Looking At The Potential Training Camp Battles For The Capitals

post_boudPhoto: Washington Post

With center Jay Beagle signing with the Vancouver Canucks and goaltender Philipp Grubauer traded to the Colorado Avalanche, a couple of roster spots will be up for grabs next month, when training camp begins. In this post, NoVa Caps looks at the best options to replace Beagle and Grubauer, whether that’s from within the organization or potential professional tryout (PTO) candidates. 

Options To Replace Beagle

Candidates: Nic Dowd, Travis BoydChandler Stephenson

Dowd, 28, was brought in on a one-year, one-way contract worth $650,000 on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. Dowd recorded three goals, four points, and a -4 rating in 56 games. He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, where he scored all three of his goals, by the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defensive prospect Jordan Subban on December 8. In 131 career NHL games, Dowd has nine goals, 26 points, and a -24 rating. Dowd won 50.87% of the faceoffs he took last season.

Boyd, 24, re-signed with the Capitals on a two-year contract worth $1.6 million ($800,000 AAV) on July 1 as a restricted free agent. Boyd tallied one assist and a +2 rating in eight games with the Capitals last season and also appeared in one playoff game. He had 15 goals, 47 points, and a -24 rating in 61 games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 2017-18 after leading the team with 63 points the previous season. Boyd won 50% of the faceoffs he took in Washington.

Stephenson, 24, started 2017-18 in Hershey and was unclaimed on waivers. He spent his first six games of the season with the Bears and tallied five goals and six points in that span but spent the rest of the season with the Capitals after being recalled in late October. Stephenson tallied six goals, 18 points, and a +13 rating (which tied defenseman Christian Djoos for second on the team) in 67 regular season games. He also won 54.79% of the faceoffs he took, which was second on the team to Beagle’s 58.52% faceoff win percentage. In the 24 playoff games, Stephenson tallied two goals, seven points, and a +3 rating and played on the first line in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when the team was without Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Andre Burakovsky.

Darkhorse: Liam O’Brien

O’Brien, 24, made the Capitals out of training camp in 2014 but hasn’t made any noise since then. He recorded 17 goals and 26 points in 69 games in Hershey last season and had 30 points (10 goals) the year before. O’Brien has tallied one goal, two points, and a +4 rating in 17 NHL games with the Capitals. He signed a one-year, two-way contract as a restricted free agent on July 13.

Options To Replace Grubauer

Candidates: Pheonix Copley, Ilya Samsonov, Kari Lehtonen

Copley, 26, is the most likely candidate to take over Grubauer’s spot but the Capitals may not be comfortable with a goalie who’s had two career NHL appearances. The team (re)acquired Copley in a trade with the St. Louis Blues that also brought along defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk on February 27, 2017. After being acquired from the Blues, Copley had a .931 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against average in 2016-17. But after getting hurt in the playoffs, Copley’s save percentage dropped to .891, while his goals against average went up to 2.91. Copley has given up six goals on 35 shots (.829 save percentage) in two NHL games.

Samsonov, 21, will likely begin the season in Hershey but could bump up if he has a solid training camp/preseason or he starts out hot with the Bears. The 22nd overall pick in 2015 signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals on May 4. He was 12-9-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 26 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL last season after posting a 2.13 goals against average and a .936 save percentage in 27 games in 2016-17. He is supposed to be the Caps’ future in goal but for right now, he’ll have to earn his spot on the NHL roster.

If the Capitals feel like Copley and Samsonov aren’t ready, they can go out in the PTO market for a security blanket. The best option out there is Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen went 15-14-3 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average in 36 games as Ben Bishop’s backup and has experience as a starting goalie. Lehtonen, 35, posted a save percentage greater than .920 only once in his career (.922 in 2011-12). From 2014-15 through 2016-17, he never had a save percentage above .906. A side benefit of signing Lehtonen would be not having to face him — in 28 career games against the Capitals, Lehtonen has posted a record of 18-7-3, with a save percentage of .920 and a goals against average of 2.66. His 18 wins against the Capitals are the most he has against any NHL franchise. Lehtonen, who the Atlanta Thrashers drafted second overall in 2002, has a career record of 310-233-67, a career save percentage of .912, and a goals against average of 2.71.

Dark Horse: None

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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6 Responses to Looking At The Potential Training Camp Battles For The Capitals

  1. Stephenson is the clear-cut successor to Beagle, I don’t think any of the other guys are even close. When you look at the body of work he put in last season, playing both winger and center, and taking crucial minutes on the penalty kill squad, combined with his faceoff %, I can’t see anyone like Boyd or even the new guy (Dowd) replacing him. Honestly I think the battle will be for Stephenson’s now-vacated winger slot, where Walker, Gersich, Pinho, or even a dark horse like Garrett Pilon might slide in.

    As for backup goalie, nothing I saw from Copley last season in practice or pre-season filled me with much confidence about his ability. Sure, he’s young, but of the practices I went to — especially during the playoff run when he was there working just about every day — he let by way more pucks than Holtby or Grubauer and looked lost doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsonov becomes the #2 about 10-20 games in this season.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I am not so worried about the 4th line as it rarely is vital in a win. I am watching the younger guys for development. A year from now, I see Holtby or Nisky being traded. Thus, who replaces them?

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  3. Eric Lord says:

    Boyd really isn’t a 4th line type player. Beagle was the guy who won face-offs, went into the corners to win puck battles, out-hustled opponents and did all the little things. That isn’t Boyd’s game. He has always been in an offensive role. He wasn’t good at all on face-offs in Hershey and isn’t a corner battler. That isn’t a knock on Boyd. He’s an excellent passer & has a good shot when he uses it (doesn’t shoot enough). His skill set just doesn’t fit in a 4th line role. Stephenson has the skill set to take Beagle’s spot. He plays a similar style game. Dowd has played that role before in the NHL. O’Brien hasn’t played much center as a pro, even when Hershey was short on centers. If he earns a spot, someone else is playing center on the 4th line. Walker played a lot more center than O’Brien did. Walker is a guy who brings the same heart & hustle and grit that Beagle did. He’s another guy who could fill the role.

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