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Aucoin wants to change his up-and-down ways

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Forward hoping to stay with Caps for season

Keith Aucoin has been up and down the road between the District and Hershey, Pa., all season long. Five different times Aucoin has been summoned from the American Hockey League to play for the Capitals. And five times, including near the end of training camp in September, he has driven in the opposite direction.

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Devils at Capitals
When » Friday, 7 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

The 33-year-old forward is that classic American sport story: The career minor leaguer who dominates at his level but still pines for a crack at the big leagues. In 11 AHL seasons, Aucoin has 777 career points, ranking 15th all time in a league that has been around since 1936. But he has appeared in just 84 NHL games with the Caps and Carolina Hurricanes.

Aucoin was recalled again by Washington on Tuesday -- the day after the team stood pat at the trade deadline -- and if he plays in one more game, the team must keep him on the NHL roster for the rest of the season or risk losing him on waivers if it tries to send him back to Hershey.

"You never know when it's going to happen," Aucoin said earlier this month. "I've been having a really good year down there. You hope that you get another chance to get called up."

Any NHL player who clears waivers at the beginning of the year to return to the minors -- meaning the other 29 teams passed on a chance to claim him -- can be recalled at will. But that lasts only until they play in their 10th NHL game or spend their 30th day on the active roster. Then the player must go through waivers again. Aucoin has appeared in nine games this season.

Listed at 5-foot-8, the diminutive center always will be at a disadvantage against bigger, stronger NHL players. But his sense of the game is what carries him through in the AHL. He relies on it at the NHL level, too. Aucoin scored a big goal for the Caps on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and added an assist. He has played in four consecutive games and has been skating as a right wing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson for the last three. Given the team's three-game winning streak, he could get another shot Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.

Sticking on the roster would be a huge boost for a player whose career high in NHL games was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08, when he appeared in 38 and recorded five goals and eight assists. Otherwise, he has never played in more than 12 in a single year.

"We all know [Aucoin is] not a big guy. But he's smart player," Caps coach Dale Hunter said. "That's why he's put numbers up in the [AHL], and wherever he's been he's played well offensively."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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