Now that the Washington Capitals were finally able to sign Sergei Shumakov, the next challenge is to find out where he fits in with the team. The forward group was already crowded before the Russian was signed, so it will be even more difficult to fit him now. This is a good problem to have.
Though Shumakov signed a two-way deal it is highly unlikely he plays in the AHL. He didn’t come to North America to not play in the NHL, it was probably the first demand he made to any team he was negotiating with. Maybe there’s a small chance he agreed to play a small stint in the AHL to start the season and to get acclimated to the rink size, but even if that’s true, he won’t be there long. It’s also a safe bet to make that he didn’t come here to play on the fourth line. Like the AHL idea he probably could start on the fourth line but not for long. That means his destination is most likely in the top nine.
The Capitals were able to bring back all of their top nine forwards from their Stanley Cup win, so messing with it is a gamble. If Shumakov proves his worth to make into top nine then who gets the boot? The big names are obviously safe, meaning it comes down to three different players: Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, and Brett Connolly.
Vrana proved his high-end skill and ability through-out the playoffs, so it’s doubtful he moves to the fourth line. Many probably want Burakovsky to be the odd man out, but his game-breaking ability can’t be ignored. That leaves Connolly. Though Brett showed to be a good bottom six option, his ceiling is limited. At his best he can get you 30-35 points; Vrana and Burakovsky can get you 50 or even more points with their skill level. So if anyone is to be demoted to the fourth line it’s probably Connolly.
The next question is where Shumakov should fit in the top nine exactly. Should it be limited third line minutes or should he get a shot at top six? A lot of this has to do with how well he proves himself in camp and preseason. To help with this it’s important to look at what kind of player he is. Yes, he is gifted offensively, but how does that help the team.
DEFENSIVE ZONE WEAKNESS
We’ve seen before with Daniel Weinberger’s work that Shumakov is a very good all around player. His strengths definitely lies in the offensive zone in keeping pucks alive, cycling, and creating chances for himself and his linemates. Where he’s “weak” (it’s in quotation marks because he is still quite good at it) is transitioning the puck. Carrying the puck out of the defensive zone and carrying it into the offensive zones aren’t as strong as his offensive play. But there’s great news for this: all three centers (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Bakcstrom, and Lars Eller) that Shumakov would play with are aces at getting the puck out of their zone and into the offensive zone.
The following images were created by CJ Turtoro using data provided by Corey Sznajder, who has been tracking NHL games for years. The data below consists of the last two-year and shows just how amazing our centers are. All three of them are at least in the 93rd percentile in getting the puck out of the defensive zone and are at least in the 87th percentile in getting the puck into the offensive zone.
What this means it doesn’t really matter who Shumakov plays with as his center because all three have strengths in what the Russian “lacks” (again, he isn’t bad at transition, just not as strong as his other attributes). If they can carry the puck out of their own zone, get it into the offensive zone, and get the puck to Shumakov he should be a very effective offensive player. This gives the Capitals a lot of flexibility on how to roll their top three lines.
Just spitballing here, but a good wing mate for the Russian winger would be Jakub Vrana. Both have lethal shots and good at finding teammates in their own zone. Imagine Vrana coming off the wall from the left circle and finding Shumakov waiting in the right circle for a one timer, or vice versa of Shumakov coming off the right wall and finding Vrana open in the left circle. Putting those two between the defensive reliable yet offensively talented Backstrom or Eller should make a great trifecta. It would be awesome to see Shumakov re-united with old teammate from the MHL days in Kuznetsov, but it’s hard to justify breaking up the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line.
Wherever coach Todd Reirden decides to put Shumakov it’s good to know that they have options. If the Russian winger can prove his worth then the Capitals will be able to ice an even deadlier offense than what they had last season. Their top three lines all have the potential to be top six worthy. That type of offensive threat is a great way to repeat winning the Stanley Cup.
By Luke Adomanis
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Уверенная победа над "Йокеритом" В очередном матче Континентальной хоккейной лиги "Сибирь" обыграла "Йокерит" из Хельсинки со счетом 3:0 (0:0, 0:0, 3:0). Голы "Сибири": 41:38 Наумов В (Миловзоров Е) 1:0 (бол); 44:17 Полашек А (Шалунов М, Санников С) 2:0 (бол); 48:20 Первушин В (Глухов А) 3:0. Ворота защищал Дэнни Тэйлор. Статистика матча: Броски: 53-78 ; Броски в створ: 25-37 ; Голы: 3-0 ; Вбрасывания: 36-36 ; Блокированные броски: 24-17 ; Силовые приемы: 8-8 ; Фол против игрока: 6-5 ; Штраф: 12-24.