Photo: Amanda Bowen

With the final preseason game in the books for the Capitals, the team’s opening night line-up is shaping up: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Eric Fehr will be on the top line. Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer will man the second. Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward will be on the third. The fourth line looks set, though scrappy free-agree invitee Liam O’Brien looks to have earned his way into a contract with Hershey or a two-way deal. Michael Latta, though, appears ready to play alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chris Brown on the fourth line. That might change when Jay Beagle comes back from injury.

“That would be a question for Mac[Lellan],” Trotz said of O’Brien. “He’s been as good as anybody especially in that role.”

“He’s a player that demanded to be noticed,” the coach added.

19-year-old rookie Andre Burakovsky appears to have also made the team, beating top prospect Kuznetsov to center the team’s second line. At least initially.

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schmidt-elbowed

Last season, Washington Capitals defense prospect Nate Schmidt had his year ended early after suffering a knee injury on a low-bridge hit by Norfolk Admirals defenseman Garnet Exelby.

Playing Montreal on Sunday, Schmidt narrowly missed a head injury after getting elbowed in the noggin by Jarred Tinordi, son of former Capital, Mark Tinordi.

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Washington Capitals Prospect Rankings: Summer 2014

Andre Burakovsky is the best Caps prospect yet to play a game with the big club (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images).

With rookie camp upon us, RMNB presents the new edition of its semiannual prospect rankings.

Prospect rankings factor in a player’s potential, his probability to reach his ceiling (including an assessment of that player’s adaptation to NHL’s style of play), and physical and mental maturity.

The Caps prospect pool is considered top-heavy, with four Caps prospects ranked in top-50 league-wide by both Corey Pronman and NHL.com. However, there’s believed to be a significant drop-off in talent after that. While Capitals management has tried to make their prospect pool deeper, they’ve still got work to do. The Caps are considered thin at center in particular, underlined by auditioning their two top wingers for a center slot.

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tom-wilson-ice-bucket-challenge

Once we get past the Alex Ovechkins of the world, we’re left with another tier of Ice Bucket Challenges acceptance videos, where B-list athletes we’re not nearly as excited about post vertically oriented videos. But that’s okay because in this third round of Ice Bucket Challenges (see Post 1 and Post 2 here), we’ve got toilet water, a four-minute short-film, and Nate Schmidt shirtless.

Enjoy.

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Caps Re-sign RFA Nate Schmidt to Two-Way Deal

nate-schmidt-goofy-smile

One of last season’s brightest surprises on defense, Nate Schmidt, has re-signed with the Washington Capitals on a one-year, two-way deal. Mike Vogel reports that Schmidt will make $625,000 at the NHL level and $110,000 in the AHL.

The goofy-grinned, soon-to-be 23-year-old was probably best among all the fresh faces on the blue line. Spending nearly half of his time with Mike Green, Schmidt put up a positive possession score of 50.6%, a rarity amongst Caps defenseman last season. He has a big shot, a good first pass, and a great attitude.

With the signings of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Schmidt will likely be relegated to Hershey– barring injury or something unexpected during training camp. Schmidt is a key part of the Caps’ blue-line depth and should receive the big minutes in Hershey that he needs– including on the power play and penalty kill– to continue his development.

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Nate Schmidt: 2013-14 Season Review

Nate Schmidt came out of nowhere to inject some dynamism– and a whole bunch of smiles– into a dreary D-corps. And then, like that, he was gone. Was Schmidt in Washington like bringing a bologna sandwich to a banquet? Let’s discuss.

By the Numbers

29 Games played
18.2 Average time on ice per game
2 Goals
4 Assists
50.6% Shot attempt percentage during 5v5
56.1% Goal percentage during 5v5
9.8% On-ice shooting percentage during 5v5
93.1% On-ice saving percentage during 5v5

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erskine-orr

Photo: Rob Carr

We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.

That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and any other three guys.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

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Washington Capitals Prospect Rankings: Winter 2014

Chandler Stephenson has been one of the most impressive Caps prospects this season (Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The first half of the 2013-14 season has been mostly positive for Washington Capitals prospects. Unknowns like Andre Burakovsky and Chandler Stephenson have shown real NHL potential, while the elder statesmen of the pool like Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey, both coming off tremendous college careers, have made steps up the Caps’ depth chart.

However, top two Caps prospects will wish their first half was better: Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injuries have limited his action and Tom Wilson has had a hard time gaining a meaningful role with the big club.

The feel-good story of the season so far has been Stephenson, who had been bugged by injuries in the past, but is now thriving in a veteran role as an offensive go-to guy for his team. I’ve got more on these stories and our full top-20 ranking below. Continue Reading

nate-schmidt-interview0

On Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals welcomed back Nate Schmidt to NHL service for the first time since December 13th. For the last six weeks we’ve been missing Schmidt’s mile-wide smile and capable defensive play. We’ve certainly seen Schmidty defense in this Senators game, but the grin has been missing– even once his intermission interview with CSN’s Al Koken began.

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CalleJohansson

Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.

Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.

As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry OrlovJohn Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.

The full transcript is below.

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