Forward Thinking: No Roster Room For Forward Prospects Under Current MacLellan Plan

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their 2022 development camp with their annual prospect scrimmage Friday night at Capital One Arena. The scrimmage gave Capitals draft picks and free agent invites a glimpse of what it could be like someday to play in the NHL.

Unfortunately for those prospects already on the cusp of making the team, their wait may have grown a little longer following the Capitals free agency and trade acquisitions this week. There simply isn’t any room for additions to the Capitals roster.

Reloaded For Another Run

The following is the Capitals latest organizational depth chart, organized by position. (Not a line chart). [Click to enlarge].

The signing of center Dylan Strome was a solid signing but likely closed the door for Hendrix Lapierre next season. The signing of Marcus Johansson likely shut the door on Aliaksei Protas. The trade for Connor Brown likely closed the door for Brett Leason.

That’s not to say the aforementioned prospects were ready for a full time position on the Capitals roster. In fact, time in Hershey for all three prospects would be very beneficial for their development.

Course Change

The moves made by Macllelan and the Capitals last week further clarified the current thinking in Ballston. Reload for another serious run at a Stanley Cup. However, that thinking appears to have changed from just a week ago.

“We have to plan for Nick coming back at some point. What we can do, we can give opportunities to our young guys. We’ve got some young guys, [Connor] McMichael we hope to get to the next step, [Hendrix] Lapierre, we’ll see where he’s at, [Aliaksei] Protas is coming in, we expect him to take the next jump, and kinda look from there,” said MacLellan back on July 6th, just before the draft. “It’s not that we can go out and sign a $9 million player, but until that goes away, we’re planning on him coming back.”

In defense of MacLellan, the statements he made at the time could have been posturing in advance of the draft and opening of free agency. You certainly don’t want to broadcast to other GM’s your true plans for next season includes bringing in a half-dozen outside players from other teams. Also in his defense, plans change. New opportunities may have presented themselves.

Regardless of what you think of each of the postseason player acquisitions, the plan has become crystal clear. I pondered last week that we could already be experiencing a rebuild, with as much as 50% of the roster possibly turning over before opening night. However, with the acquisitions made last week, it’s clear this is no rebuild.

Positive Steps

I’m not being critical of the moves made by MacLellan. In fact, I fully believe the Capitals are a much better team then they were just a week ago. No, the whole purpose of this exercise was to try to ascertain the true direction of the club, and what the current philosophical thinking was regards to roster management. Rebuild? Retool or Reload?

The plan is much clearer after last weeks opening of free agency, and we expected it to be so. We could still see a trade or two (Lars Eller), that might loosen up a potential depth spot for a prospect, but for now, there simply is no room for the elevation of current Capitals prospects.

Moves made by the Capitals last week have essentially shut the door for a few forward prospects next season. But that may be the best plan for all.

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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21 Responses to Forward Thinking: No Roster Room For Forward Prospects Under Current MacLellan Plan

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    Prior to the trade acquisitions, I had figured that Protas might stick with the Caps for this year. He looks about ready for a more full time NHL role. Leason not far away either.

    But maybe they figure the kids (to include Lappy) are better off marinating another year in Hershey.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s a good plan, having the kids in Hershey next season.

  3. novafyre says:

    When all the press was about how the Caps were going to go young this coming season I said that I would believe it when it happened. I doubted it then and still doubt it now. The Caps management is very, very vet-biased. It is not in their DNA to bet on their rookies.

    Not that I’m objecting. I follow the Rays and Bears and as long as the NHL doesn’t go the taxi route this year and allow Lavi to park young talent and not give them any ice time anywhere, all the spurned Caps prospects should help the Bears and that can in turn help the Rays. I agree with Godzilla that we have some good goalie depth to develop this year.

    But when these prospects move on, I expect to see them opposing the Caps, not playing for them.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is clearly a rebuild on the fly. Caps have 11 guys in contract years. Strome to me is evidence that NB19 will not be ready for the entirety of the next regular season. Not ot mention the signals the Club is building a strong young Center core.

