In addition to speaking with Miami of Ohio winger Andy Miele during day two of the Washington Capitals' Development Camp, I was able to join Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy, Tarik El-Bashir of Capitals Insider and others in speaking with highly touted goalie prospect Braden Holtby. He returns for his second Dev Camp as one of three members of the 2010 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears in attendance this week, but stands alone as the only attendee to dress for a NHL game.
Holtby, the Caps' superstitious 2008 fourth-round draft pick, is expected to enter the 2010-11 season as the organizations' number 3 goalie behind Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, but ahead of recently signed vet Dany Sabourin. While it still remains unclear if he will see any time with the Caps this season, speaking with Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau he mentioned that he's very impressed with the young netminder, saying "[Holtby] is doing everything in the world right now to prove himself... he's in tremendous shape, he works his rear end off, and he's doing it with a smile. The cream always rises to the top."
Read on as he details his recent Lasik eye surgery, his thoughts on Washington's goaltending crew and his famed idiosyncrasies.
Braden Holtby: I decided about three years ago, but the timing never worked out and then after the season a main goal for the summer was to get my eyes fixed. It's worked well, and I'm blaming a few goals in today's practice on the eyes. [laughs] But I don't think that's the case, they're good to go and it's pretty amazing.
IG: When did you have it?
BH: A week and a half ago. Two Wednesdays, ago I guess.
IG: They say for a week you're not to do anything, so you're right on that cusp.
BH: Yeah, the big thing is you can't get any sweat in your eyes. You can't work out and you can't go on the ice. Yesterday was a tough one for me. I had to battle through it, but luckily our season went long enough that I think I'm still in alright shape. I'm struggling through it, but I think it's better than any other season.
IG: Is your vision better than it was with the contacts?
BH: It is in the fact that it wont get blurry if you get water in it, or if you get hit or something it wont shift your vision. It's definitely nice to get up in the morning and see your alarm clock.
IG: There aren't many guys who are in your position anywhere in the league. You're considered now one of the top prospects in a pretty good organization, but you got two of the top prospects in the world sitting ahead of you. How do you manage the fact that you know you will have to bide your time?
BH: Obviously I'm kind of expecting to put my time in there in order to get to the next level. And goaltending is a funny position that a lot of guys don't make it until they're a little older. But being in an organization like this with two young guys that you know there is going to be opportunities, hopefully. I firmly believe that if you're good enough to make the NHL, you're gonna make it. So whether it's any one of the teams in the NHL where I get my chance and prove that I can play here, but right now I'm just focused on playing in Hershey next year and improving and making myself NHL caliber.
IG: Do you feel that one of those guys has to move out in order for you to move up, or do you think you can outplay one of them to move up on the depth chart?
BH: In order to be a successful goalie, you need to believe in yourself that you can outplay any goalie, no matter where they are. Neuvi and Varly are outstanding goalies, and everyone knows that. And they've proven themselves in the levels that they played at. But there is still a lot of time left and I believe in my abilities, and that I can be an NHL goalie one day, whether it's next year or four years down the road.
IG: What was your reaction when Dany Sabourin was signed? He's a guy that's played 55 games in the league and it's more like a battle now probably for the number one job down there where as before if before they signed someone else, you'd be the more clear cut number one goalie.
BH: I wasn't actually thinking about it at all, but it's great. It really shows what they're going to do with the goaltending situation here, whether they're going to bring in an experienced guy or not. Bringing in Sabourin shows that they're going to go with the two young guys up there up top. It's great because obviously Sabourin has proven himself, in the NHL especially, and got his share of NHL games. It's always good to have someone there to push you. Getting to the NHL isn't going to come without adversity. It's going to be battle for games this year. I'm a guy that likes the playing time. I would play every game if I could, but that's going to be my goal is to take every practice as if it's going to show that I play the next game.
IG: What do you have to work on this at Development Camp?
BH: There's a few technical things, more of the straight on shots - I was not getting the right read on. I was trying to think too much through the end of the year. When things we're going well towards December and January I wasn't thinking a lot, and then towards the end I was thinking too much that I had to do too much to try to earn time in the playoffs, which was my goal. It's mostly a mental game now. That's one thing I'm going to try to improve on.
IG: You were on the bench for 5 games last season. Did you ever think "Just throw me in for one period"?
BH: The first couple games I was pretty star struck, I wasn't expecting to come up at all. It's pretty amazing, but it was a bit different than I thought, I felt a bit more comfortable up there. In practice, I was in the same mindset going in - working hard and proved to myself that I can play at this level. If I get my chance, I'm going to be ready.
Joe Finley, shouting across the rink: You're the best Holt!
IG: You're now the third guy in line, can you almost taste it?
BH: It's you dream for your whole life, and when it's this close to happening it makes you work that much harder. From now on it's going to be working towards that goal of getting to the NHL. I'm going to work hard with my goalie coach back home and come back and work in camp and try to fine tune some things and have a good start to the season.
IG: How valuable is the time here in DC with Artus Irbe?
BH: It's great. He's played a ton of games in the NHL and he has a ton of experience and he's more than willing to share it with you. He's just that kind of guy that if you're doing something that you're not sure if it's right or wrong for the NHL, he will tell you and you can adjust. He's been great to us, especially the young guys. I really looking forward to coming up here and working with him.
IG: Do you have any game day superstitions that you can share with us?
BH: Oh, there's a lot. [laughs] I think every pro athlete has a routine whether it's very full of different things, or just one or two things like eating the same or whatnot. It's almost that you don't even think about it. You just do it, it's just habit because you play an 80-game schedule and if you're going to go about every game differently and you don't have a routine, you won't be consistent.
IG: For an outsider, what's one thing I would look at and say, "okay, this kid's a freak?"
BH: Where do I start? It's different because a lot of people see the mental things in goaltending like you're talking to yourself in your crease. But you're reminding yourself of certain things you need to look for in the game and certain players you have to watch for. Everything I do with superstitions has a meaning. With stretching a certain thing at a certain time or visualizing. The weirdest thing is probably my visualizing before the game. I try to play out an actual game with the actions, but there's no puck or no players. It seems to help.
BH: I gave it to my mom actually, and she found it quite humorous! [laughs] I think I would get it from the guys if I was wearing that around!
But make sure you stay tuned as we continue to provide coverage of Camp all week long, and be sure to check out the work over at RMNB, FFoDC, and On Frozen Blog for other goodies. Also, if you're at camp anytime this week - stop us and chat. We're nice people, promise!