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After trading forward Jakub Vrana to the Detroit Red Wings as part of a deal to acquire forward Anthony Mantha prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said that, “He’s a great young player, nice person, highly skilled, great speed” but that “he’s a little frustrated” and wants more ice time and responsibility. “We had a frustrated player so we tried to move on from that,” he added.
MacLellan said that the Capitals have “really liked Anthony for a quite a while now” because of his skating, size, shot, and scoring. “It’s a player that we’d really like in our room so we went out and got him,” he stated.
On whether Vrana’s pending restricted free agency played a role in the trade, MacLellan responded that “We get some cost certainty with Mantha. That played a role in it.”
When asked if the New York Islanders acquiring forward Kyle Palmieri, the Pittsburgh Penguins getting center Jeff Carter, and the Boston Bruins grabbing forward Taylor Hall played a role in the trade, MacLellan said, “I’m not sure we looked. … We’re independent and we’re trying to make our team better.” He said that the team talked about Mantha internally “a couple of weeks ago,” and that he would not trade to counter with the competition.
MacLellan thinks that Mantha is “a good fit for us” and “[forward Michael] Raffl gives us versatility in the bottom-six. I think the overall balance of our team looks different in my opinion.” The Capitals acquired Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a fifth-round pick on Monday.
On what Mantha brings: “The size factor more translates to skill than a physical running over people. He’s a big strong guy that can play a big strong guy.”
MacLellan said that “you’re always concerned” about the locker room after trading a player like Vrana but thought “the two guys we got coming in are very good people. … Both of them have very good reputations.”
MacLellan told the media that “we looked at [upgrading]” in goal. “Both of our guys have played well and are progressing. [Vanecek’s] been pretty solid and Samsonov’s improving and coming along. It’s tough to get a guy and throw them in front of them. … We feel confident with our depth,” he continued.
When asked about Raffl, MacLellan said that “We like his versatility. He can play left-wing, right-wing, center. He’s a big body, he’s strong, can kill penalties, got a decent skill level.”
MacLellan said that “I see a frustrated player” in Vrana with his body language and said that they took some time with 25-year-old gave to figure out the best approach.
On the Capitals’ defensive depth after trading Jonas Siegenthaler to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick on Sunday, MacLellan said that “Kempny’s got a few ways away [before playing]. We like [Martin Fehervary] in Hershey. Van Riemsdyk could play every day if he has to.”
MacLellan thinks that “The coaches can move [Mantha] around a bit. He’ll benefit with a good playmaking center in [Evgeny Kuznetsov] or [Nicklas Backstrom].” The Capitals could also play him on the third line or on the power play. “He’s a smart player that can play with smart players,” he said.
On why Mantha could fit with the Capitals, MacLellan replied “He was the main guy [in Detroit] and there’s a little pressure on him to produce. I think he’s got to come in here and fit in with a veteran group of players. I think he’s going to learn from them.”
When asked about Raffl, he said that, “We needed a guy who could play [center] with possible injuries. He could play up and down the lineup. He’s a big winger, is strong, smart, can skate and I think he’s a very useful player.”
On his team, MacLellan feels like “it fits. I think we are going to have four good lines, size, enough speed, good defensive depth. I think we’re set up well to have success in the [Stanley Cup Playoffs].”
When asked about the team’s inconsistent stretch where they have gone 4-4-0 after a span of where they went 10-1-0, MacLellan said that, “When we’re on our game, we’re a tough team to battle.”
MacLellan, who told the media that Mantha will be available against the Flyers on Tuesday (7 PM ET, NBCSN nationally, NBC Sports Washington locally) but not Raffl. He believes that players could be tired because “it’s a hard year to play” and teams have inconsistencies throughout the season due to injury.
MacLellan says that the Capitals prefer to play top center prospect Connor McMichael “in Hershey” to get top-six and power-play time against top players.
MacLellan said that forward Richard Panik, who was dealt to the Red Wings as part of the Mantha trade, “was frustrated with his role. He wanted more ice time, more special teams play, and it never seemed to click.” He noted that Panik played well at times, but he didn’t get much opportunity other times. MacLellan feels like Panik will get the opportunity he wants with the Red Wings.
When asked about contract negotiations with captain Alex Ovechkin, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he said talks are “status quo.” The two sides are still talking and will get it done when they can.
MacLellan said that “We came into the deadline trying to make our team better,” and not to shake it up. He would not have pulled the trigger on the trade with the Red Wings if he thought it did not improve his team.
On the salary cap, MacLellan told the media “We push it to the limit and have concerns but our goal is to have the best team possible going into the playoffs. We’ve been aggressive… in the long run, we’ll benefit.”
When asked about whether the value of draft picks have changed this season due to scouting limitations, MacLellan replied, “I would say the market has been a little inefficient this year because people don’t have the depth of knowledge and there might be limited opportunities to [strike gold] with the later pick.”
On Backstrom slated to play his 1000th career NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, MacLellan said that, “We wanted to get one of the three big centers (Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal) heading into the draft. … The whole organization thought everything fell our way pretty well. …We knew we had an intelligent player. He’s fun to watch on subtle things he did.” The Capitals thought he and captain Alex Ovechkin would fit well together for a long time.
By Harrison Brown