The Washington Capitals released their Day One groups and practice times for training camp. And in a new twist, they also released the full lines and defensive pairings.
While the first day of camp is not revealing — it primarily consists of skate tests to see how fit players are after the offseason — Barry Trotz’s initial defensive pairings hint at which prospects have more of an inside track of making the team. The team has two open roster spots on defense that they need filled.
During the offseason, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said that Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen will stay together and form the team’s first defensive pairing. But beyond that, there are questions. Right-handed defenseman John Carlson and 36-year-old Brooks Orpik are in need of new partners after Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt departed via unrestricted free agency and the expansion draft respectively.
The defensive pairings to watch in camp are below.
Brooks Opik – Connor Hobbs
Christian Djoos – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – Madison Bowey
Jonas Siegenthaler – Taylor Chorney
Lucas Johansen – John Carlson
The most likely new defenseman to make the team out of the group above is Hershey Bears defenseman Christian Djoos. The Swedish defenseman’s first camp assignment is with the team’s anchor, Niskanen, and his dominant play in Hershey showed he’s ready for the next step. Djoos’ size and durability are the only questions that need to be answered on if he can be a productive NHL player.
Meanwhile, 2016 first-round pick Lucas Johansen is skating with John Carlson. Johansen bulked up over the offseason. With a good camp, the smooth-skating puck-mover could force his way onto the team just a year after being drafted.
Over the offseason, general manager Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post that he believed Djoos and Johansen were the most likely candidates to fill the positions long term.
“I really like Lucas Johansen, and whether it’s now or six months from now or a year from now, I think he’s going to be a factor,” MacLellan said. “Christian Djoos got 58 points at the American League level last year. I guess the knock on him is size (6-feet, 162 pounds), but I don’t think Schmidt (6-1, 194 pounds) is a big guy.”
“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”
Jonas Siegenthaler, another smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, will play with the team’s seventh defenseman from last year Taylor Chorney. An older prospect with a similiar style of play, 22-year-old Madison Bowey, will skate with Orlov. Bowey is the team’s second round pick from the 2013 draft, but took a step back in his development last season after struggling through injury and an off-ice incident.
The biggest wildcard to make the team on the backend would be Connor Hobbs, but anything’s possible. Slated to skate with Brooks Orpik to start camp, the 20-year-old defenseman is a fifth-round pick, but just finished an unbelievable final season in junior. Hobs scored 31 goals and tallied 85 points in 67 games with the Regina Pats, one of the most celebrated teams in the WHL. Hobbs will most likely begin his professional career in the AHL, but with his hockey sense, leadership, and grit, Barry Trotz could fall in love.
Other players to watch include veteran Aaron Ness, camp invitee Jyrki Jokipakka, and prospect Tyler Lewington – though his pairing with Kristofers Bindulis seems to hint he will start the year in Hershey.
It's skate test time! A couple Caps players from later groups have come out of locker room to watch. pic.twitter.com/zxZMu63RVl
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 15, 2017
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) September 15, 2017
Headline photo: @Capitals
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