The Washington Capitals took the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday for their last full practice before Wednesday night’s Home Opener against the Boston Bruins.
At the skate, head coach Peter Laviolette set his lines for the first time since the roster was trimmed down to 23 names.
Notably, Aliaksei Protas skated on the left wing of the second line, and Connor McMichael was among the group of players deemed extra to the line rushes. The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir reported that McMichael was joined bu Joe Snively and Matt Irwin and they will likely be the healthy scratches against the Bruins.
Here’s how the #Caps are lined up for the first practice of the 2022-23 season:
Extras: Snively, McMichael, Irwin pic.twitter.com/NIZLhe46Fp
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) October 11, 2022
McMichael was one of the young players that Laviolette challenged to “make noise” and “earn something” during Training Camp. The 21-year-old forward looks to have clearly lost out to Dylan Strome for a center spot on the team but is happy to have stuck in the NHL overall.
“It’s always a good feeling,” McMichael told El-Bashir on Sunday. “It’s something I’ve been working toward all summer, and obviously my whole life to get to this level. It’s something that I’ll never take for granted, making an opening night roster. So it’s pretty cool.”
Laviolette, who has benched the young forward in the past, told the media on Sunday that battles for regular roster spots will continue on into the regular season.
“Connor is here,” Laviolette said. “He’s gonna be in competition to be in that lineup and make a difference. We’ve got some young players here still. He’s still young. There’ll be a battle.”
Tuesday’s lineup featuring Aliaksei Protas in the top six shows that the hulking Belorussian lapped both McMichael and Joe Snively in the eyes of the coaching staff. He was the only Caps player to feature in all six preseason contests.
“He’s been really good, really strong,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said earlier in camp. “You notice his skating. You notice his physicality. You notice his work ethic. Right now, he’s making things happen out there.”
Protas got into 33 games in his rookie year last season tallying nine points (3g, 6a). The gigantic, versatile forward worked very hard on his skating and strength over the summer and it has paid off in spades.
“I still can’t believe it, that I made it,” Protas told El-Bashir. “I’m so happy now but I have to work even more to prove I deserve it.”
The first and fourth lines as well as the team’s defensive pairings have remained rather consistent throughout the whole preseason. That indicates that Connor Brown is still in line to get the first crack at filling Tom Wilson’s role and similarly, Conor Sheary with Carl Hagelin’s spot at fourth-line left wing. Erik Gustafsson also looks likely to begin the season as Trevor van Riemsdyk’s partner on the third pair.
On the flip side, the team’s middle-six forward group has been everchanging. Protas will debut this season next to Strome and Anthony Mantha on the second line. All three players are over six-foot-three and weigh over 200-pounds.
Meanwhile, the third line of Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller, and TJ Oshie will look to connect for the first time as well. The trio did not share the ice at five-on-five at all last season after Johansson was acquired from the Seattle Kraken. Oshie appears healthy from a shoulder injury he suffered during the fifth preseason game.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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