Sanford making leap from college to pros
21-year-old rookie appears ready to start on third line
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-