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With the Washington Capitals set to begin their quest for a repeat in three weeks as training camp comes around, it’s time to look at potential PTO (professional tryout) candidates. The Capitals have signed three players to PTOs over the past three seasons: center Derek Roy in 2015 (did not make roster), defenseman Jyrki Jokkipakka last season (did not make roster), and forward Alex Chiasson last season (made roster).
Before we start taking a look at potential PTO candidates, let’s take a look at the Capitals’ projected opening night roster:
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The roster looks pretty much the same from the one that took the ice on June 7, when the team hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. The only pieces missing from that game who dressed are goaltender Philipp Grubauer (traded to the Colorado Avalanche) and center Jay Beagle (signed with the Vancouver Canucks).
The Capitals have several internal replacements to fill in for Beagle.
Stephenson, 24, played center with the Hershey Bears prior to being called up by the Capitals last October and Boyd, 24, has been one of the Bears’ top scorers for years. The team also signed center Nic Dowd in free agency to a one-year contract to compete with Boyd and Stephenson for that role.
Stephenson recorded six goals, 18 points, and a +13 rating (tied Djoos for third on the team) in 67 games during his first full season with the Capitals, who called him up after he started the season by scoring five goals and six points in six games in the AHL. Stephenson also tallied two goals, seven points, and a +3 rating in the playoffs, while playing all 24 games. Playing primarily a center in Hershey, Stephenson tallied 30 goals, 87 points, and a +4 rating in 180 career AHL games. He was also second on the Capitals in faceoff win percentage (54.79%) behind Beagle (58.52%) during the regular season. Despite the success he’s had as a center in the AHL, Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan has made it clear he sees Stephenson more as a winger.
Boyd recorded one assist and a +2 rating in eight games with the Capitals in 2017-18. The 2011 sixth round pick (177th overall) recorded 15 goals, 47 points, and a -24 rating in 61 games with the Hershey Bears last season. He led the team with 63 points in 2016-17 when he also had 16 goals. He has 53 goals, 168 points, and a -1 rating in 215 career AHL games.
Dowd, 28, has much more experience than both Stephenson and Boyd with 131 NHL games under his resumé. The center tallied recorded three goals and four points in 56 games with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks last season. All three of his goals came in his 40-game tenure with the Canucks. The 2009 seventh-round pick (198th overall) has nine goals, 26 points, and a -24 rating in 131 career games with the Kings and Canucks. Dowd also has 92 points (23 goals) in 140 AHL games. He has won 49.1% of the faceoffs he has taken throughout his NHL career, including a faceoff win percentage of 51.4% this past season.
The Capitals may have lots of options to replace Beagle. However, the same cannot be said for Grubauer.
The team projects goaltender Pheonix Copley to back-up Braden Holtby. Copley, who went 15-17-6 with a 2.91 goals against average and a .896 save percentage with the Bears last season, was re-acquired in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with the St. Louis Blues at the 2017 trade deadline after getting dealt in the T.J. Oshie deal on July 2, 2015. He ended the 2016-17 season on a high note with the Bears, posting a 2.15 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in the final 16 games. He got hurt in the playoffs that year and was never the same last season. Copley has also only appeared in two NHL games and has recorded a .829 save percentage and a 4.32 goals-against average in his short NHL career.
Capitals’ goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, who went 12-9-1 and had a save percentage of .926 and a 2.31 goals against average this past season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, will come to training camp to challenge Copley but MacLellan has made it clear that he wanted to see Samsonov, 21, start the season in Hershey. Samsonov signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals on May 4.
With no other options, the Capitals could bring in a goaltender on a professional tryout for a security blanket in case Copley and Samsonov struggle in the preseason.
Only three unrestricted free agent goalies remain – Kari Lehtonen, Steve Mason, Ondrej Pavelec.
Of the four goalies, Lehtonen looks like the best option. The 35-year old netminder went 15-14-3 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average in 36 games as Ben Bishop’s backup with the Dallas Stars last season and has experience as a starting goalie. Though, he has 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. In 649 career games with the Stars and Atlanta Thrashers, who drafted him second overall in 2002, Lehtonen is 310-233-67 with a .912 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.71.
If the Capitals don’t feel like Lehtonen would work out, the next best option appears to be Steve Mason, who went 5-6-1 with a save percentage of .906 and a GAA of 3.24 in 13 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season. Mason, 30, was traded to the Montreal Canadiens along with forward Joel Armia, a 2019 seventh-round pick, and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Jets in exchange for defensive prospect Simon Borque on July 1. Immediately following the trade, the Canadiens bought out the final year of Mason’s two-year, $8.2 million ($4.1 million AAV) contract. The former Calder Trophy winner in 2009, when he posted a 33-20-7 record with a .916 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA in 61 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has a career record of 205-183-64 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.70 GAA. Like Lehtonen, Mason has experience being the starting goaltender.
With the Capitals losing Grubauer in the offseason, the team could use a reliable backup to challenge Copley during training camp in case he struggles. After seeing Holtby struggle last year, when he had a career-low .907 save percentage and a career-high 2.99 GAA, the Capitals need a backup they feel comfortable with so that Holtby will have time to rest and get ready for the playoffs. There are a couple of reliable goalies with lots of NHL experience waiting to get a shot and the Capitals should sign one to a PTO for a security blanket in case things don’t work out with Copley or Samsonov in training camp.
By Harrison Brown