The Washington Capitals continued to reshape the future of their blueline with the inking of defensemen Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk last week. The signings were just two of several moves made over the past few weeks that has initiated a significant rebuilding of the Capitals blueline.
There is no question Capitals fans will see a different defensive core at the start of the 2023-24 season. As a result, it would be beneficial to take a quick (intermediate) look at the current status of Capitals depth chart at the defensive position, and where things stand heading into the 2024 NHL Entry Draft in June and the free agency period beginning in July.
Exit Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson. Enter Rasmus Sandin. In addition to those changes, the Capitals locked up Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk to three year deals. As a result, here’s how things currently stand for the start of the 2023-24 season:
The Capitals have certainly gotten a lot younger since the trade deadline, even if it’s all on the left side. Look for the Capitals to re-sign restricted free agents Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev, with Gabriel Carlsson also likely getting an offer.
Restricted Free Agents: Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, Gabriel Carlsson
Unrestricted Free Agents: Matt Irwin
DOWN ON THE FARM
The farm pool has thinned in recent years, mostly due to the elevation of Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev, and the departure of Tobias Geisser. The Capitals currently have just a single defenseman on each side returning for next season.
Lucas Johansen has most likely reached his development plateau and will unlikely make a serious push for a full time role in Washington. He is under contract for one more season and will return to Hershey in the fall.
Vinny Iorio has showed significant growth this season, however, he’s not quite ready to make the leap, and as a result, it’s very likely he plays at least another season in Hershey. He’s on track to make a serious crack at the Capitals lineup beginning with the 2024-25 season. That would be ideal, at the age of 22.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Bobby Nardella, Dylan McIlrath
Further down the pipeline are the recent draft picks playing collegiate hockey, defensemen playing in the CHL, Martin Hugo Has (ECHL) and Tobias Geisser (SHL).
There are no locks for any of the players above moving on to Hershey next season. Dru Krebs will leave the CHL, but where he lands is still very much to be determined, as he has yet to ink a deal with the Capitals.
David Gucciardi, Ryan Chesley, Joaquim Lemay and Brent Johnsonn will all likely return to their respective universities for another season of college hockey. That’s the right play for the development of all four of the collegians.
Tobias Geisser, who signed a three-year deal in the Swiss league, told NoVa Caps before returning home, he definitely plans to return to North America when the Capitals rebuild begins. That day may be on his doorstep.
Alex Alexeyev – By no means has Alexeyev secured a spot on the Capitals blueline for next season. That will be determined, for the most part, in the remaining games this season and how his training camp goes. I see, at a mimimum, Alexeyev starting next season as the seventh defenseman, giving him a little more time to develop and to lock down a steady starting role.
A key factor working for Alexeyev is his ability to play both sides. He spent a majority of his time on the right side during his season in the KHL and did very well, elevating to the first pairing by the end of the season. He also played quite a bit on the right side in Hershey and has already spent time on the right side for the Capitals this season. That flexibility will be huge next season.
Vincent Iorio – As previously mentioned, Iorio has had a very productive season in Hershey, but will very likely spend another year in chocolate town. That’s the right play with regards to his development. Mistakes are diminishing, his physical play and game processing are steadily improving but he is not NHL-ready. He should be ready to make a serious play for a blueline spot in the fall of 2024.
Gabriel Carlsson – Lost in all the publicity shine in the first callup of Vinny Iorio for his first taste of NHL action was the simultaneous callup of Gabriel Carlsson. Carlsson was a stalwart in Herhsey this season, deserved the callup, and as we noted at the time, may get lost in the main stream news stories. Carlsson has been the biggest postive development among prospect blueliners in Hershey. The former first round draft pick is a restricted free agent, but don’t be surprised if the Capitals look to extend him.
Lucas Johansen – Unfortunately Johansen has reached his development plateau and will spend his final year of his Capitals deal in Hershey. Much has been made about his injuries, but the 25 year-old has played in 225 AHL games and never was able to demonstrate NHL-caliber skills or level of play.
Currently in the early stages of the drive to get younger, it may seem counterintuitive but the Capitals would benefit from and should be looking to add a little seasoned experience to the blueline between now and free agency. Look for a 25-27 year-old (+/-) blueliner to be added between now and opening night. The draft will also add depth to the overall prospect pool depth.
By Jon Sorensen
Agree that Iorio needs one more season in Hershey. Excited for what he can be. He is also such a great young man as well, fun to talk to. Gave him a (joking) hard time at a practice a couple months ago about cutting his flow. His little downturn happened at the same time he cut it. Saw him again at a STH autograph event and he said he will ‘never cut it again….’ lol Also bummed about Lucas Johansen, but I cannot disagree with you their either.
