BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
As general manager George McPhee does a bit of a roster re-haul during the off-season, it can be hard to keep the Washingon Capitals’ lineup straight. Newly acquired netminder Tomas Vokoun and blueliner Roman Hamrlik add years of experience and knowledge that should filter to the rest of the defense, but what about the Capitals’ offensive component? That’s where Mike Knuble comes in. He not only adds the “veteran presence” to the team’s list of forwards, he also seems to develop into a better player year in and year out.
The right-winger may start the 2011-12 season as one of the oldest players in the NHL at 39, but his age has proven to be exactly that - just a number. Out of 34 active players in the NHL (aged 35 or higher) Knuble was the only player on the list to have 20+ goals, 200+ shots and 40+ points during the 2010-11 season, all while managing to skate in at least 75 games. Knuble also averaged 17 or more minutes of play a night and a defensive mark of +10 or higher.
In retrospect, the Capitals decision to disregard Knuble’s age and sign him as a free agent on July 1, 2009 was solid, as Knuble has produced back-to-back 20-plus goal seasons (2009-10, 2010-11) for Washington.
“The last half of the year, he was arguably our best player. When you’re getting up in age a little bit, that at the end of the year you’d be a little more tired. I think his minutes have increased year after year,” Boudreau said on Knuble’s performance last season.
After finishing the 2010-11 campaign with 24 goals, Knuble joined an exclusive list of active player who have eight consecutive seasons (or more) of at least 20 goals. Knuble joins Jarome Iginla from Calgary (12 straight), Marian Hossa from Chicago (11 straight), Ilya Kovalchuk from New Jersey (9 straight), and Martin St. Louis from Tampa Bay (8 straight).
Knuble’s 24 goals were also good for third most on the team and among NHL’ers 35 years or older. In 2008-09 Knuble was tied with Teemu Selanne for first-place in the same category.
With all the records and numbers he has already achieved, Knuble has remained humble. “It’s a point in my life where you don’t need to be out chasing things if you’re in a good spot and feel like you’re with a team that has a chance to win all the time and contend,” said Knuble. “That a very important thing and a very important thing for you and your family, to stay in that spot. I’m happy with my decision.”
The 6-foot-3, 223-pounder who was picked in the fourth-round (76th overall) of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft has previously played for Detroit (1996-98), the Rangers (1998-00), the Bruins (2000-04) and the Flyers (2005-09) before coming to the nation’s capital. To date the veteran has managed to compile 268 career goals in 968 games and will reach the 1,000 game-mark with another healthy season.