When Spencer Carbery gets behind the Washington Capitals bench this season, he will find a roster with a veteran core joined by a crew of young players early in their careers. Carbery emphasized incorporating those developing players in his introductory team press conference and continued to do so in a recent episode of the Capitals’ Mike Vogel’s Break the Ice podcast.
The rookie bench boss spoke with Vogel about the value of bringing that youth into the lineup, as well as his expectations for the still-developing players. With several familiar faces from earlier in Carbery’s career when he was the head coach of the Hershey Bears, many of those relationships have head starts.
Between his time with Hershey and his stint as an assistant coach in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, Carbery has worked with a significant swath of the Capitals’ development pipeline. He highlighted the importance balancing what he thinks these younger players can bring to the team with acknowledging the inevitable errors that they will make early in their NHL careers.
“In the salary cap era, having that relief from entry-level players being able to come into your lineup and play, that’s something that we will emphasize,” Carbery said. “Having those relationships with a lot of our younger players that the expectations aren’t going to change. The rope — obviously I understand young players and I’ve talked about this before — they’re going to make mistakes, they need opportunity, and time, and they will develop, and I’ve seen that firsthand.”
That youth may prove particularly important given the team’s aging core. Free-agent pickup Max Pacioretty will miss the start of the season still recovering from his second torn Achilles, Nicklas Backstrom is still a bit of a question mark after his 2022 hip resurfacing surgery, and TJ Oshie lost over a quarter of last season due to injury. Carbery will have to juggle both the longer-term recoveries of his veterans and the inevitability of more mid-season injuries, making the early introduction of newer players more vital.
Many of the fresh faces that fit that mold already know Carbery well. 10 of his former players suited up in at least one game for the Caps last season, with six of them playing 10 or more games over the full campaign. The vast majority of those players are 25 or younger, including names like Aliaksei Protas, Alex Alexeyev, Connor McMichael, and Rasmus Sandin. According to Carbery, his past ties to those players could facilitate faster development.
“They also know my level of expectations and and have seen me coach,” he said. “And, they know what are those non-negotiables, and how dialed in they need to be with their structure, and what a track looks like. And if Carbs doesn’t see that, they’re like (sighs)…they know the level of expectation. And so I think that helps with these guys being able to come in, feel a little bit more comfortable, and be able to contribute.
“Because the NHL isn’t a league where you can just [go], ‘Okay keep going out there and making mistakes and we’ll just keep suffering the repercussions.’ That’s not how it works, and that isn’t the way that it’ll work with our young players as well. They know that there’s a level of play that they have to live up to.”
From what those former players have previously said, Carbery’s approach has seemed to resonate. McMichael, Protas, and Beck Malenstyn all played under Carbery in Hershey and took the time to praise the Capitals’ hire in the midst of their 2023 Calder Cup run. Rasmus Sandin, who played under Carbery in Toronto before joining the Caps this past February, also seems thrilled to work with him again, speaking highly of the coach on a recent episode of the 32 Thoughts podcast.
“I mean, he’s awesome,” Sandin said. “He took care of the power plays in Toronto and that’s mainly where I work with him. He really wants to get the best out of each and every player, individually and as a unit. So I think he’s going to do great things for us and he’s gonna be a huge addition to our team. I’m looking forward to work with him.”
With both players and coaches alike seemingly onboard, Carbery is optimistic about the impact his younger players can have on the season to come.
“We’re going to help them get there, and they’re going to have plenty of opportunity, but they know there’s a level of play that we expect,” he said. “And that’s what we’re going to push them to get to as quickly as possible so that they can lift the boat and help: pull the rope, and early in the season, and alleviate minutes, and be able to be a four-line team and a three-D-pair team.
“All of that stuff is going to be so important for our group.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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