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The Washington Capitals started off the season with a lot of promise, scoring 13 goals in their first two games. While the goal scoring hasn’t shown many signs of stopping, one noteworthy area in the team’s lineup is the constant maneuvering of a handful of players in the bottom-six, which includes Andre Burakovsky, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nathan Walker.
In this piece, NoVa Caps will be taking a look at each of these three players’ pros and cons, and why none of them seem to have been able to settle into place with the season off and running. Then, it will be up to you, the reader, to decide which of these skaters will be Get a seat in the press box, while the other two continue to work their tails off to earn the spots you’ve awarded them.
First up is the Capitals’ newest member, Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaskin is 25-years old and hails from Czech Republic. He began the year as a member of the St. Louis Blues, but was waived and claimed off waivers by the Capitals in an effort to add some offensive depth following right wing Tom Wilson’s suspension.
Jaskin is also the most recent player in a train of talent to come to DC from the Gateway to the West, behind T.J. Oshie (2015) and Kevin Shattenkirk (2016, now with the New York Rangers). While Jaskin isn’t exactly a household name, he came to Washington at a crucial time and was given a crucial task. He was to round-off the team’s bottom-six as Head Coach Todd Reirden cycled through the team’s depth players in an effort to find someone to fill the void Wilson left on the top-line.
So far this year, Jaskin has played in four games, all of them for the Capitals. He has scored no goals and has yet to record an assist. His plus/minus rating as of the time of writing is minus-3. Granted, four games isn’t a lot to go on, but his presence hasn’t made the impact the Capitals were initially hoping for.
Jaskin has played in the NHL since the 2012-13 season, however, and has put up a decent resume so far in his career, relative to his role. The former Blue has a career total of 61 points, 25 of them goals, and the remaining 36 assists, with a career plus/minus rating of plus-14. Jaskin also had a notably remarkable 2014-15 season, in which he tallied a personal best 13 goals. This year, however, he is coming off of a year in which he scored six goals and 11 assists in a career-high 76 games, the most he has appeared in in any NHL season.
Taking all this into consideration, Jaskin could just be going through growing pains as he adjusts to life in the Eastern Conference and could break out into something special (or at least practical) in any given game. Jaskin has already spent two games on the bench, including the Caps’ home opener. If he wants to remain a dressed skater in Washington, he needs to tap into the resources that brought out his best game in St. Louis sooner rather than later.
Next to consider is fan-favorite Nathan Walker. The 24-year old, former third-round draft pick (89th overall in 2014) from Australia has always shown potential, but has yet to procure himself a permanent spot on the Washington Capitals roster. Walker has one goal and one assist in the NHL since making his historical debut last season, with both points tallied with Washington despite having a brief stint as an Edmonton Oiler last season. The Oilers would place him waivers after only one game, and like a classic Australian boomerang, Nathan found himself back in DC, where he began. He finished the season with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He has a career plus/minus rating of plus-1.
Despite his rocky start on the NHL roster, Walker has had a more than impressive run in the AHL. While skating in Chocolatetown, Walker has lit the lamp 43 times and assisted on another 58 goals since the 2013-14 season. Perhaps it’s the jitters from the big stage and bright lights holding Walker back, or perhaps he hasn’t adjusted to the life as a Capital just yet. Or maybe he simply hasn’t been given the ice time he needs to show why he was so successful in Hershey. Walker is expected by many fans to be a breakout player; it’s just a matter of time until he actually breaks out. One thing is for certain, he won’t break out and show his full potential as a healthy scratch.
What Walker needs now is a greasy goal, or a deflection assist; something to get the ball rolling. Once he has a sense of confidence, hopefully Walker will be able to swing into full gear and cement his spot on the roster. A lot of people want to see Walker do well, and if his time in the American League is any indication, he certainly will. It’s up to him and the Caps’ coaching staff to unleash the “Wizard of Auz” .
And finally, the player who scored two big goals to help the Capitals on their route to winning the Stanley Cup, Andre Burakovsky. As previously mentioned on NoVa Caps, after a lot of important departures in the 2017 offseason, the Capitals put a lot of stock into Burakovsky and set their expectations high for the former first-round pick (23rd overall in 2013). However those expectations have not yet been met, and No. 65 is now serving the team from the fourth-line.
Despite being a key component in the Capitals’ playoff run that brought the Stanley Cup to D.C., Burakovsky, like Jaskin, has yet to score a goal or earn an assist this season, having appeared in every game so far. He also has a plus/minus rating of minus-6. Burakovsky has gotten a lot of criticism from fans for his constant turnovers, unnecessary penalties, and inconsistent play. The Capitals themselves must also see a reason for concern, otherwise this once former top prospect wouldn’t have found himself on the bottom-line. Burakovsky has been playing in the NHL for five seasons now and is well tuned to the NHL pace, so unlike the aforementioned forwards, he has no “growing pains” crutch to excuse his lack of production. Since first skating in D.C. back in 2014, Burakovsky has scored 50 goals and added 70 assists. He also has a career rating of plus-26 So, where has that production been lately? It seems he’s too young for his play to be starting to slip, but he has struggled with consistency for quite some time, now. When he’s on, he’s a nearly unstoppable force, including scoring two breakaway goals against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. But since then, his play has cooled down and he can’t seem to spark anything to get the ball rolling again.
Some may fear (or encourage) that after a demotion to the fourth-line, Burakovsky’s next step would be either a healthy scratch or the dreaded Trade Block. If his game continues to decline, it won’t be surprising to find him benched while Walker and Jaskin play an extended number of games. Hopefully being on the fourth-line is enough to wake him up. Many know he’s capable of so much more than he’s doing. Maybe sitting a few games will help him mature his game; in the team’s against the Florida Panthers, the Capitals sent seven men to the sin bin.
The Capitals need to find a way to rekindle the spark they had in this season’s earliest games. Something has to change in order for things to improve. The coaching staff has made a lot of changes to the bottom-six over the last few games, and we’ve seen these three men move around an egregious number of times since the season began. If you were in charge of things, and had to sit one of these players out, who would it be? And if you feel so inclined, share your reasoning in the comments section below.
By: Chris Laroche
Travis Boyd will likely factor into the mix shortly.
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