Earlier in the week the Washington Capitals named recently retired Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik to their Player Development Department. I commented in social media, half-heartedly, that this may have been the most significant “unrestricted free agent” signing by the Capitals this offseason. For two Capitals’ defensive prospects, that might just be the case.
Washington Capitals beat reporter Mike Vogel recently sat down with the former Capitals defenseman for an extended interview (I highly recommended the read, which you can find right here.) The interview further fortified what many in the Capitals universe had suspected already. Brooks Orpik would be great working with young players on all aspects of their game.
In the interview with Vogel, Orpik shed light on how the opportunity with the Capitals came to him. “Mac and Steve Richmond were nice enough to let me come down to development camp and let me see a couple of sides of the organization, and they came up with something that we thought might be of interest, would work time-wise and would line up with what I was interested in. So it was something that came up during development camp, and I had a pretty good feeling right away that it was something that I wasn’t going to pass up. But Steve let me think about it for a month. I guess it has been kind of unofficial for a while, and we finally just made it official. We all kind of knew it was going to happen.”
Vogel also asked Orpik what he found most appealing about the position. “I think just having an impact on these kids. I’ve talked to enough people – at least in hockey – that have worked with younger guys. I think getting them at this age and seeing their progress and seeing them go on with their careers, you always feel a little bit rewarded that you made a difference in whatever direction – hopefully it’s a positive direction. So a lot of coaches gave me some good feedback there. And then I think coming down to development camp and meeting this specific group of guys – especially the seven defensemen who are here at the rookie tournament – kind of sealed it. I wouldn’t say I would have gone in a completely different direction if it was a different group of guys, but these kids are seven really nice kids that are very eager to learn and very receptive to constructive criticism or positive feedback. So I would say it was this group [of defensemen] that kind of sold itself, to be honest with you.”
MENTORING THE YOUTH
For most Capitals fans, his reasoning for the next step in his professional path comes as no surprise, as Orpik’s positive impact on Capitals youngsters has gone on since his arrival in Washington.
It was no secret, his work and guidance with the younger players was significant in their development as professionals, on and off the ice. And the players looked up to him. Capitals star forward Jakub Vrana was one of the louder proponents for Brooks Orpik.
One thing is certain, Jakub Vrana really looks up to Brooks Orpik, admires him greatly. Props to #44 for mentoring the kid the right way. pic.twitter.com/q7H5TWYzo2
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) June 10, 2018
So the fit seems perfect for Orpik and the Capitals. But it may be more or an immediate significance for Capitals defensive prospects, including Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Martin Fehervary, Tobias Geisser and Alexander Alexeyev.
GETTING TO WORK
As previously noted, Orpik spent last weekend in Nashville with the Capitals prospects at the Rookie Tournament, and the experience with the seven defensemen sealed the deal for him, as far as wanting to work with Capitals prospects. But two Capitals prospects that may benefit the most from Orpik’s coaching were not in Nashville for the tournament.
Both Johansen and Hobbs, who also didn’t attend development camp in June, are in need of a spark. Both of the talented defenseman, who were very impressive while playing in the WHL, have struggled at times in the AHL, and time itself may be running out for the prospects, with regards to futures with the Capitals organization. With the influx of new defensive prospects such as Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary, their position on the prospect depth chart is currently in question.
Lucas Johansen, the Capitals first round pick (#28 overall) in the 2016 NHL entry draft has struggled in his first two seasons in Hershey. Injuries have been a part of the story, but while healthy, his game has been underwhelming. Inconsistent play in his own zone, and struggles with puck management at both ends of the ice have Johansen at an organizational crossroads this season.
Johansen has impressive size and speed for a defenseman, and all early indicators say he has the raw talent to make the next step. Orpik will be a huge help in working with Johansen’s play in the defensive end, calm him down, and get him thinking correctly on the ice. This could be the greatest value, early on, for the Capitals organization, when Orpik arrives in Hershey. (Lucas Johansen’s 2018-2019 review and forecast is here.)
Connor Hobbs has also not fared as well during his first two seasons in the AHL, and injuries have also hampered both of his first two campaigns in Chocolate Town. As a result, he played in just 44 games during the 2017-2018 season, and 59 games in 2018-2019 season.
Hobbs has always been a physical player, so finding a healthy balance will be difficult, but something Orpik knows a lot about. For Hobbs, staying relatively healthy will be job one. Yes, hard to achieve when physicality is such a big part of your game, a fine line indeed.
Hobbs will also need to shore-up his play and decision-making in his own end, something he has been steadily improving since arriving in Hershey, but again, something Orpik can provide extensive mentoring for. (Connor Hobbs 2018-2019 player review and forecast is here.)
A Year Of Development
Brooks Orpik’s arrival could be just what the doctor ordered for two promising Capitals prospects that might be running out of time, as far as a future with the Capitals organization. A full year of development could have both Hobbs and Johansen back in the running for a future spot in the Nations Capital. If anyone can get the Capitals two prospects to the next level, I’m betting Brooks Orpik can.
By Jon Sorensen