Capitals prospect Hendrix Lapierre handled adversity of first pro season in stride
Hendrix Lapierre handled adversity of first pro season in stride originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
HERSHEY, Pa. — In his first taste of playoff hockey at the professional level, Hendrix Lapierre ensured his presence would be felt. The 2020 first-round pick notched two points in the Hershey Bears’ Game 1 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Friday, and has helped the Capitals’ AHL affiliate jump out to a 2-0 lead in their Atlantic Division semifinal series ahead of Wednesday’s Game 3.
Lapierre, 21, has hit his stride at just the right time, recording eight points over his last 10 games including the two he tallied in Game 1. It’s a groove he spent nearly the entire 2022-23 campaign — his first full season at the pro level — trying to find.
“I feel like I’ve taken a big step,” Lapierre said in a press conference following the Bears’ practice Tuesday. “I was scratched during the season. I think it was in [February], in Charlotte. That was kind of a wake-up call for me because obviously you never want to be in the stands and, for that weekend, I really focused on those two games. I was looking at what the players do, what it takes and I’ve been doing a lot of video with the coaches.”
Head coach Todd Nelson scratched Lapierre for two games Feb. 18-19 after the young center had gone 10 straight without a goal. He returned from the long weekend off determined to get back on the scoresheet, but he suffered an upper-body injury in his second game back that forced him out of the lineup for nearly three weeks.
It wasn’t until he worked his way back from the injury that he finally started to unlock his game. Lapierre finished the season as the Bears’ third-line center, a spot he has cemented with his play over the last few weeks. The high point of his season came April 8, when he put together his first career hat trick to singlehandedly outscore the Checkers in a 5-2 win.
“Obviously, it’s his first pro year and I think he’s handled it really well,” teammate and fellow Capitals first-round pick Connor McMichael said. “It’s a tough transition going from junior to pro and I think he’s had a great year. He’s for sure been picking up the pace as he’s played and we need him now. So, he’s a really good player and I really like playing with him.”
It’s not just the scoring department where Lapierre felt his game has developed. He credited his work in the film room with Hershey assistant coach Nick Bootland for helping him clean up some of the inefficiencies that he got away with at the junior level.
“If you look at where my game was at the start of the year, just in terms of — not necessarily skills and all that stuff — but really the small details, [what I’m doing] away from the puck and the intensity and stuff, I think it’s gotten better,” Lapierre said. “I feel like I understand a little more how you have to play to have success and just gotta be consistent every game and bring it and that’s what I’m trying to do. So, definitely took a big step this year in terms of, yeah just understanding how the game works, literally. That’s the best way you can put it.”
The Capitals are hopeful Lapierre can eventually develop into a key member of their organization. He scored a goal in his first NHL game back in 2021-22 and turned some heads at training camp in September before being assigned to Hershey.
As he wraps his first full professional season, Lapierre has a chance to make one last impression on the organization by helping the Bears to a Calder Cup title.