The Capitals lost Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt from last season’s roster to free agency, a trade, and the Expansion Draft. That’s 68 goals out of the 263 goals scored by the team last season as a whole gone. So, how are the Capitals going to replace those goals that they lost during this offseason?
Other players in the lineup are going to have to step up and play bigger roles for the team in 2017-18. Who could have a breakout season? Here are five candidates who will need to step up.
5. Devante Smith-Pelly
After the Capitals signed Brett Connolly to a one-year contract during the 2016 offseason, he rewarded them by scoring 15 goals in only 66 games played. This summer, they signed fellow right wing Devante Smith-Pelly to a one-year contract worth $650,000 after he was bought out by the New Jersey Devils days before. Smith-Pelly, 25, scored six goals and eight points in 53 games played for the Devils last season, with a shooting percentage of 14%. If Capitals head coach Barry Trotz can get him to shoot more, Smith-Pelly could score a lot more goals this year.
Last season, his average ice time a night was 13:30 minutes and it shouldn’t increase in Washington. He will likely be playing with center Jay Beagle and one of Nathan Walker or Riley Barber. He has shown flashes of breakout potential during his time with the Devils, Anaheim Ducks, and Montreal Canadiens. In his first season in Anaheim, he scored seven goals and 13 points in 49 games played.
He had a down year the season after. He scored six goals and just 20 points in 74 games played the following year with the Ducks and Canadiens. The following year, he scored 14 goals and 25 points in 64 games played with the Canadiens and Devils. Last season he had a down year which eventually led to him being bought out.
After signing Connolly to a cheap one-year deal and it turning out to be a steal, the Capitals are going to give it another shot with Smith-Pelly. He has come up in big games. He scored the game-tying goal in the final minute against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals and sent the game to overtime. The Ducks won that game thanks to a Nick Bonino overtime game-winning goal. Smith-Pelly also scored the opening goal of the Canadiens’ Game 5 in the second round against Tampa Bay in 2015, which the Habs won 2-1 and forced a Game 6. Smith-Pelly has had an up and down career so far, but his play has sparked in the playoffs. If the Caps can get the player who has scored a lot of big playoff goals to get them past the second round, it will pay off. He will get some time on the fourth-line with Beagle and, hopefully, he will thrive with the talent surrounding him.
4. Jakub Vrana
The Caps’ 13th overall pick in 2014 started off last season on a hot streak, scoring 10 times in the first 20 games played in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. That start was good enough for him to get some time in the NHL last season, where he scored three goals and six points in 21 games played.
Vrana, 21, may have been inconsistent last year, a year in which he saw himself get scratched in the playoffs, but he’s expected to be with the Capitals a lot this year with the departure of Williams, Johansson, and Winnik. He will likely get some playing time on a line with star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and captain Alex Ovechkin who will help him thrive and his numbers have the potential to be higher than some people may expect. Vrana has the NHL speed, shot, and offensive prowess to make it to the big league this season, he just needs to be more consistent in his game.
3. Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson is coming off a year in which he scored seven goals and 19 points in 82 games played. He’s expected to pursue and hopefully hold a bigger role with Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson leaving town. Wilson showed breakout potential in the playoffs, especially during the Caps’ first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, when he scored three goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1.
Wilson could also see some time with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, but he’s expected to start the year on the third-line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. As long as Wilson stays out of the penalty box, he should have himself a pretty good year.
2. Andre Burakovsky
The Caps’ first round draft choice (23rd overall) in 2013 has gone through some stretches of hot and cold streaks in his first three NHL seasons. The Capitals will need Burakovsky, 22, to stop the long stretches without a goal if they hope to remain a Stanley Cup contender.
He ended the season with 12 goals and 35 points in 64 games played last season. He re-signed with the Capitals on a two-year contract earlier this month. Like Wilson, Burakovsky showed signs of being a future superstar during the playoffs when he was promoted to the first-line with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom. He scored three goals and four points in two games after being put on that line. With him playing next to Oshie and Backstrom for most of the season he will get more ice time, more responsibility, and, hopefully, more production.
1. Dmitry Orlov
After his contract negotiations dragged throughout last summer, the Capitals re-signed defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a one-year contract worth $2.57 million. Last season he played a Top 4 role and played very well finishing with six goals, 33 points, and a plus-30 rating in 82 games played. Orlov finished sixth in the league in plus/minus.
Orlov will get even more responsibility this season while playing on the top-pairing with Matt Niskanen. He should also get more power play time, which should boost his value. He played so well that the Caps re-signed him before July 1 this year to a six-year contract worth $30.5 million. With Orlov’s role growing after the losses of Shattenkirk, Alzner, and Schmidt early in the offseason, expect him to have a breakout year.
By Harrison Brown