Should The Capitals Add A Center?

Photo: NBC5 Chicago

For the second consecutive season, the Washington Capitals fell in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Once again, part of the reason why was due to their lack of center depth as Evgeny Kuznetsov missed two games of the series with COVID-19.

In 2020, it was Nicklas Backstrom that went down and missed three games of the first round, which the Capitals fell in five games partly due to their inability to replace Backstrom. With teams set to put the final touches on their roster before training camp opens in around four weeks, should the Capitals look at signing another center? NoVa Caps looks at three free-agent centers that could help the Capitals should any injuries to any of their four centers occur.

The Capitals have one of the best four-center units in the NHL with Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd. However, when one gets hurt, the team is forced to shift right-wing T.J. Oshie or another non-center forward to the middle (right-wing Richard Panik got some looks at center last season when there was an injury before he got traded to the Detroit Red Wings on April 12). The Capitals acquired Michael Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers at the NHL Trade Deadline because of his versatility and his ability to play center if needed but he is a natural left-wing and signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Stars this offseason.

GM Brian MacLellan told the media after the season that the team was about to acquire a center at the trade deadline but decided against it at the last minute.

The team also needs to address a need of a second-pairing left-handed defenseman after trading Brenden Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets, which should be their top priority at the moment. However, once they find a replacement, there could be a few options that appeal to them regarding centers.

While none of these players might blow anyone away, keep in mind that there is a reason why they are still available and they would likely not be regulars in the Capitals’ lineup when the roster is fully healthy. In fact, they were not tendered qualifying offers as restricted free agents by their previous club this offseason. These centers would likely be 13th or 14th forwards or might even be behind some prospects in the system in line but would provide the Capitals some insurance at the position if the team does not feel comfortable with their internal options at the moment.

Here are three free-agent options should the Capitals look to improve their center depth, who would all likely cost to league-minimum:

Lucas Wallmark

Graphic: JFresh

The soon-to-be 26-year-old tallied just three assists and a -4 rating in 20 games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers last season but scored 10 goals and 28 points in 81 games with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2018-19 season and 12 goals and 25 points in 67 games with the Hurricanes and Panthers in 2019-20.

Wallmark did not get a ton of responsibility from either team he played for last season as he averaged just 11:23 per game, including 14 seconds on the power play and 1:01 on the penalty kill. He also tallied a 46.41% Corsi-for percentage, a 46.63% expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.99% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five.

In 187 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, and Panthers, Wallmark has posted 23 goals and 64 points.

Mark Jankowski

Graphic: JFresh

The soon-to-be 27-year-old earned four goals, 11 points, a 44.22% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.76% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.56% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 45 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Jankowski has shown some offensive potential in the past as he tallied a career-high 17 goals and 25 points in 72 games in 2017-18 and 14 goals and a career-best 32 points in 79 games during  the 2018-19 season with the Calgary Flames.

He did not get a ton of trust in Pittsburgh in 2020-21 as he averaged just 10:43 per game, 1:48 of which came on the penalty kill.

In 253 career NHL games with the Penguins and Flames, Jankowski has put up 40 goals (including seven shorthanded) and 75 points (10 shorthanded).

Ryan Donato

Graphic: JFresh

The 25-year-old has tallied at least 20 points in each of his first three NHL seasons and hit that number on the mark (including six goals) in 50 games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He earned 10 and 14 goals, respectively, in his first two full NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild.

Donato earned a 46.65% Corsi-for percentage, a 49.33% expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.62% scoring chances-for percentage last season, when he averaged 12:36 per game (including 1:43 on the power play).

Donato has posted 35 goals and 77 points in 180 career NHL games with the Bruins, Wild, and Sharks.

There are other options in free agency too like 37-year-old Valteri Filpulla and 33-year-old Artem Anisimov available but the Capitals have to get younger after having the oldest roster last season. Besides, their statistics both offensively and defensively do not make them worth cutting younger players’ chances with the NHL club this season.

