Christian Djoos was drafted late in the 2012 NHL Draft and never considered a top prospect, but the undersized 23-year-old is currently cementing a top-six role on the Caps defense.
After playing for SHL Brynäs and the AHL Hershey Bears, Djoos earned a roster spot in the NHL this past October. The Capitals, in need of defenseman after losing Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Kevin Shattenkirk during the offseason, gave Djoos a shot after proving himself during training camp.
Although he has made several brutal turnovers that have led to goals — not an uncommon trait for a rookie defensemen who has been forced to play big minutes quickly — Djoos has become one of the early bright spots on a Caps defense struggling to find an identity.
Djoos scored his first goal in his first NHL game on his first NHL shot, but he didn’t stop there. In six games, Djoos has tallied two goals and one assist. He already has more goals than any other Capitals defenseman.
Djoos is also pushing play. He leads the defense with a 57.8 shot-attempt percentage. The Capitals own 10.6 percent more of the shot attempts when Djoos is on the ice.
Along with everything Djoos has achieved so far, he also has the honor of being a former seventh-round pick playing regularly in the NHL.
“I don’t really think about being a seventh-round pick,” Djoos said Monday after practice. “It doesn’t really matter being a third round or seventh, but I’m happy that the Caps chose me and that I’m here now.”
Djoos has cleared hurdles that many of his contemporaries have not, making the NHL five years after his draft day. According to TSN, only approximately 10% of seventh-round picks ever become NHL players.
Djoos is also getting acclimated to the NHL along with his former defensive partner, Madison Bowey. Although Bowey only appeared in 34 games last year after suffering a freak tendon laceration injury, the two have formed a lasting bond.
“It’s cool,” Djoos said. “We know each other well after playing together in Hershey.”
And that was obvious after Djoos scored against the Florida Panthers. After returning to the bench, cameras caught Bowey giving Djoos a loving back massage in celebration.
Djoos laughed after being reminded of the moment.
“We are happy for each other!” Djoos said. “We are all happy for each other in the room when someone scores.”
Djoos is also feeling more welcome in the locker room due to fellow Swedes, Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky. Despite a large age difference between Djoos and the veteran Backstrom, the two have history together beyond the Caps, playing in Brynäs’ annual internal scrimmage. Burakovsky and Djoos go back even further as they both represented Sweden in the 2014 World Juniors.
“It’s cool [to play with Backstrom and Burakovsky],” Djoos said. “They’re top players. I just try to be open for them and help them.”
Backstrom feels the same way. Speaking with NHL.com’s Peter Sibner during the NHL European Media Tour in early August, he explained how eager he was to see another Swede in the lineup.
“I think about the guys we saw last year. Jakub Vrana, I have big hope in seeing Christian Djoos be the player he was in the AHL last season,” Backstrom said to Sibner. “I have a positive vibe about the young guys. I hope one or two can surprise.”
Djoos has surprised early, and he hopes it continues for the rest of the season. For now, he is enjoying his time with the Capitals and the warm welcome he’s received by fans — such as when Capital One Arena yelled DJOOOOOOOS after his goal against Florida. He’s fine even if it includes a massive amount of puns with his last name, like the Djoos is loose.
“No, I don’t mind,” Djoos said while laughing. “It’s fun. It’s just fun.”
Photo: Cara Bahniuk
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