The Washington Capitals are back healthy. Defenseman Matt Niskanen played his first game in last night’s 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Forward Tyler Graovac is down in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears reconditioning, and right wing Brett Connolly rejoined the team in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers after missing seven games with a concussion.
Forward Andre Burakovsky is the lone player left on Washington’s injured list and is expected to return mid-to-late December following hand surgery.
With Washington getting most of its regular lineup back, it means there will be the same competition that we saw in training camp will be back. Washington’s additions from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears from the offseason include defensemen Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey. The freshmen forwards that are currently on Washington’s roster are Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, and Nathan Walker. Washington also brought in right wing Devante Smith-Pelly and Alex Chiasson in free agency.
Of those players, Ness, Chorney, Djoos, Walker, Stephenson, Smith-Pelly, Graovac, and Chiasson would require waivers to be sent down to Hershey.
Djoos will likely be sidelined with an upper-body injury in tomorrow’s game at Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche. He suffered the injury in the game against the Predators last night. Chorney will likely take the 22-year old Swede’s spot in the lineup.
Trotz said Djoos is out tomorrow. Doesn’t have a timeframe for injury. Chorney will play tomorrow.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) November 15, 2017
When Burakovsky returns from injury, Washington is going to have to make some tough decisions with their prospects currently up with the team.
Chandler Stephenson will likely stay with the team after scoring two goals and six points in his first 10 games played with Washington this season, with a plus-6 rating in those 10 games. After being waived by Washington due to under-performing in training camp, Stephenson heated up in Hershey, scoring five times and averaging a point per game in six games. He was rewarded when Burakovsky was placed on the injured reserve for 6-8 weeks. Stephenson has made the most of his opportunity since Washington recalled him from Hershey and will likely remain with the Capitals as long as he keeps up what he is doing.
Djoos will also likely remain in Washington. Not only has he been playing well, he was third in AHL scoring among defensemen last year and the two players in front of him were in their 30’s. He would require waivers to be sent back down to Hershey and he would probably be scooped up in a heartbeat if Washington waived him. Djoos has two goals and three points in 16 games with Washington this season along with a plus-4 rating. He has been playing important minutes, averaging 14:08 worth of ice time per night with Washington.
Bowey is waiver exempt but has recorded five assists and a plus-1 rating in 13 games played with Washington this season. He was called up when Niskanen was placed on long-term injured reserve and has been great ever since his call-up. Bowey has averaged 15:03 minutes of ice time per night and played 17:17 in Nashville on Tuesday night. He has played in every game for Washington that he’s been healthy in because he is playing really well. Bowey also had a strong training camp, but didn’t make the roster.
Smith-Pelly has played well with Washington since making the team out of training camp. He has played on the second-line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin for the past nine games and has been clicking, scoring two goals. Overall, he has two goals and six points in 19 games played with a plus-2 rating. He is two goals and three points away from matching his offensive totals from last year, when he played 53 games with the New Jersey Devils. He is likely to remain in Washington as he has played in all of the Capitals’ games so far this season.
Chorney has also been playing well, scoring a goal and two assists in 14 games played this season. He leads the Capitals with a plus-8 rating. He has played with the Capitals in 73 games in each of the past two seasons combined and knows the chemistry and the system of the team better than most of the players fighting for spots. Chorney may not play consistently for Washington, but will most likely remain with the team and go up and down in the lineup. Chorney is strong defensively and can be trusted on the penalty kill.
Vrana could be moved down to Hershey but that is highly unlikely. He is currently third on the Capitals with four goals and is seventh on the team with seven points. Most of his time in Washington has been on the top two lines with Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He has also been getting some time on the second power play for the Capitals. With his dangerous offensive abilities, do not expect him to be sent back down to Hershey, but being waiver exempt, do not rule it out either.
It seems apparent that one of Walker, Graovac, and potentially Chiasson could be moved and one of Aaron Ness or Chorney will be the two likely candidates that are sent down.
Walker has only played six games for Washington, scoring a goal, and has not played since November 7. Despite being required to clear waivers to be sent back down to Hershey, it is apparent that the Capitals do not think of him as one of the best players’ that are fighting for spots.
Graovac is reconditioning in Hershey and will probably stay down until someone in Washington cools down.
Chiasson has scored two goals with Washington this season and will likely remain with the team with his 338 games of NHL experience, but do not rule him entirely. Washington could be looking for younger blood and Chiasson has underperformed up to this point with the Capitals so far, with just two goals, three points, and a minus-4 rating.
With players getting healthier, certain Capitals players will be fighting for spots like they did in training camp two months ago. They will have to keep their level of play up if they hope to remain in Washington for the foreseeable future.
By Harrison Brown