hesitates and won’t hit anybody. Not a good formula for success in the NHL.

  16. JB Says:

    who cares about Eminger, I think that should be the least of your worries in the White Horse.

  17. DMP Says:

    K, Im a caps fan from Canada so I am usually subjected to watching game highlights and get the rare treat to watching an actual caps game. So I’ll say straight off I’ve never really seen Eminger play I’ve only read the reviews on him and it sounds like some where in there is a really great defenseman.
    However he has no one to learn off of, its hard to get top results when you have kids teaching kids. So for the defense I think they should bring in some more experience. Pittsburgh brought in Recchi and Roberts for Crosby the phenom and if Sid the kid needs someone to learn off of I an only think the young Washington defense need someone to learn from as well. Another example Dion Phanouf one of the great defensemen in the game today has never played with without someone with experience. Hamrlik, Regher, and Aucoin. Those three have a lot to do with the player Dion has become.
    For an even quicker fix to the the problem, new goalie. Yes, Kolzig is good but not number 1 good anymore Joseph Belfour and the other top goalies of Kolzig’s time have retired, so either have him take up the bench or move on from the game, I think he could do well teaching younger goalies the pipes but is too aged to be doing it himself. Something that should’ve been done 3 years ago.

  18. KV Says:

    I agree with DMP, we die-hard Cap fans tend to favor the big man in goal quite a bit. There have been plenty of goals allowed that have been mainly from an off night in goal rather then the D. NHL.com as well as other media have done many articles on how well the young Caps D has been. It’s worth asking the question, would the caps lose as many games with a younger guy such as DiPietro or Lundqvist? And I will state again, you can’t win games with 1 goal.

  19. pch49 Says:

    I agree that he has had his moments, but IMO is still worthy of ice time. Poti has been in the league almost 10 years now and has pulled off a couple of real bone head plays this year, so personally I’d stick with him.

    he has a pretty decent set of wheels and can push the play up ice pretty well, but needs to be paired with a boomer dman (Erskine for now). also the Caps wingers have to stop hanging their dmen out to dry with turnovers and coverage breakdowns. Lecavlier, Jokinen, Kovalchuk and Hecht have killed us as a result this year.

  20. WLP Says:

    I’ve always liked Eminger, and have always thought the guy would become a great d-man. but these last few years, we havn’t had anyone worthwhile in the back to groom these guys. i also think Green would be much better right now if we had a stronger influence in the back. Now that we have Poti, and now that the new coach is actually trying different things, hopefully Poti will have a strong influence on these guys. I still think we need at least 1 more strong veteran to help groom the young guys we have.

  21. SLEP Says:

    Play him or trade him, but if he’s just going to sit, they might as well take him around back and shoot him because sitting him kills any ability he may have once had or hope for developing. Seriously, are the Caps so mad at him that they want to completely kill his career?

  22. Jed Says:

    I second that!

  23. K Says:

    I agree. We need to get some stronger defense and as much as I like Olie I really don’t know how effective he is…I think he’s still a good goalie but I also think we should have someone better, faster to be our starter. I do feel bad for our young defense b/c I do think they could be pretty decent if they got the training they needed. Here’s hoping that BB and his new systems work out for us!

  24. extrapreneur Says:

    Interesting, I can see you put a lot of work in to that article. You should work for a newspaper!!! Check out my blog at http://www.extrapreneur.wordpress.com

  25. Bob Says:

    A few people have mentioned this, but all the Caps’ young D need veteran partners to help them develop. Gonch had Reekie, Witt had Calle Jo.

    Maybe Pothier or Poti can help Eminger, Green and Schultz develop. Unfortunately, I think a lot of damage has already been done.

    Gutting the team before the lock-out seems to have caused tremendous long-term damage to this team.

  26. capitalpunishment Says:

    Eminger is not a sound hockey player. He should only play 10-12 minutes a night on an bad to average team. On a good, great, SC-caliber team, he should be the 7th or 8th defenseman.

  27. Keli Says:

    Personally I have been really wishing Eminger (and the rest of the CAPS D) would start stepping up. Especially Eminger tho’ b/c he’s wearing my favorite number – 44. I know, what a girlie thing to say, but hey, the way the CAPS have been playing before BB got us two more wins and a really exciting shoot-out game, hoping to cheer for my number was about all I could look forward to.

