The Washington Capitals have made it quite clear for some time now that younger players are not guaranteed spots in their lineup. General manager Brian MacLellan said as much in his free agency wrap-up presser in July.
“It’s a competitive situation,” MacLellan said then. “I don’t think we’re coming in guaranteeing young guys spots in the lineup. I think, you know, you have to earn it to a certain degree.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette was asked Thursday on the first day of Training Camp about the involvement of youth in his squad this season and about his message to them for camp and the preseason.
“They’re coming in here to try and earn something,” Laviolette said. “That was the message to everybody. Try and earn an exhibition game. If you earn an exhibition game then you have a chance to show what you can do. Try and earn more ice time from where you were at last year. Try and earn a job in Washington, in Hershey, in South Carolina. Try and earn yourself a spot somewhere. That’s training camp year after year. You got an opportunity to do something, try to make the most of that opportunity so that you can show what you can do.”
Some of the young talent expecting to be battling for roster spots include Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, Aliaksei Protas, Brett Leason, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Joe Snively, Henrik Borgstrom, and Lucas Johansen. All of those names, other than UFA signee Borgstrom, spent varying amounts of time in the NHL with the Caps last season. Six of them scored their first NHL goals.
“Come in here and try and make some noise,” Laviolette said of players like Lapierre and Protas. “Force a situation where you played so well you have to be kept or you have to move up the lineup or you have to get more minutes. Whatever it might be.”
The 2021-22 season saw several young players take advantage of some early injury trouble facing the team. Lapierre and McMichael both made their season debuts a little earlier than many once thought they would. A similar situation is facing the Caps this preseason with names like Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Carl Hagelin all out.
“Those are a couple big pieces, but I feel like some of the parts that we picked up this summer can help cover that,” Laviolette started. “I feel like the growth and development of some of our younger players can help with that. I feel like the depth that we showed and used last year with some of the players that are trying to compete for a job on our team we can cover those spots with that as well.”
McMichael in particular was able to earn a job out of camp last year and hang on to it for the entirety of the season. Although at times he was downright dominant statistically at five-on-five, he still found regular ice time hard to come by.
“I think there’s a natural development,” Laviolette said. “There’s a development of maturity, physical growth, experience. All of those things are now, in my opinion, another year to the good. Young players come into the league and typically that first year is not their best year. Not saying that it’s bad, I’m just saying that there’s always growth. When you go from 19 to 20, 20 to 23, 23 to 26. You become stronger, more physical, you’re experienced, understand the league better, understand the competition, understand how to become a pro. All of those things are the growth of young players.
“McMichael is no different for us,” he continued. “We’re going to look at him in camp this year to earn more and want more. Training Camp is here. Make some noise, earn something. That goes for Lapierre, that goes for Connor McMichael, that goes for Strome. Push yourself up the lineup, earn more, want more.
The Capitals’ first preseason game comes on September 25 at Capital One Arena against the Buffalo Sabres where good impressions will need to be made.
Screenshot via Capitals
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