Last week we took a look at the Capitals top six players and what the top two lines might look like in the upcoming season. The third and fourth lines will definitely look different in the 2019/20 season with the loss of Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. Who will play with Lars Eller? Will Carl Hagelin be on the bottom six or the top six? How will the coach slot in those new players donning a red sweater for the first time? It feels as if we have more questions then we have answers.
The bottom two lines last season included remaining players Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Travis Boyd, Jakub Vrana, Nic Dowd, and Chandler Stephenson.If Hagelin and Vrana move up to the first two lines, that will leave at least two open spaces. Add in the loss of Burky and Conno and we may have a real fight on our hands. So who can we expect to see?
Third line: There are a number of options to consider:
Hagelin – Eller – Panik
Vrana – Eller – Panik
Or a line centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov? Maybe T.J. Oshie?
As we pondered last week – can Carl Hagelin find himself playing as one of the top six players for the Caps? He signed a four-year contract and 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? Is he better suited to playing on the third line and giving the Caps the ability to move him up should they need him to plug a hole?
Lars Eller seems well-situated on the third line. He is the guy who will most likely set up his line-mates to score and will not likely be a high scorer for the line. However, when he does score it really counts. Unfortunately, according to NBC Sports, he suffered a leg injury during the World’s game. He has already returned to Arlington to begin conditioning and is getting some ice time. He will have to adjust to some new partners on the ice but that’s no big deal – professional hockey players do that all the time.
Richard Panik signed a four-year contract with the Caps to fill in on the third line. At 28, he will need to push himself to improve upon his previous seasons with Arizona and Chicago. If he can consistently perform that would be a big improvement for the Caps who need players they can rely on to get to the playoffs. Can he push forward and be the 20-goal scorer the team needs?
Will Jakub Vrana be a top six or bottom six left wing player this season? He has the chops for the top line, if he can play a consistent game. We know he will be on the Caps roster for at least two more seasons, having signed a comfortable two-year contract with the team in July. Unless he screws up, we expect to see him rolling out with the second line.
Leipsic – Dowd – Hathaway
Center Nic Dowd is a known commodity for the Capitals. The Caps signed the 28-year old to a new three-year contract in April. He was brought in to fill the face-off void left by Jay Beagle and proved that was the right decision as the top guy for the team. He is one tough guy. Can he lead his new line mates to become a powerhouse for the Caps?
Brenden Leipsic has played on four teams in five seasons with the NHL. In 126 games he only recorded 13 goals. He has played fairly well in the AHL; however, none of his former teams have thought enough to give him a permanent spot on the roster. Could this be the team that gives him the chance to succeed in the NHL and could he step out and surprise everyone?
Garnet Hathaway signed a four-year deal in early July. Coming to DC from Calgary, Hathaway should find his place on the fourth line. He should be adding to the physical nature that the Caps seem to be investing in for the next few seasons. He is a versatile enough player to jump in on either side of the line as well and up and down the line. Where will coach slot him once the season gets going?
And what about those other players from the Hershey Bears who might be ready for an NHL slot? At least two centers hope they get their big break; however, they probably won’t unless there are injuries or line shakeups later in the season.
Travis Boyd will be looking for a new contract at the end of this season. He has seen more time in Pennsylvania than in Washington DC. Could things change and he earn a spot on the Caps fourth line during training camp? A lot will depend on what happens with Hagelin and who moves up to fill that gap. The potential is there and the team will be watching closely during camp to evaluate his growth as a player and to see if he fits the mold they are building towards. Nice thing about him is the Caps can use him as a center or as a wing. Versatility matters.
How about Chandler Stephenson who signed a one-year contract with the Caps? Can he finally make the leap to a permanent spot? He will have some stiff competition with Hathaway and Leipsic joining the team at training camp. The short-term deal suggests that he didn’t step up as much as the Capitals would have liked during the last season. He may very well spend more time in Hershey.
Where will Shane Gersich fit during the next season? He is fast, young, and eager to stand out in the NHL. If the Capitals want to pit him against Leipsic during camp it could make for an interesting fight for a spot. More than likely, he will be a backup for the fourth line. He may still be in “learning mode” in Hershey as he sharpens his puck handling skills and proves to be a force worth watching on the ice.
The third and fourth lines will not look anything like they have in the past few seasons. Training camp will be even more interesting to watch as coaches narrow the list down to the most capable six or seven forwards to fill in for those lines. If a team hopes to make it into the playoffs, all four lines need to have a strong offensive play and be capable of meeting the challenges thrown their way. Could we see a lot of player rotation at the start of the season as the coach settles on the best line combinations for the team?