The Washington Capitals signed Trevor van Riemsdyk to a one-year deal in October 2020. TVR played in only a third of the games last season, filling in mostly when another member of the defense corps was out with injury. Those 20 games, however, were enough for the Capitals to aggressively offer him a two-year extension in March.
Now, with the departure of Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon over the offseason, the Capitals have two full-time spots open on the left side of their defense. The right-handed van Riemsdyk appears to be the frontrunner for one of those slots.
“I thought TVR was excellent last year,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He didn’t get in many games. He could have played in every game. We think that much of him, but we were fortunate and healthy with that regard on the backend. When we did need him, he came and played excellent. He played both sides and when he did, he played fantastic. So that gave us confidence as a coaching staff that he can play left or right. There’s a lot of confidence from the staff with regard to the way he plays the game.”
In the Capitals’ first preseason game of the year, a 3-2 (SO) loss to the Bruins, van Riemsdyk got a jersey and lined up on that left side, partnering with Matt Irwin. TVR impressed in the 20 minutes he played.
“I think it’s always harder to play on your off-side,” Laviolette said. “It’d be more natural for him on the right side. I thought he was really strong. Maybe one of our best defenders. He got the puck out of the defensive zone.”
After a recent Training Camp skate, van Riemsdyk revealed that he has a lot of experience playing on his off-side and the challenge is not daunting to him.
“Yeah, I’ve done that a bit,” the seven-year veteran said. “I did it in Chicago, little bit in Carolina, and I did it a lot in college which I guess is a longer time away than it feels. Definitely something over the summer that I worked on, doing stuff on both sides. Definitely something I’m comfortable with.
“There are some things you even like more being on your off side than your strong side so it’s kinda just getting reacclimated with it,” TVR added. “If you can play on both sides that makes things easier for [the coaching staff] and you always want to be able to slot in wherever you can.”
Van Riemsdyk doesn’t lack competition on that left side. Michal Kempny, an important member of the 2018 Stanley Cup championship team, is back healthy after successfully rehabbing three injuries to his left leg. Over the offseason, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said that he believed Martin Fehervary had done enough to officially graduate to the NHL in 2021-22. Meanwhile, younger players like Alexander Alexeyev and Bobby Nardella are rapidly developing.
Chara and Dillon’s absences leave “camp open for some young players too that have been trying to crack a lineup and trying to make their way to the NHL,” Laviolette said. “That’s what Training Camp is for, so those players will get an opportunity to show what they can do in camp. You’re going to see a lot of faces and a lot of guys get some games. Because of managing the lineup, you’re probably not going to see our guys in five and six games. It’ll be an opportunity for those guys inside of exhibition games to show what they can do.”
While the left side of the Capitals’ defense is virtually wide open, the right side is set with John Carlson, Justin Schultz, and Nick Jensen. As for TVR, expect him to get every opportunity this season to lock down a spot and show what he can do.
“It’s not that he wasn’t an everyday player last year, it’s just that he didn’t play every day,” Laviolette said. “He is a terrific player.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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