Brian MacLellan talked about a lot of things before the 2017-18 season officially kicks off tomorrow. The Caps’ first game is against the Ottawa Senators on the road, where the Capitals will play eight out of the first 12 games of the year.
MacLellan’s remarks came before the Caps announced their final roster cuts, and with questions looming about the potential Wilson suspension, waiver issues, and the need to reach a final agreement on a contract for Alex Chiasson, that “I don’t know that the initial roster is the one we will be set with 5 games from now.” Earlier in the day, Caps Coach Barry Trotz said it was possible that some of the players who don’t make the cut today will play the first one or two games.
Much of the questioning involved players who made a strong impression during training camp. “I thought a lot of our young defensemen played well … Ness has played well. Djoos is starting to come. I think he has shown flashes of what he can bring at this level,” MacLellan said.
Tyler Graovac and Devante Smith-Pelly were among those who made a strong impression during camp. On Graovac, MacLellan said, “He’s been really good. He’s done a good job killing penalties, he’s provided some offense, got a good work ethic, his conditioning is excellent.”
On Smith-Pelly, MacLellan said, “I like everything about his game. Good energy. He’s done a really good job. I think he’s exceeded my and coach’s expectations on the penalty kill, and he’s provided offense from the fourth line; scored a couple of goals. Does a good job going to the net, a good job on the wall play; he’s got some really good detail on his game and the coaches are really impressed with him.”
MacLellan also had some praise for Jakub Vrana, saying, “I thought he was good, showed a lot of what we like about him – the speed, the skill. For me, his compete level when we get it consistent, where he’s using his speed and finding loose pucks and taking the puck to the net … I think he’s going to be a really great player.”
Asked about opening the season with 8 of the first 12 games on the road, MacLellan was optimistic. “I think it’s good when you’re adding new guys to be on the road because it forces you to be together and get to know each other at a different level” … “Getting on the road could be a good thing, he said.”
MacLellan was also asked about veterans Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin.
Asked whether Wilson needs to change his style of play, MacLellan said “No, I think Tom really works at it. He knows the rules, how they’re looking at the rules. I think you just have a player that’s big and strong and skates well, and sometimes you collisions happen a little late or someone puts themselves in a bad position as he’s hitting them and because of his strength it looks worse than someone else doing it.”
In terms of what he’d like to see from Wilson, he said, “I’d like to see him push to get higher in the lineup. He’s at the third line role now and I’d like to him to get some games and do well when he does get his chance to go up.”
Asked about Ovechkin, MacLellan said, “Last year’s a minimum. I think he can get more goals than that. I think he’ll probably get more ice time this year. With us not being as deep, I would see him having more ice, more shots, and more opportunity to increase his production.” He added that “splitting up Nick and Alex makes other teams make a decision on who they want to play their top defensemen against, so one of those lines gets the second d-pair, which will benefit whoever that is.”
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By Harrison Brown