Every summer the Capitals invite a handful of undrafted free agents to their rookie development camp in hopes of finding the proverbial diamond in the rough.
“We’re trying to find players that haven’t been drafted that we think would have a chance to be able to play and contribute and be part of the organization,” Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said.
Two years ago it was Australian forward Nathan Walker who impressed the Caps enough to find his way onto the Hershey Bears roster last season and was taken in the third round of this year’s NHL draft.
Last year it was Slovakian defenseman Michal Cajkovsky, who earned ECHL All-Rookie Team honors with the Reading Royals last season and is penciled onto the Hershey Bears’ roster this upcoming season.
This summer, skyscraping defenseman Eliot Antonietti was paged from Switzerland for a chance to impress the Caps’ scouts, but he wasn’t the only unsigned prospect at development camp.
This year’s camp included 21 unsigned free agents, including 6-foot-5, 235-pound left wing Chris Waterstreet, who is heading into his sophomore year at Division 3 Oswego State.
Caps amateur scout Will Nichol spotted Waterstreet on a scouting visit and extended an invitation to the 22-year-old power forward, who spent parts of three seasons in the North American Hockey League before enrolling at SUNY-OswegoState.
“A lot of Division 3 schools, it’s hard to draw the scouts to them and so maybe some of the players who could get the chance don’t necessarily get that chance,” said Waterstreet, who helped lead Oswego State to the Division 3 Frozen Four while picking up five goals, four assists and 41 penalty minutes in 26 games last season.
Waterstreet was one of seven players invited to the Caps’ camp that were 6-foot-4 or taller, joining defensemen Antonietti [6-6], Cajkovski [6-4], Wade Epp [6-5], Zach Loesch [6-5] and Ben Woodley [6-5] and right wing Zach Saar [6-5].
“Coming in I thought I’d be the biggest,” Waterstreet said. “A lot of the guys are a lot bigger than I thought. I thought [Loesch] and I would be towering over everyone.”
Cajkovsky, 22, proved last season that all it takes is an open door to land his first professional contract.
Born and raised in Bratislava, Slovakia, Cajkovsky was spotted by former Caps general manager George McPhee when McPhee was scouting Ottawa 67s forward Sean Monahan, who was taken by the Calgary Flames with the sixth overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft.
Cajkovsky finished that season with 10 goals, 24 assists and 89 penalty minutes [he was also a minus-31] and received an invite to a week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where he went toe-to-toe with Caps first-round draft pick Tom Wilson last summer.
Cajkovsky, who tips the scales at 230 pounds, earned a spot with the Reading Royals and in 66 games last season he led the team’s defensemen in goals , assists  and points .
“I’m still learning every day,” said Cajkovsky, who left Slovakia to play for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL when he was 17. “I try to be physical and use my size. They told me to work on my shot. If I can get a better shot and more goals and better skating, hopefully I can play in the NHL next year. It’s everybody’s dream. We’ll see how it goes.”
Waterstreet said he is no different than Cajkovsky and every other player who attended camp, hoping that a week in front of NHL coaches and scouts would lead to an opportunity to make a living out of the sport he loves.
“It’s hard to come here and not think about playing in the NHL,” Waterstreet said. “The speed at camp is a little quicker [than Division 3] and I need to go back there, improve my quickness and get the puck to the net and bury my chances.”