Capital gains for Volpatti

Former Viper Aaron Volpatti earns top-line assignment with Washington Capitals.

You could pretty much hear Aaron Volpatti’s grin through the phone early Friday afternoon.

He had just finished an optional practice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena and was meeting up with Dan Rosen, a Brown University Bears teammate now working in Beantown, for dinner.

I’m sure they talked about their different life paths – Rosen played nine games in the minors and then shut hockey down – and how Volpatti was going to have two new linemates for Washington’s Saturday matinee game against the Bruins.

“I’m starting on the first line tomorrow,” beamed Volpatti, claimed by the Capitals on waivers from Vancouver Feb. 28. “With (Nicklas) Backstrom and Ovy (Alex Ovechin). Not bad linemates. Hopefully I can get them some passes and get some assists.”

Ovechkin and centre Mike Ribeiro were the only players who did not skate Friday at BU. Defencemen Karl Alzner, John Carlson and AHL call-up Steve Oleksy (who has the same agent as Volpatti) were shooed off the ice after playing so many minutes Thursday in a comeback win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Volpatti, a six-foot, 215-pounder, was shocked when Vancouver put him on waivers. He’s adjusted quickly to life as Cap and just moved into his own condo near teammate Joel Ward.

“It’s been different but it’s been good. The first three games, I was in and out, but I played a lot more last night (almost 12 minutes). It’s been a smooth transition. They had a really bad start. I think they were 2-8 so now we’re trying to get to .500, get in the playoffs and take it from there.”

Caps’ coach Adam Oates would normally use seven-year veteran Brooks Laich on his No. 1 line, but the former Seattle Thunderbird sniper is hurt.

Volpatti took a handful of shifts with Backstrom and Ovechkin versus Carolina, replacing Matt Hendricks, who started the game there.

“[Volpatti] goes hard to the net and he can make plays, that’s what we need,” Backstrom said in a Washington Times blog.

Volpatti planned to stress defensive assignments as the high guy with the ultra-talented duo. He was going to be physical and create extra space for the all-world Euros. And the 1 p.m. game time was not an issue.

“I like the afternoon games,”  he told me. “Even in college, I had some of my best games in the afternoon. You get up and you play, there’s no waiting around.”

As for the differences between the Sedin twins and Ovechkin, Volpatti said: “Ovechkin is a lot more about speed and going hard to the net. He’s a big boy. He’s pretty vocal and outgoing.”

Left wing opposite Ovechkin has been a rotating cast of characters through 26 games. Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera have each gotten a shot.

Wrote Stephen Whyno, in his Friday blog: “What Volpatti brings, in addition to a simple, north-south game, is the ability to protect Ovechkin and Backstrom on Saturday at TD Garden against the Bruins. In the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers would sometimes put Dave Semenko on Wayne Gretzky’s line as something of a policeman.”

Volpatti, 27, earned the promotion during Thursday night’s game after he set up Joey Crabb for Washington’s first goal.

Volpatti was also stoked Friday about the Caps acquiring former Viper teammate Chay Genoway from the Minnesota Wild.

“He played one or two games in Minny so hopefully he gets a shot up here,” said Volpatti. “We were really close in Vernon, but I haven’t seen him in a while.”

Genoway, an all-star d-man, racked up 17 goals and 49 points in the 2005-06 BCHL season. He’s with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears.

Said Hershey head coach Mark French of Genoway: “Fleet of foot. Good skill level.”

Volpatti had one goal and 28 penalty minutes in 16 games with Vancouver earlier this season. The Revelstoke product was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Vancouver on March 22, 2010. He and Vernon’s Claire Monahan, are engaged to be married in Revy in August.

The Caps were 11-14-1 going into the game in Boston, 12th in the Eastern Conference. They were seven points back of the Winnipeg Jets, who held the eighth and final playoff berth.

Just for the record, d-man Mike Green (groin) skated Friday but walked with a noticeable limp.

John Erskine was not with the team in Boston even though Oates has targeted Sunday for the big blueliner’s return. That’s when Erskine is eligible to come off injured reserve.