Capitals hockey is back! The Washington Capitals open their training camp this week and it should provide plenty of competition. While the Capitals have most of their positions already locked up, there are a few depth positions still up for grabs.
Entering his second year as the Capitals bench boss, Barry Trotz is looking for some of the younger guys to step up and take the last few spots. The Capitals are only bringing one veteran NHL player with Derek Roy to tryout. Can one of the Hershey Bears make the leap to full-time NHL duty? Who should the Capitals fans keep an eye out for as training camp and preseason move along? Let’s take a look at each position for the Capitals – forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders:
The Capitals top six forward rotation is pretty much set and there will not be much speculation surrounding it through the preseason. The Capitals top two lines should look like this:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
The Capitals finally filled the second line center hole last season as Evgeny Kuznetsov took tremendous strides in his development. The Capitals revamped their right-wing position over the summer as they brought in Justin Williams from Los Angeles and traded for T.J. Oshie from St. Louis. This top six could shape up as one of the best groups in the NHL if the chemistry is there between the players.
While the top six forward rotation is set, the Capitals still have a couple of holes to fill in the bottom six rotation. Marcus Johansson is back and was re-signed to a one-year deal over the summer, and the Capitals will also have familiar faces with Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Jay Beagle. Tom Wilson is expected by the Capitals management to take a bigger role this season as he will get more icetime playing on the third line.
Marcus Johansson – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – ?????
The Capitals fourth line will be the line that will see a variety of faces over the course of the year. Fans saw spurts of Michael Latta, Stanislav Galiev, and Chris Brown at different points in 2014-15. Will one of these three young Capitals players take a full-time role in the lineup? Could another player come out of Hershey and impress during Capitals training camp? Keep your eye on Jakub Vrana, Liam O’Brien, or Chandler Stephenson during this camp as they could potentially push for a Capitals roster spot.
If the Capitals decide to give a veteran like Derek Roy a roster spot, will he play wing or center? He is capable of playing both positions to give the Capitals some added flexibility.
The Capitals will have a different look on the blueline for the upcoming 2015-16 season. With Mike Green’s departure, it will give the Capitals younger defenseman more opportunity to grow and develop.
The top-four defensive rotation is as good as any there is in the NHL. John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, and Matt Niskanen bring a good mix of everything for the Capitals. This top four unit can move the puck well and they are very competitive in the defensive zone.
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
The bottom defensive pairing for the Capitals is still a bit unknown for right now and should play out during training camp. Dmitry Orlov should be returning from his injury that kept him out all of last season. Nate Schmidt played in 39 regular season games for the Capitals blueline in 2014-15, so he is a leading candidate to be in this bottom pair role. But who can fill the Capitals seven/eight role? Who will be the depth defensemen for the Capitals?
Dmitry Orlov – Nate Schmidt
Taylor Chorney? – Connor Carrick? – Madison Bowey? – Ryan Stanton?
While Orlov and Schmidt should round out the bottom pair for the Capitals, the Capitals are likely to keep one or two extra defensemen as scratches. Chorney and Stanton are both NHL veterans and are new to the Capitals this year. Capitals fans saw Connor Carrick play in 34 regular season games in 2013-14, but he was not quite ready for the main roster at that time. Madison Bowey was the Capitals 2nd round draft choice in 2013, and he is one of the top prospects in the organization.
Since the Capitals will have two younger players on their bottom defensive pairing already, they will probably go with the two older veterans to fill the remaining holes. Even with the holes at the bottom, this is still a deep defensive core. Training camp will play out and the Capitals will know more about their excellent defensive depth as it moves along.
This particular position is pretty much a lock for the Capitals. The Capitals paid Braden Holtby a lot of money this summer and he is the main guy for the next five years for them. Right behind him will be 23-year old Philipp Grubauer as he seems to be finished with his career in Hershey.
Braden Holtby – Philipp Grubauer
Hershey will have a pair of veteran goaltenders as their duo in 2015-16 season. Dan Ellis and Justin Peters both have plenty of NHL experience and will step up to the main roster only if injuries occur.
Justin Peters – Dan Ellis
The Capitals still have some holes to fill in their depth positions at forward and on defense. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals decide to fill their fourth line. Will they go with more youth or will they play it safe and let a veteran have the spot?
While the Capitals are deep at most of their positions, they still have some flexibility in potentially making a deal. They could still ship out one of their veterans like Jason Chimera or Brooks Laich if a bunch of their young players really impress at training camp.
The biggest camp battles will involve the Capitals fourth line and the depth defenseman roles. I am interested in seeing if Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt can take strides in their development as full-time NHL defensemen. They have both shown flashes of being good, and they have shown a few errors too. No matter how everything plays out, this is one of the deepest Capitals teams in the Ovechkin Era.
By George Foussekis