  5. Lance says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised at what BMac was able to do the last couple o’ weeks. I’m not satisfied with the D corps but I’ll let that be for now.

    I certainly expected Connor McMichael to have a full-time spot but now I wonder if they want him to get more ice time in Hershey. Laviolette didn’t play him much at all last year. Lapierre will benefit from lots of hockey in Hershey. I think Protas is as ready as he’s gonna be. Leason shows some ability to score goals but he’s still young and would benefit from ice time in Hershey. I really like Pilon. He’s a good hockey player. Lacks size but I wouldn’t be surprised go see him become a solid NHLer. Probably a good middle 6 forward.

    Is there a team out there who can use forward depth and would trade us a physical defensive defenseman?

  6. steven says:

    The signings and trades have made this offseason very interesting for this team. They solidified the goal but still have BIG cap issues. Very nice to see them sign a young player in Strome, just wish that is was for more than 1 year. It would really help this team if Backy just retired and let this team get younge and have some cap space. Dont get me wring as a player I love his skills but at his age and cap number and after his 2nd hip surgery it might be better if he thought about his life after hockey not about playing. Next off season is going to be just asbad as they have, a gasp, 11 players who will be UFA and 3 who willbe RFA. Might be niceto tradeEller and Carlson before the season to get younger and reduce the cap rather than lose so many of the players on this team next summer. Once again the retirement of Backy rears its head and says if this is dont it will really help the team. I realize that heis only 34 but with his 2 hip surgeries he is an old 34, similar hip surgeries have ended the careers of Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, only played 37 games after surgery and the sad part is that’s considered the most successful return for an NHLer after getting a resurfacing done, Ryan Kesler had it done in 2019 and never played again, Andy Murray had it done but he plays a non-contact sport.
    Like I said earlier with 11 UFA next summer maybe it is time to trade a few high salaries liek Carlson, Eller, MoJo (although not a hig salary really not much use in keeping him as a rookie would do about the same or better at less money)and saddly TJ as high salary adn injuries becoming a problem maybe a team that thinks they are this type of player away from a Cup would take a flier.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think the Caps will make the playoff next season as I think their D was and still is the biggest problem, and it may be the best thing for the whole organization They can trade their aging players to GM’s who have Stanley Cup fever with some many players who contracts end next season. The Caps could really add some young talent to their cupboard
    I really do not see McMicheal as a 3rd line center He is small and not a physical player and he is awful in the face-off circle
    The Caps would be better off with Eller being their 3rd line center Let him put up his 30-40 pts, throw 100 hits and win 50% of his face-offs
    Come the deadline, GM’S will be begging to add a center making only 3.5m who will be a UFA whenever he and his new team’s post-season run comes to an end

  8. Anonymous says:

    If Strome is as good as advertised this year.. lets just say 20-30 goals and 50-60 pts.. I would consider him as a longer term Core piece. I say this because he’s only 25 so he’s pretty darn young if he shows well and you could lock him up for say 5-6 yrs at a good number.. say 4mil phase out Ovi,Backy, Oshie etc in the next 3years or so. The next core is McMichael C, Kuzy who is already at 30 so you will eventually need someone to get his spot in due time. Lapierre, Miroschnichenko, Chesley.. so point being you could use another F, young forward whether it be a Center/W to go with likes of McMichael, Lapierre.. Strome is young enough and if he produces would be good enough to extend out.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agree, Strome could be around for a while, if he proves it.

    • BobP says:

      Not going to get Strome for $4 million if he has the kind of season you’re talking about. At his age and your projected production, he’d have to be resigned as a core piece with a commensurate salary. Wouldn’t be upset if things play out that way. Much better getting younger with proven NHL talent rather than enticing numbers produced at Hershey. Enough of those guys will make the step up anyway.

    • redLitYogi says:

      Strome has a middling ceiling, certainly not a Kuznetsov or Backstrom level replacement. He could surprise but I think the one year deal says it all. If he’s improved his quickness and defensive acumen, maybe they offer him a deal.

