Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
At the start of what turned out to be the franchise’s first championship season, the biggest question the team faced was the addition of two rookie defensemen to their defensive unit after the loss of several key stalwarts during the offseason. One such blueliner was former seventh-round pick Christian Djoos. At 5′,9″, the diminuitive rearguard’s size was a question mark. However, Djoos performed admirably well on the team’s third-pairing en route to a Stanley Cup win. With a full season under his belt, the soon-to-be 24-year old sophomore will look to build on what was a solid rookie campaign next season.
While Djoos appeared to struggle during the preseason, he managed to find his footing once he had a grasp of the fast-paced play of the NHL. While he saw a limited role as a third-pairing defenseman (as evidenced by his 14:02 of average ice time a night for former Head Coach Barry Trotz), he still showed flashes of his offensive potential, a potential that saw him emerge as one of the American Hockey League’s highest-scoring blueliners in 2016-17 (his last season in the minors) with a 58-point season. In 63 games played for the Caps in 2017-18, Djoos scored three goals and added 11 assists for a respectable 14 points, with a plus-13 rating playing alongside veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik.
With the team re-signing both John Carlson and Michal Kempny (the team’s top pending unrestricted free agents) to long-term deals, and Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen set as the team’s second-pairing, it is unlikely Djoos will see much in the way of more opportunites. However, he should be able to build upon his rookie campaign regardless of his playing time, with Capitals Associate Coach Todd Reirden promoted to Head Coach. Reirden, who has been lauded for his work with the team’s defensemen in his first four seasons working under Trotz, is known league-wide as a defensive “guru”, having helped defensemen such as Carlson, Orlov, Kempny, Niskanen, Orpik, and Kris Letang and Olli Maatta (both of the Pittsburgh Penguins) grow their games to become complete defensemen during his time as an NHL coach.
While the returns of Carlson and Kempny leave little room or Djoos to grow his role, it is unlikely Reirden will not give the diminutive Djoos a chance to play more minutes and possibly in specific situations. With Reirden now the bench boss in D.C., young blueliners such as Djoos will surely benefit from his tutelage (as well as the assistant coaches, two vacancies of which have yet to be filled) in a year in which many second-year players seem to struggle. Djoos worked on both his offensive game last season, as well as his defensive game throughout the season and was a much more complete player by the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrived. With Reirden now fully in charge, and his confidence growing, Djoos’ sophomore season should be one to keep an eye on.
By Michael Fleetwood