Joel Ward was a 27-year-old career minor leaguer when he met Barry Trotz for the first time.
Ward had just signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators and was considered a long shot to make the Preds’ roster in the summer of 2008.
But Trotz saw something in Ward that few others saw. The Predators coach saw a big body with a strong mind and an insatiable work ethic and decided he needed to give the Toronto native his first real shot at the NHL.
“You see players develop at all different ages,” Trotz said. “And Joel Ward is a good example.”
Six years later Ward is a 33-year-old veteran willing to lend his support to the 52-year-old coach who gave him his first shot as an NHL regular.
“Barry's just detailed,” Ward told reporters on Saturday before participating in the Capitals’ annual blood drive at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“He's a simple, very detailed guy. He’s a big family guy, great family.
“I think he's going to make sure that we're all very close together and closer as a unit on and off the ice.
“On ice, I expect us to be a lot more detailed, I think. You'll get a sense of that right away; there might be some homework at times.”
It was in his three seasons in Nashville that Ward established himself as an NHL player, playing in 230 games and scoring 40 goals over three seasons. Following his three years in Nashville, Ward cashed in as a free agent, signing a four-year, $12 million contract with the Capitals that drew criticism until he put up career numbers last season with 24 goals and 25 assists.
Entering the final year of that contract with the Caps Ward’s biggest job in training camp won’t be trying to convince Trotz he can play in the NHL, but convincing his teammates that Trotz can get them deep into the playoffs – something Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Adam Oates were unable to do before him.
“It's going to be fun, [but] at the same time, it's going to be a hard-working team,” Ward said. “From my years of experience in Nashville, we weren't the most talented I'd say on paper, but we always found a way of just being hard-working and earning our grit in points.
“I expect us to do that here and hopefully it turns into a more positive side and we get in the playoffs and then to the big dance and down the road, hopefully being in the Finals.”