Capitals 4th Line Has Serious Options For The 2023-24 Season

They don’t get the spotlight. They don’t score the goals. But their job is just as important as any other line in an NHL lineup. The fourth line is predominately tasked with facing the opposition’s top line and sees a majority of their shift starts in the defensive zone. 

The Capitals fourth line was performing at a really high level under the Hagelin-Dowd-Hathaway era. The line was very strong defensively, all while posting positive (above 50%) possession metrics. Simply put, they were stopping the League’s best stars and flipping the ice, and generating offense. You really couldn’t ask for more. Unfortunately, Hagelin sustained a serious eye injury in the waning days of the 2021-22 season, and would require surgery.

The Capitals answered the Hagelin absence with a series of varied lineups, beginning with the Conor Sheary-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway line on opening night against the Bruins. The Capitals also went with Joe Snively and Aliaksei Protas at the “Hagelin Spot” for a couple of games. The audition for the left wing spot was in high gear.

The Capitals then recalled Beck Malenstyn on October 19. The move came after right-wing Connor Brown sustained a lower-body injury in the team’s 6-4 win over the Vancouver Canucks the previous night. Malenstyn would get his shot at the Hagelin spot. The line worked, positing very similar metrics to the Hagelin version of the line. Problem solved? Nope.

As the 2022-23 season would ultimately go for the Capitals, Malenstyn appeared in five games, recording two points (1g, 1a) before he was injured blocking a shot in the first period of the game against the Vegas Knights on November 1. The Capitals announced on November 4 that Malenstyn had surgery to repair a fractured finger and would miss 6-8 weeks.

Enter Aliaksei Protas. Protas settled in at the “Hagelin Spot” and also did well on the fourth line during the Malenstyn absence. So much so the Capitals didn’t rush Malenstyn back from his conditioning stint in Hershey.

Adding to the mix, the Capitals claimed Nicolas Aube-Kubel off waivers on November 5. Aube-Kubel was tried throughout the lineup and showed positive results in several line combinations, but more specific to this story, was solid in his work on the fourth line, ultimately replacing Garnett Hathaway after Hathaway was dealt ot the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.


Solid, convincing arguments can made for Aliaksei Protas, Beck Malenstyn and Joe Snively starting at left wing on the fourth line on opening night. It’s a great problem to have but a tough decision to make.

Malenstyn did really well at spot at the beginning of the season, but then so did Protas and even Snively. In addition, the decision can’t be a cogent one without looking at other position needs/openings, and whether one of the aforementioned Caps forwards could help elsewhere in the lineup.

Protas has the most flexibility, as he can play on any line and even play center. That may be key, particularly when the season gets underway, and temporary lineup needs begin to surface. Snively is very similar in that he can play on any line.

The decision will ultimately need to be made between Malenstyn and Protas. Protas needs to be in the lineup, so if he can work his way to another wing position, Malenstyn should begin the season at left wing on the fourth line.

A lot can change between now and mid-October. Capitals general manger Brian MacLellan said his primary goal this off-season will be to upgrade the top six forwards, and that will most likely impact the bottom six. However, one thing that seems fairly apparent, the fourth line will be the least of the Capitals concerns entering the 2023-24 campaign.

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 Capitals 4th Line Has Serious Options For The 2023-24 Season

  1. @Puckstop31_ says:

    If Malenstyn continues playing the way he is now in Hershey, you have to find a spot for him, right? Protas is good enough to play up a line, IMO. All goo problems to have, yes, but Beck…. Man, that guy is the goods.

    • redLitYogi says:

      agreed. Becks is ready for a bottom six role and once he gets the chance I think he’ll be a fixture on line 4 and a useful one. I also agree Protas can handle 3rd or even 2nd line roles on spot duty. And NAK is a keeper on line 4.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think this also shows that there is little to no room for prospects like McMichael and Lapierre. I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both are traded around draft.

  3. horn73 says:

    Protas can play all lines…a player must be able to score 20 plus goals and ideally 30. Not sure what would make anyone think he projects to top 2 lines at this point. To say he can play on any line, pretty much means anyone can.


    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Completely Disagree. Goals are one measuring stick. The game is much more complex than that. His size alone makes him an asset on any line. His puck intelligence, play making, also at the top of the list.

      • horn73 says:

        Fair enough. You have access to the date. If you show me 10 players that have averaged less than 20 goals per season over the last 4 years (just 10 out of roughly 100 1st line forwards), I will donate $100 dollars more to this site. If not, you have to admit that goal priority of 1st line players.

  4. Greg says:

    I haven’t seen anything that tells me Frank will make it to the next level yet. He and Anas could be AHL Allstars and that is it. TBD

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I think that’ s fair to a point. We haven’t see. Him against NHL-level players so I’ll reserve final judgement until then. He has a great shot, speed and sees the ice well. Good enough for NHL…I’ll let you know in September/October.

      • Anonymous says:

        A concern I have relates to his skating style. He can generate great speed but his style opens himself up for getting knocked off balance. In the NHL against a larger group of faster and smarter players than he sees in the AHL, he may struggle. Hopefully he gets a lot of looks in preseason games so we can see how well he adapts.

  5. Prevent Defense says:

    Down to the Final Four in AHL. All of the above Hershey players will be on the Big Stage for evaluation — hopefully for four more weeks

  6. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

  7. Anonymous says:

    You can leave CMC and Lapierre in Hershey for another season if there are no center options open. Both are still young and developing. Don’t need to be traded just because they are blocked by immovable contracts.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is that the best use of their organizational value, sitting in Hershey for 2-3 more seasons? Or do you use in trade to get a 30 goal scorer for next season?

      • Anonymous says:

        One more season for CMC won’t hurt. Might take 2 more for Lapierre to mature. Do not trade.

    • dwgie26 says:

      Lapierre can definitely bake for another year. CMM is ready for an NHL role. But i don’t know where he slots in. If going full youth movement, you trade Kuzy and then it is Strome-Backstrom-McMichael-Dowd down the middle. But I don’t think that fits the mantra of getting younger and competing for a cup. You trade Kuzy and you bring in a true top 6 center.

      So I think if you can package up McMichael and bring back a true Top 6 forward (preferably a center) I think you do that. Or can he be packaged with other assets to move into a top 5 draft spot where you can get an NHL center this year. But I wouldn’t trade both CMM and Lapierre and CMM has more value.

  8. J says:

    Protas needs to watch old Keith Primeau tape…he reminds me a bit of Primeauhe has the size, build, and smarts of Primeau…he needs to learn to go stand in front of the net and use that reach…well, that and gain about 10lbs of muscle

  9. Jason William Hauser says:

    What happened to Nic Dowd? Is he coming back. He was having a pretty good season before he got hurt. I wonder what the plan is there.

  10. Stan Spence says:

    Why not Snively? I realize size may be an issue, but his speed/quickness has always impressed me and he’s scored goals whenever he’s been up with the big club. That could be a big help on the 4th line.

    • horn73 says:

      I will say he has a much better success ratio of scoring than Protas, but he his also about 5 years younger. But I do think Snively could fill role of Hagelin speed wise, just not sure of defensively.

  11. dwgie26 says:

    While the 4th line in today’s NHL isn’t a “fighting line” any more, you do want some grit and physicality there. That is why I love Beck-Dowd-NAK. All have some physical nature, all can be on PK and all can score timely goals.

    Sadly, Beck had often struggled with injuries so I can’t see him making it through a whole season. So Protas is probably the next best options. And I don’t think Snively is a good 4th liner, but he probably is 3rd on depth chart for 4LW.

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