Training camp is only a few weeks away and the Capitals will have a slew of new and not-so new players to give a closer look. As we look ahead to the 2019- 20′ season we do so with some trepidation. Who are these new additions that the Caps management team hired during the summer? What about the younger, faster players they have been grooming in Hershey? How about the “old dogs” – where do they stand and can they stand up to the challenge of the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference of the NHL?
So many questions – too many to answer in a short brief like this. The Capitals coaching staff have so many options going forward when it comes to lining up teammates for the top six slots as well as reshaping the bottom six. Lets start by looking at who we know in the top six from the 2018/19 season.
Will TJ Oshie remain on the top six after his injury? Some have speculated that he won’t start in a top six slot. He is one of the older players on the team (32) and has already suffered a number of concussions in addition to the collarbone injury that took him out of play at the end of the season. His stats were actually pretty good for a guy who only played 69 games; recording 25 goals for the team. However, for a good bit of the season followers thought he was off his game.
Can Tom Wilson stay out of the sin bin and avoid suspensions and perform to the level that he is capable of playing? He is one of the top ten scorers for the team and has huge potential. He might even get the nod for the A on his jersey with the retirement of Brooks Orpik. Will he sit on the top line with Alex Ovechkin this season? Looking around the league, the Caps will need his strength and skill to move into the playoffs and that means he will also have to exert better control over his style of play.
Alexander Ovechkin. He shows no signs of slowing down. He is the guy the team needs to exhibit true leadership on and off the ice, especially with Orpik no longer leading in his inspirational way. Does Ovi have another 50-goal season in him? There is little doubt that if he is contemplating retirement, he is going to go out on top of the game. You can expect to see him on the top line unless something odd happens and he needs a reset. He is the fire under the wings of this team and needs to lead the charge toward the playoffs.
Nicklas Backstrom always comes in strong. He is often the centerpiece to Ovechkin’s scoring power; however, coach Todd Reirden doesn’t always play him with Ovi. Will that change this year and will that be the right call? He is ever the consistent player with 20-something goals and 50 or more assists each season. He turns 32 in November and that is when some players slow down their game. Don’t expect that from Backstrom though. Of all the Caps players, he was probably the most angry about not advancing in the playoffs this past season. He has tasted victory, and like Ovechkin, he wants more of it before he hangs up his skates.
Can Carl Hagelin find himself cemented as one of the top six players for the Caps? We saw that move when Oshie was out with his injury in April. The management team sees something because they signed him to a four-year contract and let go of Brett Connolly in the process. He has the potential to play just about any spot the coach puts him in; however, the question we keep asking is does he have more than 10 or 15 goals in him? Perhaps if he stays in one place long enough to play a full season, he could out-shoot his high score of 17 goals.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had many fans scratching their heads last season. The center from Russia seemed to have lost his pizzazz and almost disappeared during the playoffs. He suffered a concussion in November 2018 which may have shook his confidence a bit. We often see that with players who come back too soon or come back without getting more than physical attention. He will need to get back to being the consistent player that the Caps invested in with an eight-year $62,400,000 contract in July 2017. Will the snazzy scoring Kuzy return to excite the crowds again?
Finally, there is Jakub Vrana. Fans held their breath waiting to see if the Capitals could work out the top-heavy salary cap to sign the player everyone has liked from the beginning of this time in Washington. The best they could offer at this time is a two-year bridge deal which gives him plenty of time to fine-tune his game and prove himself worthy of a longer-term contract. He has the skill to perform and score beyond the 24 goals he scored last season. At times we feel as if he emulates an Ovechkin-like style. Can he harness that skill and step out of the shadow of the great 8?
So could the top two lines look like one of these combinations at the start of the season? The possibilities are endless.
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson or Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson
Vrana-Kuznetsov-Oshie or Hagelin-Backstrom-Oshie
These are the most important players, for the most part, on any team. They are the ones expected to score more points for the team. They tend to be the power play players who make the most of a one-man advantage. Are there other possibilities?