With the departure of young defenseman Nate Schmidt in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, the Capitals re-signed fellow young left-hander Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract, and after finishing last season as one of the highest-scoring blueliners in the American Hockey League, the former seventh-round pick (195th overall in 2012) has a chance to take the opportunity in front of him and run with it.
Since his first Development Camp with the Caps, Djoos has impressed Caps brass with his potential, even being named CCM/AHL Player of the Month for March. Djoos finished his first two full seasons with 22 points in 62 games played and 58 points in 66 games played, respectively, and was ranked third in scoring among blueliners last season. While Djoos impressed in training camp last fall, the Capitals’ plethora of NHL-ready blueliners prevented him from truly contending for an opening night spot. Djoos was also one of the Hershey Bears’ top scorers in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs last season, with eight points (two goals, six assists) in 12 games played. He has also been one of the Bears’ most productive playoff performers the last two seasons, with 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in 33 games played.
Schmidt’s departure gives the 22-year old (23 on August 6) a prime and golden opportunity to make an impact on next season’s Capitals team, one that promises to have a few openings on the backend with the impending departure of longtime blueliner Karl Alzner (also a left-hander) in free agency. Djoos’ contract is also a sign that the Caps believe he may be ready for a full-time role in the NHL. In essence, his two-year deal is a bridge deal that gives the young Swede time to show his readiness for the best league in the world, or if the need arises, to continue to develop in the NHL. With renowned “Defense Guru” Todd Reirden returning behind the Washington bench for at least another season, Djoos, should he make the team, has arguably the best defensive coach in the NHL to help him in his development. After seeing the progression from players such as Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, and Schmidt himself, there’s no reason to believe that Djoos can’t add his name to that list.
While it appears likely that Djoos is ready for full-time duties in the NHL, it won’t be a bad thing for him to continue to refine his play in the AHL for another season. Regardless, the young blueliner has the perfect chance to make a name for himself next season and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. With 81 points (21 goals, 60 assists) in 129 games played, there’s a strong possibility that chance will become a reality.
By Michael Fleetwood