    My biggest issues are that the Dmen have never been great at playing aggressive – trying to get the steal, checking people, or keeping the goal in the zone. Half the time it seems like they’ve given up on the play and are backing over the blue line before our guys have even lost the puck, I was glad to see Eminger push up and get on top of the other team on Monday, but then he forgot to cover his man at the crease and let the other team score. He plays so hot and cold, I hope he does get more ice time and find his groove. For me, him, and the team.

  28. DMP Says:

    Hmm DiPietro or Lundqvist those would be some good goalie prospects but unfortunatly would never happen DiPietro’s contract would kill any other team and Lundqvist can easily be argued as the top goalie in the league right now. Also I wouldn’t want Kolzig getting too far away or discouraged from not helping develop the younger goalies.The Goalie I have in mind right now is Garon from Edmonton he is already dealing with a young D team and is doing it well and because he has just started to show it is still cheap you could probably trade Johnson and a 3rd or lower pick or mediocre prospect for him.

    Keli what you have stated in your blog just pulls true to what a bunch of us are saying. My best educated guess as to why the D act that way is because they aren’t confident at an NHL level yet due to lack of guidence which goes for the whole hot and cold aspect as well.
    For the D problem I would love to see Jason Smith from Philly but the chances of getting the best DefensiveDman in the game and Captain of the Flyers is impossible although at one time LA did get Gretzky.
    However a man I had in mind from the begging and with the cap space the Caps have go to Dallas for Mattias Norstrom great stay at home Dman to show the kids how to play in their zone. The additon of his hitting ability would only be an asset as well. Phillip Boucher from Dallas would also be another consideration as he does have a good shot for the PP.
    SJ has Craig Rivet a Dman that is really well balance between O and D. Probably wouldn’t cost as much as Norstrom either however doesn’t contain the solid D mind of Norstrom which is and isn’t an asset depending on the role you want the new Vet Dman to play.
    There have also been whispers about Ottawa giving up Redden sometime between now and next season and what would be better than a guy who knows the east and has been a force everywhere on the back end. These are just some guys I had in mind to shape up the back end tell me what you think.

  29. DMP Says:

    O another goalie that always slips my mind due to the fact that Im on the west coast, and don’t hear of him much even though he is one of my favourite goalies to watch.
    He has the flash and flair of Dom Hasak and is really coming into his own as a solid goaltender.
    Boston’s Tim Tomas.
    The Team doesn’t seem to want him in net as they went and spent a bunch of money on Fernandez this summer and have shown they are just waiting for Fernandez to come off injury to go back between the net so why not relieve them of their troubles of wondering what to do with Tomas.

  30. Chopseuy Says:

    “I’m more or less pointing out that the Caps could be doing a better job of managing their young blueline assets….”

    Is that a vote of no-confidence in McPhee and his staff??? It’s ok, you can say it. That’s what we’re all thinking.

    Maybe if McPhee had the hockey sense or insight to fire Hanlon earlier rather than not realizing he’s lost the team only after the 5-1 loss against the Thrashers, this season could’ve been saved. And when i say “saved”, I mean not finishing last in the league.

  31. Jed Says:

    The caps are a long way from being out of it. I know they have a crap record, but this league is so tight this year. I don’t know how you can say that the season is done when they’re only 8 points out of a playoff spot. Sure, in previous years they would be screwed with their record, but there is so much parity in the league this year that they still have a decent chance.

  32. dumpnchase Says:

    I have confidence in McPhee and his staff. But no one is perfect. This is one area where the organization could be doing better, IMO.

    There is a plethora of young D in the system right now, because they’ve drafted so many in recent years. And more coming with Alzner, Godfrey, etc. Having another experienced veteran defenseman as a mentor wouldn’t be a bad thing.

  33. Jason Says:

    what’s so bad with Erskine? i like the fact that he still plays that older style of aggressive Dwork. too many of these young guys no don’t have that ‘protect our net’ mindedness going on. i remember years ago when the D’d would make you PAY for coming onto their zone and getting near the goal. you look at some of the young guys now and you just dont see that. sure, Erskine may take a few more penalties than the rest, but if you watch him, he’s also beating on people infront of the net. he’s aggressive and he’s rather clever in his defensive skills, in my opinion.

    i DO feel that Olie is slowing down. you can really see it this year especially.

    and as far as Emmie, i can see both sides. he may not have had the best conditioning while in the league, but he also has that ‘deer in headlight’s’ panic thing going most of last season. you can train him and condition him all you want, but i think THAT panic’d instinct will always hinder his ability to be a ‘Top’ player.

    maybe i’m wrong.

  34. Greg Says:

    i say send eminger, pettinger and a 2nd round draft pick for a first line vetern right wing.

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