Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
When the Capitals acquired center Tyler Graovac in a trade this past summer, the move seemed to have been made to allow the Capitals to protect fellow center Lars Eller in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. And while it was widely expected that the 24-year old Graovac would begin the season in the American Hockey League with the Caps’ affiliate Hershey Bears, the former Minnesota Wild prospect has impressed in his first training camp with the Capitals.
A former seventh-round pick of the Wild, Graovac has performed strongly in the team’s first few preseason games in which he’s played. While it’s common for unexpected players to have strong showings in training camp, what makes Graovac’s impressive is the strong depth down the middle the Caps already have on their roster in Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Eller, and Jay Beagle.
Graovac, as mentioned above, was drafted by the Wild in the seventh-round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (191st overall) after spending time in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Belleville Bulls and Ottawa 67’s, with whom he recorded a combined 130 points (58 goals, 72 assists) in 228 games played over the course of four seasons. After spending time with the Iowa Wild of the AHL, Graovac got his first extended look with the NHL Wild last season, recording nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 52 games played, with a plus-7 rating. In 57 total games played with the Wild, he finished with the aforementioned nine points.
The Caps have already made two rounds of roster cuts to trim their roster to 30 players, and have just a few more preseason games and just over a week to decide on their final roster. Given the team’s already front-loaded depth down the middle, it’s hard to envision Graovac making the team as a center, however the Caps have been playing some of the remaining natural centers in camp on the wing, meaning that if Graovac is able to adapt to playing on the wing, he may be able make the Opening Night roster. However, he faces stiff competition from natural wingers such as Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Jakub Vrana, and Nathan Walker. But given how well he has played to this point, it’s hard not to see Graovac as a potential candidate to win an open slot.
By Michael Fleetwood