While none of these players scream “must sign,” they have been everyday NHL players in the last few seasons and any one of them would give the Capitals more comfort at center should injuries occur this season. The team needs to clear cap space and sign a top-four left-handed defenseman first but with the amount of options at center available for league-minimum most likely, it may be a possibility worth exploring after center depth has plagued them in the past two postseasons.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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12 Responses to Should The Capitals Add A Center?

  1. vanorm says:

    I don’t think a 5th or 6th Center is a priority until the playoffs; by then I hope Connor McMichael or someone else from Hershey would be a viable substitute.

    • Harrison Brown says:

      Can get one now at only league minimum rather than give up a draft pick for a more expensive one

      • novafyre says:

        Without a trade, can we even afford league minimum? For two players?

        Are we still planning to have a normal NHL season? With more and more mandates and restrictions being imposed, could we see empty arenas? Closed border? Problems travelling and playing in some cities? Return of the taxi squad? Difficulties in getting subs to and from Hershey?

  2. hockeydruid says:

    First think I look at is the cap space….none. They if you make a trade who or what is the other team going to want in return. The Caps cant afford to trade any young guys and need their picks. And if they trade for a center who id that center going to replace? Now if they trade Kuzy they will get cap relief and probably a player and pick or picks. But that would not be a 4th or 5th center he would ahve to play on the 3nd or 4rd line.

  3. Anonymous says:

    as has been noted, the Caps need to dump major salary if they want to be able to makes moves to be contenders, and on top of everything else, now it looks like the Caps need a serious enforcer because the Rags look intent on gooning it up

  4. GR in 430 says:

    Yes, the Capitals should add a C, either Protas or McMicheal. If they have to clear out a mid-level salary (Hagelin, Kempny?) to make space they should do so. None of the guys discussed in this post are worth more than the minimum. The most intriguing is Donato, but he’s not really played C much in the NHL and the Caps already have enough players who only want to play offense.

    • Bernie D says:

      definitely wouldn’t mind adding a veteran with combo Center and wing to be a swiss army knife for Caps this year, Wallmark and Riley Sheahan intrigue me a little, Hagelin getting moved seems like a need to do, to either bring in a vet min guy or at very least, gives team flexibility to move guys in and out of lineup and still be able to field a 12 and 6 lineup without too much cap trouble….. AJF and Gersich both have been groomed in Hershey in last 2 years to get to be a utility forward, also like Pilon and Pinho to get long looks from coaches in camp this September, many good players playing well in Chocolatetown last 2 years, it’s not as barren down there as some would let on to….

      Loved what Hagelin has brought to team in PK and with Dowd and Hathaway, but someone with a little better finish in their game that could be cheaper and still give that speed element in 200 foot game will be more of an asset being up against cap again and getting younger in same process…. Kempny is the wild card with everything, if he’s healthy, that makes things more fortified on D, if not, have to move or buy him out and get a vet minimum to compete with Irwin to have bases covered there..

  5. George says:

    First off Caps need to understand that Ovi and Backy shouldnt be our top line. Either kuzy or eller needs to be the first line. second we need new wingers because mantha was horrible in the short stint. In regards to another center, WE need to bring up Mcmichael. We need young players to play the full 832 games. we have nothing to lose you never know. we need speed and something else.

    we brought back the exact same lineup from last year, a team that wasnt good enough to beat boston or islanders last year. there needs to be a shake up. Ove and backy are late 30s sure they are producing, but they shouldnt be our top line.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      The team was fairly decent in the regular season. Injuries caught up to them in the postseason.

      • george says:

        who cares about the regular season, every year caps have been the best regular season team and all but one year we fell short. the team is not built for playoffs no more. you really think we can beat islanders? tampa? or boston. we won one game against boston. you have to prepare for injuries, bring up young players let them get experience, instead we bring in old players who cant keep up with speed. dillion schultz chara all those were not fast enought, boston outplayed us on every part of the ice. granted those 2 players are gone but you need youngsters like mcmichael, alexyiev. let them play full 82 games

        • Noneya Business says:

          Imagine being so delusional that you say the greatest goal scorer of all time shouldn’t be on the top line. Peak stupidity

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