December 10, 2019

Washington Capitals Development Camp Day Two: Jaynen Rissling trying to make name for himself

Development Camp is all about young players — whether they are draftees or free agents, come from a junior team or college, North American or born overseas — trying to make a name for themselves in front of the coaches of the team that brought them into camp for the organization. The Washington Capitals Developmental Camp this week, under the watchful eyes of GM George McPhee and new head coach Adam Oates, is no different.

There are two players in this camp, however, that already have a recognizable last name to Caps fans. Free agent invitee Max Iafrate, son of former Caps defenseman Al, shows his pop’s propensity for hip checks and big slap shots from the point — though no one in his prime could hold a candle to the real deal.

The other player in camp with a relation to the organization already might not be quite as recognizable, but Jaynen Rissling, nephew of one-time Capitals forward Gary Rissling, is a seventh round pick (No. 197 overall) and hopes his size and work ethic will one day lead him to a roster spot for the organization that his uncle still proudly associates himself with. In fact, Gary has been at camp both days so far and plans to be there all week to watch his nephew in his first pro camp.

Jaynen Rissling – Washington Capitals Development Camp Day 2 Scrimmage at Kettler, 7/10/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Rissling, 18, tallied 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) and 124 penalty minutes for Calgary of the WHL last season. The 6’4”, 223-pound defenseman won the WHL championship with Calgary in 2009-10. His uncle played 37 games with the Caps in 1978, spent time in the minors, and was traded to Pittsburgh in 1981. Gary scored 23 goals and 30 assists in 221 NHL games, amassing 1008 penalty minutes.

We caught up with Gary at the top of the aluminum bleachers at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Tuesday to chat about his nephew, and he could hardly contain his excitement.

“First of all, I’m so proud of him,” Gary Rissling said. “He worked hard to get the opportunity to be drafted. And then come to Washington, where I started? It’s a great thrill. This is a great organization and I think they’re right at the cusp of being a Stanley Cup winner, you can see it.”

Asked about where Jaynen might fit into the organization, Gary took a trip down memory lane by naming some of the great defensive defenseman the Caps have had in their history — names like Langway, Stevens, Johansson — not to compare Jaynen to those players, but to illustrate the traits they displayed on the ice for the Capitals.  “I’m not sure where Jaynen is going to fall — they’ve got such a strong team — but if not this year, maybe years to come. He’s got a great [physical] package, a great set of tools. He’s 6’4″, 225 and still growing. So he’s gonna be a big boy.”

“It was a great thing, not only to get drafted, but [for Jaynen] to come here to Washington,” the elder Rissling continued. “I was so proud and glad the organization saw value in him. Down the road I’d love to see him playing for the Capitals. It would be nice to see him grow his game, elevate his game to the Rod Langways, etc. I mean, look at the sweaters out there [retired numbers hanging on the walls at Kettler]. It would be wonderful to see him in a Washington sweater.”

Jaynen spoke after practice about the experience of being drafted, making his family proud, and the strengths and weaknesses of his game. He said he was golfing with family on draft day when his name was called and his agent tracked him down on the golf course to let him know. When he found out it was Washington that drafted him, he obviously knew the significance of the selection.

Jaynen Rissling addressing media after scrimmage – Washington Capitals Development Camp Day 2 Scrimmage at Kettler, 7/10/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

“[Gary] played in Washington and Pittsburgh, and both are great organizations. Really, I didn’t have the highest expectations going into the draft. I didn’t really know what to think or what to expect, but just getting called by an NHL team is an honor and one that family’s played for, it’s an even bigger honor and I’ll have to try to live up to what he did.”

Gary was known affectionately as a “pest” on the ice, but Jaynen’s calling card right now is his ready for the NHL frame. “Obviously, my size has a lot to do with [being drafted]. Being bigger, I’ve got a longer stick. I feel I can get into the ‘dirty’ areas a little bit more and more aggressively. I like to pride myself as a guy that’s hard-nosed and isn’t afraid or will back down and will do what it takes for the team.”

But that size carries some restriction as well, and Jaynen is very aware what he needs to work on this season back with his junior team in Calgary. “Obviously, my foot speed. It’s been an issue for me. As I got to the junior level, I was always one or two steps behind. I’ve been working at it and I feel it’s steadily improving. Another thing would be my consistency. I gotta come to the rink every day with the same mental preparations, just be ready to go for that day.”

Jaynen also knows that to move up, he’ll have to show a little bit more on the offensive end as well. “I’ll go back to juniors in the WHL and play there. I haven’t produced many points over my three years in the ‘Dub’. It’s not something that’s a [big] part of my game, but it’s something that I think that I’ll need to factor in a little more to get to the next level.”

The Edmonton native grew up an Oilers fan, where he said, “it’s kind of a law there” to be a fan growing up. But he’s already allowed himself to daydream about one day skating next to Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and the others on the parent club. “Every kid growing up in Canada, every kid playing hockey, it’s their dream to play in the NHL. To be in the same organization as one of the best, it mesmerizes you. You don’t know what to think of it until hopefully I’ll find out what it is like.”

Gary hopes to see his nephew filling a need for the Caps someday, bringing a physical presence to the blue line in a complete, well-rounded player.

“I think he’s growing in confidence. I want to see him get in there, join the rush — cause that’s the game today. He’s great defensively, takes the man well. Obviously he uses his good size. To me, he has a lot of the same tools Langway used to his advantage. Looking at the way the Caps are, that’s one of the things they really need, I think… It helps to have a little bit of punch, cause a little bit of fear in front. That’s the thing in hockey, the other team is going to get their shots. But the good teams can get the puck, clear the front of the net and get it going the other way.”

“Jaynen, when he’s ready and prepared — I’d like to see him do it sooner than later — he’s got the size, he’s got the ability, and he’s got that name.”

Yes, he’s got that name. If Jaynen has half the heart his Uncle Gary does, he’s already off to a good start.

Jaynen Rissling – Washington Capitals Development Camp Day 2 Scrimmage at Kettler, 7/10/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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