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.
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