Peter Bondra, 32, Capitals The swift right wing was the league's most underrated scorer from 1995-96 through '97-98, when he averaged 50 goals per season. He has scored a total of 52 the past two years and bickered so much with coach Ron Wilson over ice time that he asked to be traded.
Scout: "He needs to get back to skating, to working hard all the time. He's got to skate to make things happen. He's a guy who can dominate."
Scout: "He may have lost something, but he's still in the top 10 percent of the league in speed, and he's got a tremendous shot. He can regain his touch, but he's lost his enthusiasm in Washington. Getting him out of there will help."
Prognosis: If the Caps deal him to an offensive-minded team, Bondra will close in on 50.
Lessons Before Flying
Yujiro Nakajimaya, a standout stay-at-home defenseman in the Japanese Hockey League for 10 years, has roamed far from his own zone. The 29-year-old captain of the Kokudo Bunnies is getting a tryout with Nashville during the NHL preseason, largely as a goodwill gesture by the Predators before they travel to Tokyo to play their first two regular-season games, against the Penguins on Oct. 7 and 8. "Yujiro's good," says Nashville captain Tom Fitzgerald. "He's not flashy, but he's strong on the puck, and he doesn't get beat. The most impressive thing is that he works so hard even though he knows he's probably not going to make this club."
Nakajimaya has a remote chance to earn a roster spot, but he will most likely return to Japan—and with some reluctance. "I like all the friendly people who say 'Hi, y'all,' " he says in English. " Nashville is a place I could live." When he hasn't been taking his Predators teammates out for a Sapporo and sushi ("He eats this very crunchy fish that no one else likes," says center Sebastien Bordeleau), Nakajimaya has eagerly exposed himself to indigenous elements. One night last week he donned boots and a Stetson and strode into a country and western juke joint. "He's not shy," says center Mark Mowers, Nakajimaya's roommate. "They introduced him to the crowd at the bar, and he put both arms up and started waving."
At 5'11" and 187 pounds, Nakajimaya is unimposing by NHL standards. For a Bunny, however, he cuts a formidable figure. He's one of the more aggressive players in the generally gentle Japanese league, which is why he says he "really likes all the checking over here." Nakajimaya has also enjoyed the speed and explosiveness of NHL players. "If I make a little play, guys turn it into something big," he said, after an intrasquad scrimmage in which he pushed a short pass to left wing Sean Haggerty, who carried the puck ahead and scored.
The Tokyo-bound Predators have been peppering Nakajimaya with questions about such things as sumo wrestling, Japanese movies and what to wear in his homeland. Says Bordeleau, who got a lesson he'll soon be putting to use, "Yujiro taught me how to hold my chopsticks right."
Death of a Dumb Idea