San­ford mak­ing leap from col­lege to pros

21-year-old rookie ap­pears ready to start on third line

Baltimore Sun - - NHL - By Is­abelle Khur­shudyan

WASH­ING­TON — In the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ courtship of for­ward Zach San­ford, coach Barry Trotz de­cided to make a per­sonal pitch. He told San­ford that af­ter play­ing for two sea­sons at Bos­ton Col­lege, it was time to com­pete “against men.”

He told him that younger prospects had passed him by spend­ing a sea­son in the Amer­i­can Hockey League.

Fi­nally, he told him that he be­lieved he was ready for pro­fes­sional hockey.

“Kind of be­comes a no-brainer when your head coach is ac­tively re­cruit­ing you,” gen­eral man­ager Brian Ma­cLel­lan said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I would say no. ‘Yeah, he likes me and wants me to come play, but no, I’m go­ing to stay in col­lege?’ ”

San­ford took a few days to talk it over with his par­ents, but the Cap­i­tals had per­suaded him, pro­vid­ing a push that since has been val­i­dated. Com­pet­ing for a ros­ter spot on a team that seemed to have just one open­ing at for­ward, San­ford not only made the team, but he ap­pears poised to start the sea­son on the Reg­u­lar-sea­son opener Thurs­day, 8 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Net­work third line, leapfrog­ging sev­eral vet­eran for­wards.

“You know, hon­estly, I tried not to have any ex­pec­ta­tions,” San­ford said. “I just came in and worked as hard as I can to maybe turn some heads and kind of show what I’ve got for maybe the fu­ture and not so much right now.

“But now, it’s time to showwhatI’ve got for right now.”

Play­ing his first pro­fes­sional hockey games dur­ing the pre­sea­son while also try­ing to make the open­ing-night ros­ter, San­ford never ap­peared rat­tled. When Wash­ing­ton moved him from his nat­u­ral po­si­tion of cen­ter to the wing, his play was so poised that Trotz com­pared him to for­mer Cap­i­tals for­ward Joel Ward. That calm has en­abled him to make plays along the wall rather than just “whack­ing the puck out,” Trotz said.

“You judge players on what they do when they’re un­der a pres­sure sit­u­a­tion, and he’s made calm, cor­rect plays on a very con­sis­tent ba­sis ev­ery time he’s been on the ice,” Trotz Cap­i­tals for­ward Zach Stan­ford turned pro af­ter two sea­sons at Bos­ton Col­lege. said. “To me, when you make those right de­ci­sions andyou’re not fazed by the pres­sure and the com­pe­ti­tion and you can think through that, then it shows me that you’re a pretty good pro.”

At 6 feet 4 and 191 pounds, San­ford, a 2013 se­cond-round draft pick, long has stood out at Wash­ing­ton’s devel­op­ment camps. But as Trotz watched the 21-year-old play­ing be­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s other prospects in early July, he said he saw some “red flags.”

San­ford scored13 goals and had26as­sists in 41 games with the Ea­gles as a sopho­more, but Trotz was con­cerned that prospects younger than San­ford had pro­gressed past him sim­ply be­cause they were play­ing bet­ter com­pe­ti­tion with the Her­shey Bears in the AHL.

This sum­mer, some prospects took ad-

MOLLY RI­LEY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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