While most of the Washington Capitals’ attention has been focused on the open spots on its blueline, head coach Spencer Carbery made it known that the competition is wide open for the team’s remaining forward spots on Saturday.
With marquee free agency signing Max Pacioretty on the shelf recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, the Caps have three to four open spots for forwards coming out of camp.
Carbery listed off a handful of names fighting for those depth positions and emphasized that he’ll be intently watching their play in this next stretch of preseason games.
“We’ve been monitoring that closely with Matt Phillips, Joe Snively, [Aliaksei] Protas, Beck Malenstyn,” Carbery said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of assuming on what it will look like but from a coaching perspective that’s not the case for us. We’re evaluating all of those guys and we’ve got some decent runway here. We’re starting to get into the thick of things where the numbers will shrink down. This is a really, really important few games.”
Phillips, an established star in the AHL, signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Caps this offseason. The diminutive playmaker recorded 76 points (36g, 40a) in 66 games for the Calgary Wranglers last season, notably under new Caps assistant Mitch Love.
The Calgary native left his hometown team despite being offered a longer contract than the one he received from the Caps. Phillips, 25, has been above a point-per-game player in the AHL for the past two years but did not receive a significant look at the NHL level under former Flames bench boss Darryl Sutter.
The question now will be if Phillips can prove to Carbery and the rest of the Caps’ staff that he’s more than just a talented AHL player. The last remaining forward spots on the team’s roster will likely be bottom-six roles that tend to involve more checking and defensive responsibilities.
“Is it someone that’s an elite penalty killer in Beck Malenstyn or is it Matt Phillips, someone that might be able to give you a little more offensively,” Carbery said. “I think it’s specific to each guy. Do we feel comfortable with Matt Phillips potentially playing in a bottom-six role and being able to be productive there? And then with opportunity in game or opportunity due to injury he bumps up and now we can play him in more of an offensive role.”
Malenstyn is one of the many players at this year’s camp that Carbery has coached before. The 25-year-old winger starred on the Hershey Bears’ fantastic fourth line last season that spurred on several of the team’s huge postseason victories.
Unlike Phillips, Malenstyn has received 24 games at the NHL level over the past four years. His details on defense and hard-hitting style of play is more suited to how typical NHL checking lines operate.
Another player that Carbery mentioned is Protas. The big Belorussian has seen 91 NHL games over the past two seasons and the majority of those were spent as one of Nic Dowd’s wings on the team’s fourth line.
Protas has extensive positional flexibility, being able to dress at all three positions on a forward line. Carbery was asked where he sees Protas sticking under his watch.
“He’s played a lot of center in his life, played wing in Hershey predominantly,” Carbery said. “We’re going to look at him in both spots. I want to see his versatility that way of being able to play both wings potentially on that fourth line and then also look at him in the middle.”
Protas, along with Connor McMichael, are the only two forwards currently penciled in for an NHL roster spot that are still waivers exempt and free to be sent back to Hershey without risk of being claimed by another team. That could impact Carbery’s final decisions as the Caps may not want to risk losing someone like Snively for nothing.
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