Opening night is fast approaching and the Washington Capitals’ roster is taking shape, especially on the defensive end where there were no personnel changes during the offseason. However, it appears that a fairly significant change is coming to the back-end pairings. Dmitry Orlov will begin the season paired with John Carlson on the second unit while Nate Schmidt will start the season with Brooks Orpik. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzer will remain together as the team’s shtudown pair.
Moving Orlov up in the pecking order to play with Carlson suggests that the the Caps are comfortable placing a greater deal of trust in him. Trust in a defenseman means putting him on the ice for big minutes and game-breaking situations, and believing that the good will outweigh the bad in both zones.
Let’s take a look at which of last year’s defensive pairs were the most utilized and trusted in terms of deployments, and how much that might have to change with Orlov no longer on the third pair.
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.
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