NHL Free Agency 2012: Mathieu Perreault Envisions Role On Top Lines

January 24, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals center Mathieu Perreault (85) skates with the puck against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

For the last two seasons in Washington, Mathieu Perreault has helped the Capitals fill a sizeable gap at the second-line center role. Now, with a new deal with the Caps, he might be asked to fill a void at wing on one of the top two lines.

For the last two seasons in Washington, Mathieu Perreault has helped the Capitals fill a sizeable gap at the second-line center role.

Now, with a new deal with the Caps, he might be asked to fill a void at wing on one of the top two lines.

Perreault, who entered the summer as a restricted free agent, signed a two-year extension with Washington Thursday worth a reported $2.1 million.

The deal also is a one-way contract, meaning Perreault would earn the same amount playing for Washington or Hershey, a big step for the forward who has spent time shuttling back and forth between the minors and the NHL. Helping fill the second-line center role in Nicklas Backstrom's absence, Perreault played 64 games with the big club in 2011-12, and notching a hat trick against the Bruins on January 24th.

According to Perreault, the Capitals see him taking another big step forward in his progression after registering a career-high 16 goals in 2011-12.

"Talking with the organization ... they told me I was part of the elite forwards of the team, they see me on the top lines and think I can do good things for them," Perreault said via a conference call with reporters.

Although Perreault only played 4 of 14 of Washington's playoff games after Backstrom returned to the lineup, with new coach Adam Oates coming in, he hopes to get more ice time.

"Obviously, [I] want to see more ice time, and I'd be nice to get some power-play [time]," he said. "The way Washington's been playing, there's been three offensive lines so even if I'm on the third line, with guys scoring for points ... I'm going to be playing with good guys, and create some offense."

Although Perreault was originally promoted as a center, with the recent trade of Mike Riberio from Dallas giving the Capitals two top centers, that could mean the 24-year-old Quebec native shifts to the wing next year - something he looks forward to if it means time ice with the top lines.

"I told them last year if they wanted to put me at winger I could, I wouldn't mind doing that," he said. "I'd be up for the challenge for sure. If I could get more ice time [at wing] I would do that."

While Perreault and the Capitals could have gone to arbitration to build on last year's one-year, two-way deal worth $525,000 with Washington, he said he was eager to get a deal done quickly.

"It was no doubt in my mind [to return to Washington]," he said. "We wanted to get a deal done with Washington, this is where I started my career, I liked the guys, I like the organization, the main thing was to get a deal done with Washington."

While the rest of the Southeast Division has been busy upgrading their lineups, the free-agency period has seen the Caps do a bit of tinkering, and seemingly looking to promote some players from within rather than acquire players.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee earlier this week told reporters he would expect some players in the organization to step up to fill some gaps next season, and with a 90 precent boost in salary and guaranteed NHL money, it seems Perreault will be one of those players the Caps will look to rely on.

It's not unprecedented for McPhee to see if players like Perreault can take the role, after all, he was called up to help fill a void at center - particularly when Backstrom suffered a concussion this past season.

"When Nicky got hurt, his concussion, I got more ice time," he said."I felt like I stepped in and did a good job."

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