As we do every year in the weeks leading up to the Capitals’ training camp, NoVa Caps is preparing key “player previews” for the upcoming season. Today, our annual Player previews continue with defenseman Matt Niskanen.
2016-17 Season Recap
Since signing a seven-year contract with the Capitals in free agency in 2014, Niskanen has been one of the blueline’s most consistent producers, and last season was no exception. In 78 games played, Niskanen scored five goals and added 34 assists for 39 points, with plus-20 rating. His 39 points is a career-high with the Capitals.
He was once again relied upon by Head Coach Barry Trotz to play heavy minutes on the team’s top-pairing with youngster Dmitry Orlov. While his offensive game is an asset, it’s Niskanen’s defensive play that enables him to play an effective two-way game. Niskanen finished last season with 93 blocked shots (good enough for fifth on the team and amongst Capitals defensemen) and 36 takeaways, while recording 4.8 defensive point shares (points contributed by a player due to his defense).
In the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Niskanen recorded just four points (one goal, three assists) in 13 playoff games.
Matt Niskanen’s Top Play of 2016-17
2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW
With the departures of fellow blueliners Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt in free agency and the Expansion Draft, respectively, the Capital’s will need Niskanen to consistently produce offensively and continue to be solid defensively, while carrying a heavy workload on the backend. With the likely arrival of two young defensemen to the lineup, Niskanen will also be called upon by Head Coach Barry Trotz to take on a mentor role. Niskanen will likely see more power play time this season, which should improve his offensive numbers. Defensively, Niskanen will likely continue to be steady in his own end. Assuming he plays with Dmitry Orlov once again this season, Niskanen should be as solid as ever defensively.
More of this:
With the production of Alzner, Shattenkirk, and Schmidt lost earlier this summer, Niskanen will need to increase his shot totals during game action. As this video shows, Niskanen possesses a laser-like shot that can make a difference. While Orlov (his presumptive defensive partner) likes to shoot a lot, Niskanen will need to be a bit more selfish this season to replace the production lost.
Less of this:
While Niskanen is usually a solid two-way blueliner, he occasionally finds himself out of position when jumping into an offensive rush. With both he and Orlov always ready to jump into an offensive attack, he will need to be ready to be in a good position defensively if the opposition goes the other way. Niskanen is also sometimes a bit too generous on the power play with players like Alex Ovechkin also on the ice. As stated above, in order to recover some of the production lost this offseason on the backend, Niskanen will need to keep the puck for himself a bit more than in the past. While being unselfish is a good thing, being too generous when there is a prime opportunity to shoot is not.
Key Goals for 2017-18
With Schmidt, Alzner, and Shattenkirk all gone, the Capitals will need the 30-year old Niskanen to step into a bigger role this season. In a season that will likely feature two young, inexperienced defensemen on the roster, Niskanen will also need to take on a mentor-like role to help the youngsters adjust to the rigors of the NHL. In essence, Niskanen will need:
- to produce consistently and more often offensively to replace the production lost this summer
- continue to play solid defense and a tough, two-way game
- become a mentor for any rookie defensemen that are in the lineup
- be willing to shoot more on the power play
- capitalize on prime scoring chances and opportunities
The Two-Year Plan for the Washington Capitals’ Defense
Could Taylor Chorney See A Bigger Role Next Season with the Departures of Alzner, Schmidt, and Shattenkirk?
With the Losses on the Blueline, John Carlson Must Step Up Next Season for the Caps
Other Player Previews:
Washington Capitals Player Preview: Andre Burakovsky
Washington Capitals Player Preview: T.J. Oshie
Washington Capitals Player Preview: Tom Wilson
Washington Capitals Player Preview: Lars Eller
By Michael Fleetwood
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I think Niskanen and Orlov can be mentors to the young defensemen this season
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