Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan spoke with the media on Friday during media day to talk about the current state of the team. GMBM weighed in on a variety of things including Alex Ovechkin’s shape, the prospects looking to make the team, and his offseason moves.
MacLellan opened up his presser by mentioning how Ovechkin needed to change his ways to adapt to today’s game, a challenge to the captain that was issued by MacLellan himself in the beginning of the offseason.
“I think every player in this league recognizes the direction it’s (the NHL) going and once you get older, these guys recognize that you gotta play with pace, and not just individual pace it’s team pace, you’re coaching the game faster, you’re moving the puck faster,” said MacLellan.
When asked what he’s noticed in how Ovechkin has looked, MacLellan responded, “He looks happier. He looks good. He looks ready and excited to play.”
Christian Djoos is one of the many young prospects that could be in the Capitals lineup this season. MacLellan likes his potential.
“Djoos had a great year (in Hershey), he’s proven himself at the American (Hockey) League level, he definitely has the skill level to play, he moves the puck, he’s smart,” said MacLellan. “For him, it’s gonna be can he adapt to the pace of the game? Can he adapt to the strength of the game and how well does he defend? He has to prove that.”
Tom Wilson is entering one of the biggest seasons of his career and was flying all over the ice yesterday in the first team practice. MacLellan has taken notice in his improvement.
“I think he’s improved. I thought he had a great series against Toronto and performed really well in the playoffs,” said MacLellan. “He works at his game and I hope that he continually improves every year, especially the way he works at it. I would anticipate that he’s better this year than he was last year.”
Nathan Walker is another prospect that is hopeful to make an impact on the Capitals. He will become the first Australian-born athlete to play in an NHL game if he makes the opening night roster.
“He’s developed into a good penalty killer. We always liked his speed and his compete level. He continues to become a better player, better positionally, reads the game better instead of being a pure energy player,” said MacLellan. “I think he’s made a statement (in the preliminary skates and the first practice). He’s come here early, he’s in good shape. He had a good year at the AHL level. He wants it and has made a good first impression.”
On newly-acquired Devante Smith-Pelly, MacLellan said, “He has some raw abilities, the size, the strength, he plays well, he shoots the puck well. He just needs more consistency.”
The Capitals signed Dmitry Orlov to an extension as he looks to lead the young defensemen. MacLellan mentioned how much his game has improved.
“His all-around game is good. There’s less risk in his game and more calculated risks. I think he’s more comfortable with the increased ice time and played great with (Matt) Niskanen. He shoots and moves the puck well and his defensive game has improved.”
With Andre Burakovksy and Evgeny Kuznetsov also signing extensions, MacLellan believes both guys are in for a big season.
“I think Burakovksy is gonna have a good year especially that he’s playing in the top six with Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov). Kuzy is going to have a good year. We have four good centermen. Kuzy and Backstrom can increase any winger’s production and if you’re a winger playing with those kinds of players, your numbers are going to increase.”
MacLellan finished his talk with the media speaking more highly on Kuznetsov.
“He had a really good playoffs in my mind and I think the key for him is to keep improving, to be at the top of the league in points, to be able to play against the best players in the league. All those things, I think he’ll be able to handle responsibility-wise.”
It sounds like despite all the losses he had to endure, GMBM still has faith in the new team that he’s assembled to have a good season. How far they go is still early to tell. For now, sit back and enjoy training camp and all the roster position battles that will unfold.
By Michael Marzzacco