He came into training camp in tremendous shape, a grueling summer of workouts with teammate Karl Alzner providing a strong foundation for the 2011-12 season. But it all went wrong after an Oct. 13 fight in Pittsburgh left Capitals forward Jay Beagle concussed and out of action for 10 weeks. As his symptoms continued he simply couldn’t train the way he wanted.

“To get injured and to be sidelined for three months and not be able to do any activity, it was the worst time of my life, I think,” Beagle said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It was a time where I really mentally had to battle a lot of things, not only with just losing being in shape and starting from scratch again but also with battling a concussion. It was a terrible time and I wouldn’t wish it upon my enemies.”

But he persevered and eventually recovered. By the end of the season he was Washington’s third-line center, had a goal and an assist in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and earned the trust of coach Dale Hunter. He somehow even began playing more minutes in the postseason than star winger Alex Ovechkin. Whether that was the right move for Hunter to make, Beagle clearly made an impression. He even abused Boston’s stalwart group of centers in the faceoff circle in that first-round series.

That was enough for the Caps to award Beagle a three-year contract worth $2.7 million on Thursday. The salary-cap hit will be $900,000 per season. He salvaged his season last year over the final four months. Now, under a new coaching staff led by Adam Oates, Beagle has to prove it wasn’t a fluke. He seems pegged for fourth-line duty, but could go higher in the lineup depending on Washington’s other personnel moves this summer.

“Obviously with having a new coach you’re going to establish a relationship. I’ve already talked to [Oates],” Beagle said. “He seems like a great guy, an easy guy to talk to, very personable. I’m looking forward to having him behind the bench. He really seems like he knows the game really well and watches a lot of video already. Just from talking to him, you sense the knowledge that he has on the game.”

“I called [Beagle] and left him a message today,” Oates said at Nationals Park after throwing out the first pitch at the Nats-Rockies game on Friday evening. “I wanted him to try something [new]. He’s got a couple months and he just signed a big deal and he’s one of the guys we’re hoping to keep growing as a player.”

Beagle, of course, had his season end early after taking a shot off his left foot in Game 5 of the second-round series against the New York Rangers. He had surgery on the foot and was only on crutches for a week. Now two weeks into his annual workout program – he said he’s waiting for good buddy Alzner to return to Calgary from his honeymoon so they can start training again together – Beagle can put full weight on the foot and has begun off-ice workouts just a bit behind last summer’s schedule.

The 26-year-old expects to be ready for training camp. The flexibility in his foot and ankle is returning to normal. He’s put his skates on a few times already, but will wait until next week to actually take to the ice. There is still a collective bargaining agreement to be worked out between the NHLPA and the owners. But for now Beagle plans on his normal return to Washington in late August. Now with some stability for the first time in his career, he can’t wait for it all to begin again.

“I’m really happy,” Beagle said. “Obviously, I set out this year to establish myself as a role player that can play in tight situations and be a guy that the coach can count on to throw out in defensive situations – especially penalty-kill, that’s a huge part of my game. It was a tough start to the year. The finish was what I was looking to do all season. I’m hoping just to build on that.”

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