With the season-ending second round playoff loss to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals have reached the conclusion of their annual campaign for Lord Stanley’s Cup (an annual retreat that happens pretty much every late-April, or early-May). Here for you now are the Regular Season and Playoff grades for everyone that donned the Red, White, and Blue for the Capitals this season.
Note: Grades will be Regular Season / Playoffs format…each player gets two grades unless there was no playoff appearances.
Heads of the Class
Alex Ovechkin (A / B+): Once again Ovi captured the Rocket Richard leading the NHL in goals, and once again he proved that he is a worthy perennial Hart Trophy candidate as the leader of the Capitals. The Great 8 tallied 50 goals and added 21 assists, playing in 79 regular season games. Over the 12 game playoff run Ovechkin added 5 goals and 7 assists, though his vaunted shot ultimately couldn’t break through enough against a rookie Pittsburgh netminder.
TJ Oshie (A / A-): One of the new additions to the Washington line-up proved to be the perfect puzzle-piece to the top line. Durable, capable, and productive; Oshie scored 26 goals and added 25 helpers in aiding to balance the top-line scoring duties. His net drive, slot-presence, and tireless work ethic brought a ton of life to the Capitals attack. His veteran prowess also helped deliver 6 goals and 4 assists over 12 playoff games, and although the team came up much shorter than expectation, Oshie never quit and delivered as much one man could.
Photo: USA Today
Evgeny Kuznetsov (A / D+): Kuzy played all 82 regular season games and lead the team in points for the first time in his young career (20G, 57A, and a plus-27). The young wizard proved he can be a thrilling playmaker. Over the 12 playoff games, he only recorded one goal and one assist and he faded into almost obscurity in the playoffs. Sadly, his firepower and net drive vanished into thin air when the Caps needed them most.
The Steady Performers
Jay Beagle (B+ / B+): Mr. Consistency in the face-off dot, on the penalty kill, and on the forecheck; Jay Beagle (when healthy and in the line-up) continues to show off his impressive intangibles. He has yet to play a full season, but in his 57 games Beagle produced eight goals, nine assists and as a 3rd and 4th line shut down center, he proved worthy of his minutes. His three ‘clutch’ playoff goals also impressed as a guy who never quit and worked hard until the season’s bitter end.
Nicklas Backstrom (B+ / B-): Saint Nick continued his career productivity by dishing out close to the league lead in assists (50 helpers). He added to that production 20 goals, and as possession captain of the top power-play unit he served as a veteran pivot for the Capitals scoring options. Backstrom continues to shine as a highly-underrated top-tier NHL center, and his chemistry with Ovechkin (while at times stagnate) can be something to behold. In the playoffs Nicky added two goals and nine assists, but when the PP sputtered and the hot sticks cooled he could not help to restart the machine.
Marcus Johansson (B+ / B-): Whether centering the 3rd line, playing left wing on the 2nd line, or filling a power play role on the low wall Mojo found his proverbial mojo this season (somewhat justifying his arbitration pay day, and possibly giving GM MacLellan a tough decision to overpay next year for the young forwards skills (and further development). Mojo still has lots to prove as at times he can be a possession nightmare, show weak board play, and is not known to be the strongest in the face-off dot. In 12 playoff games Johansson found the net twice and added five assists. Although he was overmatched at times, he still has room for growth into a top-6 forward for the Capitals.
Justin Williams (B+ / D-): Mr. Playoffs Game 7, Mr. Clutch, veteran leader and standout for his ability to rise to the occasion. We saw a ton of flair, balance, and leadership in the regular season as Williams complemented the Capitals second line perfectly. Meshing with both Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov very well. Williams helped to accent the Caps strong regular season power play, and he obviously mentored younger players. Adding 22 goals and 30 assists to the teams’ tally in the regular season, Williams was not as effective in the playoffs (scoring three goals and adding four helpers). For entire playoff games he seemed to float around disengaged or take poorly timed penalties. I’m not sure he has tarnished his career playoff resume just yet, but time will tell.
Child Prodigy and Man-Child-Beast:
Andre Burakovsky (B- / D+): There is still much room for young Bura to learn, grow (gain muscle), and produce. He may not have matured fully yet into a top-6 left wing, and while mired at times on the 4th line he has shown glimpses of flair and creativity. Adding 17 goals and 21 assists over 79 games, Burakovsky proved that his development is working and that he can blossom into a 20+ (if not 30) goal threat. Though his size, maturity, and playoff experience showed definite cracks in his game with only one goal (1pt) in the playoffs.
