By Corey Masisak
September 11, 2007
Steve Werner put Sasha Pokulok into the boards Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and Pokulok — the Washington Capitals' first pick in the 2005 draft — had one reaction.
Pokulok is back playing hockey at the Caps' rookie camp after the 2006-07 campaign was a lost season for him. He left Cornell after his sophomore year and expected to spend his first professional season with Hershey in the American Hockey League. But two concussions — one on opening night in October and another in March after 16 games with South Carolina in the East Coast Hockey League — made for quite a trying experience.
"You go to the rink every day, and you can't really do anything," Pokulok said. "You can't ride the bike because you get headaches. You can't work out because you get headaches. You can't skate because you get headaches.
"Tough isn't the word — it was excruciating."
So Pokulok spent his summer trying to undo months of inactivity and get to the point where he could not only play hockey again but merely make it through a workout with quitting early because of a headache. It was a gradual process. He would wake up every day and go until a headache set in, then stop and hope he could do more the next day.
He has been working out without restriction now for about two months. Pokulok was at the organization's summer development camp and went through all of the drills but sat out when the full-contact scrimmaging began.
Pokulok hasn't missed anything this week at rookie camp, and at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he is pretty easy to spot.
"We're really happy that he's recovered from the injury. Moreover, we're really pleased he's reported in excellent shape," general manager George McPhee said. "He's been the surprise of the rookie camp so far."
A defenseman from Montreal who played for the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before his two years at Cornell, Pokulok was a surprise pick at No. 14 overall in the 2005 draft.
He had three goals and 10 points in his freshman season with the Big Red and was rated the 39th-best North American skater in the draft by NHL Central Scouting.
"I was sitting at home with my parents in the basement," Pokulok said. "Obviously, I wasn't expecting to be picked at No. 14, but it was a dream come true. Just to be drafted — then I realized that what I wanted to do with my life was become a professional hockey player."
Pokulok's prospect status slipped because of his inactivity and in part because the organization has hoarded defensemen in recent drafts. Still, he doesn't turn 22 until May, and a full season of good health could help him regain his place among a burgeoning group of future Caps defenders.
"It is evident that he's done good work. He has NHL size and NHL hockey sense and talent," McPhee said. "Now he needs some experience and to continue to work on developing his body as much as he can. He's like a lot of young guys who come in their first year and think they're in shape, but they really have no clue what it takes at this level."
"It looks like it kicked in for him this summer, and we're really happy about it."
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