TJ Oshie became the latest Capitals’ top-six forward to suffer what appears to be a significant injury in the team’s 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Oshie is out “indefinitely” per the team, which raises the question of who exactly will fill in for him on the roster if a longterm replacement is needed?
Let’s take a closer look at what the Capitals could choose to do.
The first option is the player the team turned to in their Monday night matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, but it’s unclear if he’s the answer longterm. Connor McMichael, the Capitals’ 21-year-old top prospect, played a team low 6:53 TOI against the Canes (the next closest player was in double digits) while skating on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov.
During his only other game of the season, McMichael played 8:33 against the Ottawa Senators.
It’s safe to say that neither he nor the coaching staff think he’s quite suited to play the right wing.
“(Center) is a position that I want to play in,” McMichael said during Training Camp. “I’m just looking to prove that I belong there. I want to be a centerman, that’s my natural position.”
The left-handed, natural center is looking for NHL minutes wherever he can get them in his sophomore season but playing out of position on his offhand is probably again neither good for the team nor his development. McMichael recorded 18 points in 68 games in his rookie season but did so almost exclusively on the left wing in the middle six or at center for short stretches.
It is also important to note that McMichael and Aliaksei Prtoas are the only players on the Capitals’ 23-man roster who are waiver-exempt.
The other young skater currently on the Caps roster who has seen more of the press box than the ice this season is Joe Snively. Unlike McMichael, Snively is a natural winger and did see some NHL game time on the right wing last season. He did so in the exact same scenario the Capitals currently face which is an injury to Oshie. However, he too spent the majority of time on his more natural left side.
The 26-year-old former Little Cap seemed to adjust to the big league quite fast in his rookie campaign, tallying seven points (4g, 3a) in 12 games. Both of his games this season have come on the left wing of the fourth and second lines.
One of the choices the Caps could make is band-aid over the problem until Tom Wilson is fully done rehabbing from his offseason ACL reconstruction surgery. The burly winger is expected to be back anywhere from late November to the end of January. The team also lost his depth replacement, Connor Brown, to ACL surgery.
So, what is one possible band-aid solution? Well, it would involve sliding one of the above options — McMichael or Snively — into the lineup but on their stronger left sides and using the more comfortable flexibility of Conor Sheary, Anthony Mantha, Marcus Johansson, or Aliaksei Protas to fill the open right wing spot.
Sonny Milano is the third natural left wing brought up in this post to fill an open right-wing position. That’s the sort of dilemma the Capitals currently face. So, why would the Caps bring him up from Hershey knowing they’d need to pass him through waivers again if things don’t exactly work out?
Well, he’s far more experienced at the NHL level (197 games) than both McMichael and Snively (85 games combined) and is a natural winger who’s played with talented offensive creators like Trevor Zegras before. Laviolette clearly is hesitant to give McMichael a major role in a position not natural to him so why not send the waiver-exempt youngster down to Hershey to develop more? Then they could call up Milano, an analytics darling who scored 14 goals in an NHL season twice already in his career.
Milano’s passing metrics were extremely strong last season, and he had strong play-driving numbers at both ends.
Caveat is that the # of games tracked for the microstats specifically is a decent bit under the “levelling-out” point of 20 games. pic.twitter.com/XDuXbgWXry
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) September 19, 2022
Let’s say Milano doesn’t work out and the team opts to send him down again. The team could bring back McMichael after he’s consistently played games in Hershey. In that scenario, even if Milano is lost to another team on waivers, it’s not like the Caps gave up any sort of assets to acquire him.
If Oshie is injured to the point where he will require a spot on long-term injured reserve (which is probable), the Capitals could also think about finding a replacement from outside the organization. The two most likely scenarios that could take place there is a chance waiver claim (a la the Ducks and Jets grabbing Brett Leason and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby from the Caps) or a more proactive trade approach.
One of the central teams expected to be active in the trade market as sellers this season is the San Jose Sharks. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported just last week that the Sharks have let it be known they are willing to talk about every player on their roster other than Tomas Hertl. That includes star right wing Timo Meier, former 56-point right wing Kevin Labanc, and more role-player-type options like Luke Kunin and Alexander Barabanov. All of those players would come with varying trade cost considerations and salary cap questions.
It also must be brought up that the Chicago Blackhawks will likely look to move Patrick Kane at some point this season.
Head coach Peter Laviolette told the media before Monday’s game in Raleigh that details about Oshie’s condition would have to wait until the Caps returned home. Washington plays the Vegas Golden Knights in a back-to-back at Capital One Arena on Tuesday.
Later this week, we might learn more about how the team might solve their right-wing depth problem.
What would you do if you were Peter Laviolette and Brian MacLellan?
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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