Over the offseason, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga and explained his decision-making during the offseason. MacLellan gushed about the team’s young defensemen in the pipeline, calling it an “organizational strength.” He predicted Christian Djoos and Lucas Johansen would end up in the roles vacated by Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt long term. Djoos appeared a lock to start the season in the lineup on either the second or third pairing.
Meanwhile during training camp, head coach Barry Trotz spoke openly about giving many of the team’s prospects, such as Jakub Vrana, more opportunity. Two summers ago, the Capitals even published an inside access video where Trotz told Travis Boyd, who was the Hershey Bears’ MVP last season, that he was going to get a “good opportunity” that year in training camp.
Yet, the only young prospect who is getting a sweater opening night is Jakub Vrana. Djoos and Nathan Walker, who in Trotz’s words was “very, very impressive” during training camp, will sit in the pressbox. Johansen, Boyd, Madison Bowey, and Riley Barber were all sent down to the minors.
On Wednesday, Trotz was asked about why Bowey was sent down and if it was a salary-cap related move. Bowey was arguably the team’s best young defense prospect during camp.
“It was a real tough conversation in a sense,” Trotz said. “We’re excited where he is. He’s right there. It was a little bit of [the salary] cap. It was a little bit of everything right now, [it] allows us to get started here and get him playing.”
Then Trotz explained his rationale about why a bevy of stopgap veteran players, who likely do not have longterm futures with the team, like Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tyler Graovac, Taylor Chorney, and Aaron Ness are getting sweaters over the team’s youth.
Here’s Trotz’s full explanation.
“The thing with us, the young guys are going to be the foundation of our whole organization,” Trotz said. “We’re excited about the fact, you know, we’re going to infuse some young guys here as we keep going along. Right now, we just want to stabilize it. Right now, on defense for instance, we’re going to stabilize it with a little more of a veteran part of the roster to start. Because the first part of the season, especially the first three or four games or matches, are a little hairy. They’re really ramped up because everyone is so excited. I think it gives our veteran guys — they’ve gone through it a few times — we’re hoping that’ll just help settle it down. Once we get rolling and it settles down a little bit, I think it gives our younger guys an opportunity to feel comfortable.
“This is the point for young guys when they make a hockey team, now they’re going, ‘Okay, I made the hockey team and now I’ve got to find a place to live, and I’ve got to do this.’ There’s a lot going on that people don’t think about. ‘You know, hey, throw the kid in.’ There’s a little bit more going on because they have to start dealing with life things. I think it just allows them to settle in, get comfortable. We’ve got a lot of games, they’re going to be a huge part of what we’re doing here. It’s going to be the Vranas. It’s going to be the Burakovskys. It’s going to be the Djooses. And the Boweys. And the Siegenthalers. And the Johansens. And Hobbs. That’s a pretty good group.
“We’re going to start with this group and work from there,” Trotz concluded.
So essentially, Trotz is saying that Christian Djoos can’t be playing top-four minutes right now because he needs to sign a lease and get acclimated to Washington. Djoos, 23, has been playing hockey in the area since 2014. His father played in the NHL.
Meanwhile, the lack of young players graduating from Hershey to Washington this year is surprising considering how few roster spots the Caps have had open over the last two seasons. Many prospects have been blocked because of the team’s depth at the NHL level and should have thrived with more AHL seasoning.
Does Trotz’s explanation pass the smell test for you?
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