Decimated by losses this offseason, the Washington Capitals are focusing on rebuilding their team as quickly as possible so they can contend once again, but while there is some progress on the offense as some young players have stepped up, there hasn’t been that infusion of new talent on the Capitals’ blueline, writes Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan.
After a disappointing playoff run which ended in the second round to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the team endured multiple losses, including Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt and Daniel Winnik. All of the losses were due to the fact the team was up against the cap, but the team instead focused on re-signing some of their core, including extending stars Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie.
While the offense seems to have found replacements for their top lines in youngsters like Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana, fixing the defense might be a totally different story, according to Khurshudyan. The scribe writes that Washington head coach Barry Trotz said that no defenseman has stood out so far into training camp to claim the final two spots in the team’s top six. Even with the losses of Shattenkirk, Alzner and Schmidt, the team still has a solid top four in Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Orlov and John Carlson. However, the team must fill in those final two spots.
Amongst those defensemen attempting to win one of those two spots is Taylor Chorney, who has been the team’s extra defenseman for the past two years. The team also brought in two of their solid AHL defenseman in Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos, who the team hopes will be ready to take on a new challenge. The team also has several others ready to take a spot, including 2016 first-rounder Lucas Johansen, Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington, and Connor Hobbs.
Chorney has spent the last two years on the Capitals roster, but has managed to get into 73 games in those two years and just 18 last season. The 30-year-old defenseman accululated 11 points in those two years, but is trying to break the label of journeyman.
Much of their defensive hopefuls come from their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Beras. Bowey, 22, is coming off an injury-shortened season in the AHL after suffering a gruesome ankle injury with the Hershey Bears. He managed to play only 34 games, but has lost 12 pounds and is skating faster than he did a year ago. Many people thought Djoos, 23, had the best shot to make the team’s roster this year as he had a great season for Hershey a year ago. He scored 15 goals and 45 assists for 66 points for them last year. Ness has also been in the Washington system, playing the last two years in Hershey. He also managed to get called up and get into 10 games over the past two years. A quality skater, he has played a total of 39 NHL games over the course of his career. Lewington, 22, played 72 games for the Bears last season, compiling 142 penalty minutes to go with 17 points.
Johansen,19, was the 28th overall pick in the 2016 draft and many feel he might be ready to step into the team’s lineup, while Hobbs, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2015 had a breakout year with his junior team. The 20-year-old prospect, known for his hard shot, had 31 goals and 54 assists with the WHL Regina Pats.
With the team right up against the cap, a trade would seem unlikely to aid the defense. So, the team hopes that two of these defensemen will step up soon to solidify the Capitals defense.