The coach calls them his "young guns." That may be a play off the movie of the same name, but it fits coach Barry Trotz's Skipjacks.
They are a young bunch. The average age of the players who will open the Skipjacks' 11th American Hockey League season tonight at 7:35 against the Binghamton Rangers at the Baltimore Arena is 22 1/2 .
Eight are 20 or 21. The oldest is 26. And then there is the coach, Trotz, all of 30.
"The 'Young Guns' have a lot of offensive ability," Trotz said. "That's what the [parent Washington] Capitals are striving toward through the entire organization."
Nine of Trotz's players were drafted in the first, second or third round by the Capitals.
"These players are skillful, quick, offensive-minded and inexperienced," Trotz said. "They're high energy people. Upbeat."
Trotz would like to think that Tuesday's 7-5 preseason win over the Hershey Bears was a signal of what's to come. Keith Jones led the Skipjacks that night with four goals.
"We can't expect four goals from him night after night," Trotz said. "His game is going hard to the net and working the corners of the rink well. Not a lot of finesse, just a straightforward player.
"After looking at the film of that game, I'm happy with the team's play. We controlled the puck against Hershey. We could have won by a lot more."
Jones is one of eight players returning on the squad who finished last season in Baltimore. After a strong start during which they led the AHL's Southern Division, the Skipjacks faded, winning only six of 30 games during one stretch in December and January.
In February, coach Rob Laird was fired and Trotz, then the assistant, took over. The Skipjacks finished last in the division with a 28-42-10 record, including 5-12-3 under Trotz.
"Fourteen of those 20 games were on the road," Trotz said. "There were some injuries, so we were short-handed."
But in those final games, Trotz got what he calls a sneak preview of this year's team. He liked what he saw.
"After we got rid of some players with bad attitudes, we could see we would be a skilled offensive team," Trotz said. "We had all summer to assess the players, making the evaluation easier and better."
In The Hockey News' preseason rankings, the Skipjacks were picked last in the Southern Division. Rated ahead of them are defending champion Binghamton, the Utica Devils, Hershey Bears, Rochester Americans and Hamilton Canucks.
"Being picked last is OK," Trotz said. "No one expects much. The pressure is off. We're going to be fun to watch, quick and creative."
Binghamton, he said, is a strong, experienced team with players who are considerably older than those on the Skipjacks.
That his players may be called up by the Capitals just when they are contributing heavily to the Skipjacks doesn't bother Trotz.
"This is my seventh year in the Caps organization, and I can see the big picture," he said. "Our job is to get players to the Caps. If eight or 10 are called up, Paul [Gardner, assistant coach] and I are doing our job.
"Seeing a player go up brings a tear to my eye. It's like a father when his son graduates -- he's proud, but sorry to see his boy move on."
The Caps this week sent Ken Sabourin to the Skipjacks. The 26-year-old defenseman, who played for both the Caps and Skipjacks last season, replaces Jim Mathieson, who will miss the first four games while completing a suspension from last season
for leaving the bench and fighting.