The Blueline Pipeline: Assessing The Capitals Organizational Depth On Defense

It’s beneficial to regularly conduct a “big picture” review of an organization’s depth by position in order to attain perspective and insight regarding the status of certain attributes of the organization. The periodic review is also essential in identifying future gaps in player depth at a position.

In this piece we take a look at the Capitals’ organizational depth at the defensive position and forecast an initial defensive depth chart for the start of the 2022 season. This initial organizational review is meant to be general in nature, assessing basic depth and attributes of all defensemen within the organization. It’s not intended to be a detailed analysis of the overall potential of a prospect or provide a specific forecast for each defensemen, which we will cover in a follow-up post.

Where We Stand Today

The following table presents the current Capitals defensemen in tiers (Capitals, Bears and Juniors), categorized by their natural shooting side and ranking within their respective tier. [Click to enlarge]

The Capitals currently have 20 defensemen in the organization – 11 left-handed and nine right-handed.

The Right Side

The right side, as a whole, is much older in comparison to the left side. It also contains a development gap between the current Capitals right-side defensemen and the right-side prospects currently developing in junior hockey. As a result, there are no prospects currently projected to be ready for a potential Capitals roster spot on the right side for at one season, unless a player changes sides.

It should be noted that Bobby Nardella and Alex Alexeyev are currently playing on the right side in Hershey, in part out of necessity. Alexeyev also spent some time on the right side during his time in the KHL last season and did well, so there may be a plan in place for him to continue developing on the right side.

The Left Side

The left side is much more balanced than the right side when assessing overall organizational depth and current development trajectories for each prospect. The left side is also much younger than the right side.

Trevor van Riemsdyk is currently playing on the left side and doing well in the bottom pairing with Justin Schultz. One could see a future move that would replace Schultz and his $4 million salary cap hit, likely after this season. We could see van Riemsdyk return to the right side next season, with the Capitals replacing his vacancy on the left side with a prospect or free agent.

September, 2022

The table above is a static snapshot of the organizational depth of defensemen currently within the Capitals organization. However, it’s also important to forecast the future state of the blueline depth by considering potential departures and key player attributes, like contract term and associated salary cap implications.

Justin Schultz will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and will likely go unsigned unless at an extremely large discount. Trevor van Riemsdyk could replace Schultz on the right side, his natural side, and the Capitals could elevate another defenseman from the left side, currently in Hershey, to start next season.

Michal Kempny will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and will probably not be re-signed by the Capitals, further reducing the depth on the left side in Hershey. Tobias Geisser will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, but likely re-signed. Lucas Johansen will also be a restricted free agent, but at 24 and considering the players ahead of him, it’s anything but certain he will be re-signed unless it is for a specific role in Hershey.

Alex Alexeyev is off to a slow start in Hershey so far this season, and not playing at the level he was playing at during his last few months in the KHL last season. However, it’s early and he could come around in time to battle for a Capitals roster spot next fall. I’m betting the latter is the case.

Projected Depth Chart 

On the right side, Dylan McIlrath, who is signed with the Capitals through the 2023-24 season, could move up to the 8th defensive spot for the Capitals, unless a free agent is signed in the offseason or Alexeyev moves up to the spot and continues playing on the right side. Martin Has, and potentially Vinny Iorio, will likely make the leap to Hershey on the right side.

On the left side, Alex Alexeyev currently projects as the 4th left-side defenseman for the Capitals in the absence of Trevor van Riemsdyk, who would move to the right side.  Alexeyev could also be moved up and continue playing on the right side, supplanting McIlrath.

Matt Irwin will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and it’s uncertain where he stands without having played a game to date. Dennis Chowloski will be a restricted free agent after this season and it’s also uncertain as to where he exactly falls within the organizational depth chart, at least until he plays a few games. There are no projected additions to Hershey to start the 2022-23 season.

It’s Early, But…

We will update this projection in the spring, but there are certain aspects of the depth chart to keep an eye on in the meantime. If Alexeyev continues to play on the right side in Hershey and does so for the remainder of the season, it’s likely the current plan is to have him play on the right side in Washington.

Bobby Nardella could also be a wildcard and in the mix for an 8th spot in Washington should he regain his offensive prowess demonstrated in Sweden last season. At 5’-9”, his size is really the only real question mark at this point.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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4 Responses to The Blueline Pipeline: Assessing The Capitals Organizational Depth On Defense

  1. novafyre says:

    I always smile when I read about Brent Johnson being a Caps defense prospect.

  2. DWGie26 says:

    Has, Iorio, and Johnson development is going to be key for us. They are all likely 2-3 years away considering how Caps develop prospects. But if they can develop, we’ll be looking good on the farm.

    McIlrath has another year under contract and I suspect we will sign another right tweener (AHL/NHL) in offseason. maybe even by trade.

    Also very interested to see what Cholowski can bring to the table. Just can’t mess with our pairings right now and thankfully everyone is healthy!

    • Anonymous says:

      Right? We really don’t know what we have with Cholowski, he needs to play a game or two, but it’s tough to tamper with something that is going so good. At some point he will need to see some game time just to knock the rust off, but where and when?

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