After losing the likes of Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and the 2017 Expansion Draft this past summer and not much cap space to spend on replacements, the Capitals were going to have to rely upon internal replacements to make up for the lost production and defensive stamina. Two of their top defensive prospects, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, have seen extended NHL time with an injury to veteran Matt Niskanen earlier this season, and both seemed to have earned their keep. In this piece, NoVa Caps looks at how each have done this season in their extended NHL stays.
Of the two, Djoos was the most-talked about heading into training camp and into the regular season. While he may only be 6’0″, Djoos has played well through his first 21 games played in the NHL. In that span, he has scored two goals and recorded two assists, while averaging 13:42 of ice time a night for Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz, with a plus/minus rating of plus-5. His offensive prowess and creativity with the puck have been among his strengths, and his defensive game has not been dramatically poor, but like all young defensemen, could use some fine tuning in certain areas. Djoos has turned the puck over eight times compared to just four takeaways, but overall, the numbers are not bad at all.
Djoos has a Corsi rating of 56.1 and the Capitals’ goaltenders have a save percentage of .933 when Djoos is on the ice. The Capitals have also started in the offensive zone 68.7% of the time when Djoos has been on the ice. On a game-by-game basis, Djoos has been fairly consistent, averaging 0.4 goals, 0.4 assists, and 0.8 points per 60 minutes, per Hockey Reference. Overall, he has blocked 13 shots at even-strength.
While he didn’t make the Capitals’ Opening Night roster, Bowey has certainly held his own in his extended NHL call-up. In 24 games played, Bowey has recorded five assists, while averaging 13:45 of ice time a night, with a minus-1 rating. While not as offensive-minded as his defensive counterpart, Bowey has also struggled defensively, although that may partially be due to the fact he was forced to play extended minutes when Niskanen was out with an injury. In his 24 games played thus far, Bowey has turned the puck over 21 times compared to just five takeaways. He has, however, blocked 21 shots at even-strength and delivered 21 hits. He has a Corsi rating of 45.8 and while the Caps’ netminders have a .914 save percentage when he is on the ice, the team has started in the offensive zone 53.6% of the time Bowey is on the ice.
While Djoos has arguably, fared better in his extended NHL stay than Bowey, it is important that one give Bowey some slack, as he was thrown into NHL action at age 22 without any previous NHL experience. With Niskanen’s return several games ago, both Djoos and Bowey have seen their ice time drop, which should help both in terms of their chances to develop both offensively and defensively. With the Capitals’ relative lack of NHL-ready defensive depth within the organization, it is vital that the team develop both of their rookie defensemen slowly but also making sure they are able to play at the league’s ever-increasing fast pace. With still more than half of the season left to play, it will be interesting to see how both Djoos and Bowey perform.
By Michael Fleetwood