Tom Wilson (B- / C-): Fighter or grinder? Opposition agitator or poor decision maker? We don’t yet know what Tom Wilson is as a Washington Capital. His 163 penalty minutes led the team. His durability saw him complete the entire 82-game season as well (scoring 7g, 16a). Come playoff time that grit was called upon, but even though he landed big checks, he lost valuable playing time due to mistakes and bad timing. Providing only 1 assist in the playoffs Big Willy needs to mature from a 4th line pest into a 3rd line dynamic player that can at times add offense and also intimidate opponents with size.
Grizzled Old Guys, Doing Old Guy Things:
Jason Chimera (C+ / C-): The very model of a consistent 3rd liner, Mr. Ice Cheetah offered up another full 82-game campaign and potted 20 goals / 20 assists. His speed (at times) is still there and his hands can still provide a scoring touch. Where Chimmer flourishes is as a 3rd line pace-setter and threat on the odd-man rush. In the playoffs (like most of the Capitals roster) the scoring dried up and he could only muster one goal and one assist in a secondary scoring role.
Mike Richards (C- / C-): In landing the free agent (troubled) former LA Kings forward, the Capitals got a cheap rental center, penalty killer, and they had hoped for a veteran playoff leader. Richards was not brought into to score goals, but to use his vast hockey smarts as a 4th line shut down center and to be a special teams guru. With two goals and three assists in 39 regular season games Richards lived up to that role. However in the playoffs Richards was denied anything on the scoresheet, was relegated to PK only, and his minus numbers on the ice showed his playoff effectiveness was left in LA.
Dan Winnik (C / C+): The major part of the Brooks Laich salary dump came in touted as a younger Laich-type grit and glue player. In 20 regular season games he scored two goals and dished three assists as a fourth line worker and special teams PK expert. I will hand it to Winny that he is a very tough PK guy, shot blocker, and battler. And even though completely off the score sheet for the playoffs, he improved his work in regards to helping keep the PK strong. He has work to do to add more balance to his game and properly augment what will be a younger 4th line next season.
Brooks Laich (D / no grade): For all his years in the Capitals organization, for all his hard work, dedication to recover from injury, and all-around great person effusiveness Brooks Laich was traded for a slightly younger version of himself (Dan Winnik) and was cast aside after 60 games in Washington this season. No longer able to substantiate a $4.5M annual cap hit and finding the desperately rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs willing to take on his future salary, Laich quietly bid adieu to his beloved DC and his many fans. Sadly he was rather ineffective as a 4th line center/wing as his time in DC wound down only offering one goal and six assists this season in a very limited role as mentor and/or penalty killer.
The Mostly Invisible Kids in the Back:
Michael Latta (D / no grade): Latta got a jersey for 43 games during the regular season and zero in the playoffs. He plays a mostly checking, enforcing type role and was more of a utility guy and comic relief this season. Rather sad he’s more known for his Twitter posts that finding the space between goal posts. Despite his friendship with Tom Wilson and closeness to fellow youth Andre Burakovsky it is unlikely Latta will see much more time on the Capitals.
Stan Galiev (F / no grade): In 24 games this season Galiev got chances on the 4th line, 3rd line, 1st line, and 2nd power play. In limited minutes as a fill-in only the under-sized young forward contributed three assists and seems a likely candidate to develop in the AHL or another organization next year. Galiev has yet to develop a “North American” style forward game, and he has definite talent limitations. The Capitals would be better served to see if Riley Barber or Jakub Vrana are ready for the development role at the NHL level.
The Kids out Smoking in the Alley:
Zach Sill – 10 games, 1 goal (no grade)
Chandler Stephenson – 9 games, no points (no grade)
Paul Carey – 4 games, 1 goal (no grade)
Sean Collins – 2 games, no points (no grade)
Chris Brown – 1 game, no points (no grade)
All the above were fill-in, lucky to have been there, and are not viewed as anything more than depth to the organization. Sill and Carey having scored goals is a testament to “anything can happen” but outside of a bad run of injuries, these fellas will probably be held back in the AHL for life.
These have been your 2015-2016 Washington Capitals Forwards. Maybe next year more will make the grade.
By Scott Zweibel