He’s right on track with regards to his development. Lapierre is the concern. Can’t get over that 50-games played plateau.
Everyone seems to be penciling in Sandin with Carlson which, given the current roster, seems to be the slot he fits into (and he does need to go somewhere in the graphic!). But I’d just note there’s still a lot of issues here on the shape of the blueline next year.
1. We are retooling and I suspect BMac will look to bring in one more defenseman which may change the posture.
2. There’s been a lot of speculation about having a new coach; if that happens he may well have some different ideas and there could be significant alterations.
3. I’m not sure a Sandin-Carlson pairing works. Both of them lack speed, which makes me really nervous. Sandin was a third-pairing defenseman in Toronto and while he’s clearly better than that, I’m not sure he’s a top-pairing guy (at least not yet).
4. There may be an issue with the current mix of talent. Assuming we want a “shutdown” pair, that would seem to have to be Fehervary-Jensen (at least until Alexeyev is ready for that). That means we either play Sandin and Carlson together or one of them has to go to the third-pair, which would be a waste of talent usage. If the Sandin-Carlson pair doesn’t work, then the only other option would be to break up the shutdown pair. This reminds me of the situation in San Jose after they acquired Karlsson. They initially wanted to keep the Vlasic-Braun shutdown pair together and put Karlsson and Burns together. When that didn’t work they ended up having to go without a shutdown pair.
In short, I think there’s still a lot of fluidity on what the D will look like next year (and what would be optimal). I noticed Lavy was rotating Sandin onto different pairings last night (he started a few shifts with Alexeyev and a few with Jensen) so it looked like the Caps are still experimenting with the mixes.
I don’t disagree, there is plenty of work to do. They will bring in at least one more defenseman, which I stated. I probably should have added a note “not necessarily pairings”
If they try to bring in a mid-level D, that leaves them less cap space for a top-6 forward… The priority needs to be up front, so if/when they do sign a FA defenseman, they need to keep the cost down.
I noticed the D-shuffling last night as well. It looked like the changes made communication more difficult, and might have cost the Caps a goal or two against. Not that we should care, since these are basically glorified exhibition games for the Caps, despite the brave talk about making a run. But Alexeyev in particular did not play well last night, and I think the shuffling had something to do with that, particularly when he ended up on the right side… or else maybe the shuffling wast the result of his issues. Either way, he had his issues…
I was least impressed with Sandin !
He has enough experience for such mistakes he does.
He is great in front but still Lot to do in back.
On the first goal by New York, both Sandin and TVR backed in, leaving Zibanijad wide open in the slot. That looked like miscommunication to me, like both thought the other guy was gonna cover the slot. That type of thing can be fixed by talking on the bench.
But yeah. That was probably Sandin’s worst game since he got here
We must break Fehervary-Jensen pair.
That’s clear with current players!
One to Sandin second to Carlson.
I would gO
Sandy – NJ
I do not expect us to sign any more > there is not Lot of money left.
And out of RFA’s AT least Fehervary deserves a good deal.
I like this setup myself:
Irwin in Europe. Bon voyage, Matt!
Some of the rotation was due to the fact that Jensen got injured so they were trying just about every other combination and permutation on defense, with Irvin’s ice time the lowest. Sandin, TVR, and Fehervary were getting uber minutes. And Alexeyev next after that.
Good piece. The organization is thinning, as you point out, further down the depth chart. Unfortunately they need forwards AND defensemen.
Lucas Johansen has great wheels but when you have a stud in Irwin why not…
Yeah, I don’t see why they aren’t giving Johansen a chance to play in DC for a few games at the end of this year, just so see what he offers on a regular basis at the NHL level. I haven’t seen him look out of place in his few NHL games. He’s not a dynamic top-pair guy, but he’s looked fine in his few games as a bottom pair/7th defenseman.
He’s had a half-dozen shots. I think they’ve seen all they need to see.
He hasn’t played poorly in those shots, from what I’ve seen. He isn’t a top-pair guy, for sure, but If Carlson comes back healthy and Alexeyev plays reasonably well, they really only need a 6-7th defenseman.
Who would he beat out? That’s where it falls apart for him.
Chesley is definitely a stud and Gucciardi has potential. I haven’t seen Lemay play, but his numbers were pretty good for a freshman in the NCHC. So the Caps have some talent in the collegiate pipeline, it’s just several years away (which explains the Jensen and TVR extensions).
They really need Alexeyev to step up next year so that they can avoid spending big bucks on defense, as they definitely need to invest in forwards and don’t have the cap space to spend on D.
I try not to put too much hope in college players unless they’ve signed
What about Maass?
No Maass, por favor
Sorry, couldn’t resist