March 11, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joey Crabb (46) and Washington Capitals center Mathieu Perreault (85) battle for the puck in the second period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
The road to Washington was a long one for George McPhee's newest free agent signing.
Alaska isn't where a lot of NHL players get their start, but for the newest Capital, Joey Crabb, he is one of just 11 players who have skated in the league to call "The Last Frontier" home.
The 29-year-old Anchorage native has played for the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs' systems since turning pro in 2006, playing just 144 NHL games total - with 290 in the American Hockey League - but this past year sticking for 67 games with the Leafs, and scoring 11 goals and 26 points.
"I did have confidence [going into last season], I did play most of the year with Toronto [in 2010-11], and when you do that you have a lot more confidence," Crabb said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "You get put in different roles in different situations, but it's hard to put down what you expect for goals, but I was real happy with the way the season went. I was going into the year with some confidence."
In that bottom six role with Toronto, Crabb showed some skill with some nifty goals in this past year, but he still considers himself a role player who sees himself as an "energy" guy.
"I obviously like to get around the ice and take the body, create energy and forecheck," he said. "I have some offensive skills and I like to chip in here and there. I pride myself on penalty killing.
"There are a few guys on Washington like that, so I think it'll be a good fit."
The Capitals rewarded him for his good season with the Leafs, signing him to a one-way deal worth a reported $950,000. That means for a guy who has spent most of his pro career riding the buses in the minors, he's paid the same amount if he skates with the Capitals or the Hershey Bears.
"I was just talking to a handful of teams and trying to work out a deal, and [Washington] came up with one, and one of the important factors for me was that they're obviously a contender and a good team and it seems like a good fit," he said. "They've got a lot of great guys, great players, and excited for a chance to win some games."
But it has been a long road to get to a deal with the Capitals, with the road starting back home in Anchorage, where despite the harsh Alaskan climate, the hockey is a bit more isolated and travel to play other clubs in Canada and the continental United States can get expensive.
"It's a process," Crabb said of his career's start. "Everybody who that's growing hockey wants to play in the NHL, everyone has a different route. Everybody has a different process.
"I'm lucky enough I was able to get there. Comparatively, Anchorage, we've got a decent amount of players in the NHL from the population. We have a strong history, it's been good."
After developing his game at home, Crabb was picked as a 16-year-old to leave home and head to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play USA Hockey's National Team Development Program for two seasons. The NTDP takes the top young U.S.-born hockey players and pits them against some of the nation's college teams comprised of older players, as well as teams in the junior United States Hockey League.
"[The NTDP] was huge for my development, there are definitely other programs that can help a player, but that's one of the top if not the top," he said. "When I went into that program I was still pretty raw, coming out of Alaska hockey, I didn't know everything as far as systems and playing without the puck.
"Players who came out of youth hockey come in a little bit of a star and you learn the game, and that helps a ton. ... I couldn't ask anything more from that."
After leaving the NTDP, he went to Green Bay of the USHL and then to Colorado Springs and skated for Colorado College in the shadow of Pike's Peak - a small-knit community that has gotten in the news for the wildfires that have destroyed 370 homes in the past week.
The current events in Colorado certainly were on Crabb's mind in recent days.
"I just called Joe Bonnett two days ago, he was the assistant coach when I was there, he says everyone's safe," Crabb said. "The house is out of danger, but it's a real scary situation there. He said everyone's looking good there, but there are people who I don't know in Colorado Springs that are are having a rough time. I spoke with Bonnett, and luckily they're going to be OK."
After leaving CC, he joined the Thrashers' system, mostly playing for the AHL's Chicago Wolves, but getting 29 games with Atlanta during his four years in the system. After moving to Toronto for the 2010-11 season, Crabb eventually worked his way into the Leafs' lineup the last two years.
Now, with a one-way deal and a chance to play for the Capitals next season, Crabb is excited at the chance to play for a playoff-caliber club this season - something he didn't get a chance to do in Atlanta or Toronto.
"Obviously, there's a tremendous level of talent, and obviously they're excited to win, and they expect to win every year," he said. "That's what I'm most excited about. Coming in and playing with elite players is going to be fun, and I've heard great things about Adam Oates, and I'm excited to come in."