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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

There are many who believed that the 2016-17 season would be Brooks Orpik's last in Washington.

When the Capitals signed Orpik to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million per year in 2014, it was with the knowledge that his play would not match that cap hit in the later years of the contract. It's safe to say we have now reached that point.

But if you thought that would mean the Capitals would explore a buyout, it certainly does not sound as if general manager Brian MacLellan ever examined that option.

“I don't know that we really considered that,” MacLellan said when asked about a buyout for Orpik in July. “I thought Orpik had a good year last year, I thought him and [Nate] Schmidt played really well together on our third pair and I think we value what he brings to young defensemen.”

Here's the deal: whether you think the Caps should have pursued moving Orpik in the offseason is now irrelevant. He is still on the team, he will be on the team for this season and, with only five defensemen under contract, the Caps will need him to be an everyday player.

Orpik, who will turn 37 before the start of the season, is a physical, shutdown defenseman. He does not have great speed which can get him into trouble in this age of hockey when speed and quick transitions are more the norm. He also has a tendency of getting caught pinching in the neutral zone looking for a hit and he does not have the wheels to get back in time to cover his mistake.

The Caps may expect Orpik to be an everyday player, but it is going to be on the third pairing. Even after losing Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt, Orpik's days of being a top-four player are over.

So why does a bottom-pairing defenseman climb all the way to No. 10 on our list? The team greatly values his leadership in the locker room, but what really makes him important this season is how much the coaches will lean on him to help the younger players.

As mentioned above, the Caps have only five NHL defensemen under contract for this season. Assuming they keep seven on the roster (three pairs, plus one extra), that leaves two open spots that will likely be filled throughout the season by prospects such as Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Orpik is going to spend most, if not the entire season playing alongside a young prospect and the coaches are going to lean heavily on his experience and leadership to help those players develop.

“We have a bunch of young defensemen that are coming up,” MacLellan said. “I think we have like 10 or 12 guys that are under 22 and they're all pretty good players. We're going to value the ability of Orpik to mentor these guys.”

The Caps are taking a gamble by looking to their prospects to fill not just one, but two holes in their defense next season including a spot in the top four. The more Orpik can help those rookies with the transition to the NHL, the better the Caps will be as a team.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

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Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS SHOULD NOT TRADE PROSPECT IIYA SAMSONOV

Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesar's Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with Capitals FaceOff.

How to Watch: Capitals at Red Wings will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at Red Wings game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals (3-3-1) take on the Red Wings (4-3-0) Friday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Little Caesars's Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Capitals FaceOff gets things started at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington Plus following the game for Caps Extra followed by Caps Overtime and Caps in 30 for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:30 p.m. — Capitals @ Red Wings
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps OverTime
 

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals-Red Wings game, as well as the pre and postgame shows, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

Here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Tom Wilson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Devante Smith-Pelly - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Nathan Walker, Aaron Ness, Tyler Graovac (injured), Matt Niskanen (LTIR)

CAPITALS-RED WINGS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.