  9. emudd says:

    I think this is absolutely phase 1 of the rebuild. Look no further than the totality of where we stand at the center position right now. Regardless of Backstrom coming back or not (I hope he does as I think we all do, but odds are against it), we have this year Kuzy, Eller, McMichael, Dowd, Lapiere, and now add in Strome. 1 and 4 are locked down for the next few seasons at least. That leaves 3 guys fighting for the middle 6 spots. Keep in mind (and I think some have likely missed it), Strome is on a 1-year contract, but even with being a non-tender by Chicago, he’s still an RFA after this season. OUR RFA. I absolutely see him taking another step forward in DC, and that likely leaves McMichael and Lapiere for a single center spot with the other filling in a wing. That’s a VERY nice mix of experience and youth down the middle for the moment and going forward. Now figure in our #1 pick this year next season or maybe the season after coming in along with the other pieces we see making the step up soon. I see the forwards as pretty well stocked for 2-3 seasons at least.

    Now D is a whole other thing. We have exactly 1 signed for next season though I expect that will be sorted out to some degree during this season. TVR I see getting an extension. Orlov and Jenson are more iffy but will sort out based on the $$ and their play. So we will need from 1 to as many as 3 pieces there with really only Alexiav (sp) looking good in the pipeline to be a long term NHL defenseman (if all goes well).

    With Eller and possibly Sheary as forwards to be moved as well as the possibility Orlov could be moved in a contract year (again, depends on what he’s asking and his play), there are moves to be made to stock some D and some youth there.

    I don’t think you’re going to see a burn it all down and restock the cabinets rebuild in the next 4 years. THIS is what you can expect and with ~23 million in cap space next off season (perhaps plus Backstrom’s $$ if things go bad), we have a LOT of flexibility and options. Good job GMBM!

    • redLitYogi says:

      It’s a re-tooling. We won’t be president’s tropy contenders anytime soon. You can be a Cup contender any year because of the unpredictability of the playoffs. We can’t beat a healthy Colorado or Toronto but who’s to say which teams will be healthy in April and May? Basically, we’ll be decent and Ovie will chase the record.

  10. DWGie26 says:

    Definitely a retool and a good one at that. Brown and Strome could both be good transition players for the long haul. Good news is, we have flexibility on both.

    On Backstrom… we all know the stats on players not coming back from hip resurfacing. Tired of seeing it over and over again, because while true, the Caps aren’t going to make decisions on that until they (and NB19) progresses through the process. Again, while Strome is a good upside signing.

    I didn’t like the Mojo signing, but i understand it. And at 1.1M he could easily end of in Hershey if the kids can prove they should be in the lineup through training camp, which won’t be easy, especially in Washington.

    Snively, Leason, and LuJo will all have legit chances in Washington. Maybe AJF. I’d like to trade him and Eller but as noted I think Eller might move in season.

    Protas and Lapierre are both waiver exempt and will benefit from another year in Hershey. And as we saw last year there will be injuries and illness so there will be opportunities with Caps.

  11. redLitYogi says:

    Great piece Jon and thanks for all the hard work. Here’s what worries me about those guys in Hershey: once someone spends a year in the minors, there’s a kind of minor league inertia that hits. NHL clubs don’t give minor leaguers much opportunity from what I see. They just recycle players from other clubs. This is exactly what the Caps have done in getting Connor Brown, Dylan Strome, and Borgstrom. McMichael certainly does not need time in Hershey. He needs to get solid ice time in DC if he’s ever going to become a player. Protas and Leason both have potential, but if they spend a year there, do they just wind up buried there?

  12. redLitYogi says:

    I doubt that any of our projected top forwards play the entire season at their age and with their histories of injuries. So there will be opportunity for Protas, Leason, and maybe Lapierre. Snively, imo, earned a spot in the lineup. He was one of our most effective forwards until he broke the wrist. If Johansson or Brown deserve to be ahead of him on the depth chart, let them prove it. I fear that HCPL & co will just default to more experience. I think the team should be trying to move Eller at this point. If what we have at center without Eller in the picture is not good enough to win more games than lose, we might as well find out now.

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