Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt had a goal and an assist in his preseason debut against the Islanders, Saturday. Most notably, Schmidt was aggressive, joining the Caps’ offensive attack whenever he could.
The preseason is a great time for the coaching staff to experiment and try new things – like the team’s decision to shift center Zach Sanford to the wing. So usually it’s not wise to read much into the team’s strategy, especially early in the preseason.
Except in this case where we should totally read into what we’re seeing.
On Thursday, the Caps used lines that look reasonably close to what could be an opening night lineup. And indeed, assistant coach Todd Reirden confirmed that the lines are a potential preview of how the Caps will line up when the season opens:
On these lines, Reirden basically said they're legit (and they'll continue experimenting) https://t.co/MVU3KGLN0R
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 29, 2016
While plenty can change between now and the start of the season, and the lines will certainly change throughout the season, the particular lines the Caps used Thursday can help give a glimpse into a lineup the coaching staff is thinking of using this season.
For the purpose of this series, a prospect will be defined as an under-25 player in the Capitals system who was not on the team’s roster for the majority of last season. This allows us to focus on guys who many know little about. You will not see players like Stan Galiev, Philipp Grubauer, or Andre Burakovsky on this list.
Earlier this week, we took a look at all the Caps’ prospects that didn’t make the top 10. Today, we’re diving into the bottom half of the top 10. Here’s a look at prospects 10 through six.
For the purpose of this series, a prospect will be defined as an under-25 player in the Capitals system who was not on the team’s roster for the majority of last season. This allows us to focus on guys who many know little about. You will not see Stan Galiev, Philipp Grubauer, or Andre Burakovsky among others in this list.
The Washington Capitals have 28 prospects in their system who match the criteria set above. Below are those ranked 11 through 28.
Last week, Barry Trotz said he envisions Dmitry Orlov playing in the Caps’ top four this season, paired with either Matt Niskanen or John Carlson. If Orlov were to be deployed as a top-four defender, it would have a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. For one, Brooks Orpik would likely be playing on the third pairing. It could also mean a reunion of Carlson and Karl Alzner, a pairing we’ve seen much less of since Niskanen and Orpik came to town.
But the part of this possible deployment I’d be most interested in seeing is Orlov paired with Niskanen. Doing this would not only mean more minutes for Orlov, who drove shot attempt differentials better than any other defender on the team last season, but it would mean minutes with a player whose steady defensive style could be a great compliment to Orlov’s high-risk, high-reward style.
It appears the the NHL Network is at the point in the offseason where they are doing positional rankings. I didn’t catch the segment, but they recently ranked the top-20 defensemen around the league. As you can see in the screen grab below by Evgeni Malkin’s Ego, the Caps’ John Carlson is ranked 19th by the NHL Network.
NHL Network's Top 20 Defensemen right now pic.twitter.com/4iXvlWndgf
— Evgeni Malkin's Ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) August 14, 2016
Is Carlson a top-20 defenseman in the NHL? Let’s take a glance at some numbers.
Photo: Minas Panagiotakis
When the Caps signed Tom Wilson to a deal for $2 million per season, it further lowered the hope that they’d have the cap space to sign a guy like PA Parenteau or Kris Versteeg when free agency opened on Friday. Instead, it became more apparent that if the Caps were going to do anything in free agency, they were going to sign a cheaper option for the bottom six, perhaps a veteran like Brad Boyes or Tomas Fleischmann. There were also a couple of younger players like Brandon Pirri and Brett Connolly who fit this mold of a cheaper, more under the radar option for the bottom-six.
The Caps landed Connolly.
Connolly is a solid addition to the Caps forward group. Connolly is a guy who brings a skill-based game and can slot in on the bottom-six. He’s a former first round pick, still just 24 years old, so he may still have some untapped offensive upside. He’s a viable option to play wing on the third line, but he’s also not such an established player that he’ll be a roadblock in the spot. So, he won’t potentially block a player like Jakub Vrana if Vrana turns heads at camp and forces his way into the opening night lineup.
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