The Washington Capitals preseason schedule began Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, as Barry Trotz made his debut behind the Washington bench. This preseason doesn’t have an enormous amount of open roster spots or position battles to watch, but there are some big things to keep an eye on prior to the regular season getting underway. They’re listed below along with a recap of Washington’s 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.
Who’s the Number Two Center?
Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov is the favorite to replace former Capital Mikhail Grabovski, who signed with the New York Islanders in the offseason. Kuznetsov is a dynamic offensive player and was regarded as the best player not playing in North America at certain points during his time in Russia. Andre Burakovsky believes he can be an NHL player at this point, but he’d likely hold a role on the wing if he started the season with Washington. A ticket to Hershey is the most likely scenario.
The First Line
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are locks to play on Washington’s top forward line. Beyond that it’s uncertain. There are multiple players that could play with the Capitals top duo: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson are all potential options. I view Brouwer as the best option for Washington, giving Tom Wilson a role as the second RW on the depth chart when he is fully healthy.
Latta signed a two year, one way deal this summer and is no longer wavier exempt. Every team in the NHL will have the opportunity to claim him and add Latta to their roster if the former Nashville Predators forward can’t make the Capitals. He can play on the penalty kill and is a fourth line option for Washington. Barry Trotz is somewhat familiar with Latta from their time with the Predators and he brings more defensive responsibility and potential offensive production than Aaron Volpatti.
Depending on if Dmitry Orlov is ready to go for the season opener, the Capitals top six seems set. John Erskine and Jack Hillen are reliable blue liners that can fill in for Washington’s best defensemen if injured. Steve Oleksy is another option, but his lack of experience and skating ability hinders his chance to make the Washington roster. Connor Carrick seems ticketed for the Hershey Bears after a big cup of coffee last season under Adam Oates.
The Blue Line Prospects
The Capitals have numerous defensive prospects that are appealing including Tyler Lewington, Madison Bowey and Nate Schmidt. Bowey is Washington’s top defenseive prospect and set huge numbers in the Western Hockey League last season. Lewington impressed in training camp and played in Washington’s preseason game Sunday night. Schmidt needs to develop his game on the power play along with his decision making with the puck. Swedish defenseman Christian Djoos is also expected to get in a few games during the preseason, it’s unclear where he’ll play in the 2014-15 season.
Bowey-WSH shows some of the positives he has (active skater, skilled puck mover) but also some of the negative (brutal gaway in the slot).
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) September 21, 2014
Capitals Top Sabres
Washington forward prospect Andre Burakovsky scored the lone goal Sunday evening at Verizon Center, as the Capitals returned to the ice after a summer of changes. Pheonix Copley (6 saves) and Braden Holtby (19 saves) teamed up for a shutout between the pipes in an uneventful game in the nation’s capital.
“It was nice to score the first goal. I got a great pass from [Jason] Chimera and I just took a wrister and it went in. I was kind of shocked, but it feels really good to have the first goal. And after that goal, I think I could relax a little bit more in the game, feel more comfortable out there and just keep playing hard.” –Andre Burakovsky
Copley, signed out of college last season, likely will start the season with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, but could start in Hershey if he excels in the preseason. Philipp Grubauer is the starter in goal for the Bears at the AHL level, but the status of Eddie Pasquale is uncertain. Brandon Anderson is the lead candidate to backup Grubauer if Pasqule isn’t ready for Washington’s AHL affiliate, after two seasons with the Capitals former ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals. Reading recently signed an affiliation agreement with the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this summer.
“It’s cool to get in a game like that and get the experience in. When I go out there, I just try and stop the puck. Wherever they put me, that’s when I know what I have to do. There is nothing I can do about where they put me. The only thing I can do is go out there and try and stop the puck, so that’s what I focus on.” –Pheonix Copley
Capitals defensive prospect Madison Bowey played with reliable Washington defenseman Karl Alzner in his first preseason game this season. Bowey told The Hockey Writers his goal was to start the season with the Capitals, but that seems unlikely with the numerous depth defensemen in camp. He’ll start the season in the WHL with Kelowna Rockets and should join the Hershey Bears after his season ends with the high powered Rockets. He recorded three turnovers in the Capitals win, but showed his eagerness to jump in on the play and featured his heavy shot a few times, getting two pucks on net.
Along with his goal, Burakovsky struggled at the center position during faceoffs, going 2/11. He started the game down the middle alongside Joel Ward and Jason Chimera on the wings. The duo of Ward and Chimera from last season is likely to stay together in the upcoming campaign. Ward also held his common role at the slot on Washington’s number one power play unit, with Ovechkin on the left circle, Matt Niskanen at the point and Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich also on the top man advantage unit.
Washington travels to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers Monday night.