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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 17 Christian Djoos

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 17 Christian Djoos

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. 17 Christian Djoos

Heading into the season, the Caps have an open spot in their top four on the blue line. Someone will have to fill that spot and the Caps will need one of their young prospects to emerge. One of the prospects the Caps will be relying on the most this season will be Christian Djoos.

Djoos made his case for an NHL spot this season with a spectacular 2016-17 campaign with the Hershey Bears. With 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games, Djoos was tied for the most assists among AHL defensemen and ranked third in points.

RELATED: Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Storytime with Mike Vogel

Not bad for a 22-year-old. Now 23, the Caps are hoping that skillset and production will follow him to the NHL.

Djoos’ skillset is undeniable. He is a tremendous puck-moving defenseman with a great breakout pass and smooth skating ability. As a left-handed shot and sound defensive player, he seems like an ideal fit to play alongside John Carlson on the team’s second pairing.

But every prospect comes into the NHL with question marks and Djoos has one big one: his size.

The young Swede is listed as 6-foot, 164 pounds. That is by far the smallest among the team’s defensemen. The next two smallest are Aaron Ness who is 5-foot-10, 184 pounds and Taylor Chorney at 6-foot, 191 pounds.

Hockey is a physical game and defensemen are tasked with finding a way to separate the puck from some very big forwards. How Djoos will be able to handle power forwards like Milan Lucic barreling into the offensive zone remains to be seen. What’s also unknown is how he will handle the wear and tear of an NHL season where the players are bigger and hit harder.

The good news is that he has thus far shown enough hockey IQ to adjust his game accordingly, at least in the AHl. While no doubt the Caps would like to see him put on some weight, he is never going to be Shea Weber and he knows it. Bears head coach Troy Mann praised Djoos’ ability to avoid big hits and unnecessary collisions on a recent episode of CSN’s Capitals Faceoff Podcast.

If staying smart is the key to staying healthy, the Capitals will have to hope he continues to play smart because they need him to make an impact this season.

Djoos has top-four NHL skill and is no longer waiver exempt. While the Caps are expected to play many different prospects this season Djoos will likely be in Washington for the long haul because the team cannot afford to expose him to waivers. Unless he has a horrible training camp, expect to see him start the season in Washington.

For more on Djoos, you can read CSN’s prospect preview of him here.

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

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NHL Power Rankings: Caps off to worst start since 2013-14

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Caps off to worst start since 2013-14

The Caps are a .500 team through their first nine games of the 2017-18 season and that's unfamiliar territory for this team. A 4-4-1 start is Washington's worst start to a season since 2013-14 when the team 4-5-0 in what would be Adam Oates' final year as head coach.

We knew this year was not going to be a Presidents' Trophy year for the Caps after their roster turnover in the offseason led to a few holes on the team. Those holes have been evident in the season's first month of play.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

A shaky defense has been made worse by an injury to Matt Niskanen that will keep him out at least until the beginning of November. That leaves the team with a top-six that includes two rookies, depends on John Carlson playing huge minutes and a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik taking on a more significant role than last season.

Depth scoring has also been an issue. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 19 of the teams' 27 goals. Washington needs more production from its bottom two lines and even the blue line where Christian Djoos is the only defenseman on the team to score.

It's still early in the season so there's no reason to panic.The good news is that they still have time to work on all of these issues. A 4-4-1 record is not an insurmountable hole for the team to climb out of. The bad news is that the clock is ticking.

Statistically speaking, teams that are in playoff position at Thanksgiving tend to stay there. That gives Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan four weeks to determine the strength of the team they have and makes some tough decisions going forward regarding lines, trades and future contracts.

One thing's for sure, they will have to play better than they have thus far. See where the Caps have fallen here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

Rookie players make rookie mistakes. It happens. When it does, you hope it doesn’t cost the team too much, you learn from it and then you move on.

When you have two rookie defensemen in your lineup, however, those rookie mistakes can turn very, very costly. That was evident in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Less than two minutes into the game, Christian Djoos chased after a puck behind his own net while under pressure from two Florida forecheckers. He attempted a backhanded pass that hit off the back of the net and was collected by Jarred McCann who set up Connor Brickley for the easy goal.

“Not the best start, obviously,” Djoos said after the game. “Not a good play.”

RELATED: THE CAPS ARE TAKING TOO MANY PENALTIES AND THEY KNOW IT

It looks like Djoos tried to chip the puck past the forecheckers into the middle, probably to Lars Eller who was trailing the play. That puck needs to be along the boards. When you try to clear up the middle while under pressure, you risk giving up the puck in a very dangerous area of the ice which is exactly what happened.

With two players on his tail, Djoos should have fired that puck along the boards, preferably with his forehand which is much stronger than the backhand. He may not have had enough time to go to the forehand given the pressure, but that puck still needs to go along the boards with as much power behind it as possible. If it’s a turnover, fine, at least it is in the corner or along the perimeter rather than directly behind the net. If it’s icing, fine. Icing is better than a goal.

But Djoos wasn’t the only player guilty of having a rookie moment. Madison Bowey's inexperience was on display late in the first period as he tried to defend Florida forward Vincent Trochek.

Trocheck skated the puck into the Caps’ defensive zone. Bowey forced him to the outside which is the right way to play it, but he couldn’t rub him out along the boards. Instead, Trocheck was able to shake Bowey off and turn the corner on him to get in alone on Philipp Grubauer prompting the desperation hook from Bowey.

When Bowey is able to force him to the boards, he needs to finish off Trocheck and snuff out the rush.

Florida would score on the resulting power play to take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first, a deficit the Capitals were not able to overcome.

The good news is that both Djoos and Bowery are going to continue to get better with every passing game. They are both young players at 23 and 22 respectively and mistakes are expected for players in their first NHL season. They will develop and improve which we already saw through Saturday's game.

Djoos scored the Capitals’ lone goal on the night and Bowey played strong defensively the rest of the way. The coaches seemed to reward their play as well with more minutes. Djoos played 3:02 in the first, 3:16 in the second and 6:06 in the third while Bowey played 4:04, 6:09 and 6:18.

“The young guys have been fine,” Barry Trotz told reporters. “They're going to make mistakes. They make the same mistakes some of the older guys are making.”

MORE CAPITALS: ONE PLAYER STOOD OUT FOR THE CAPS IN SATURDAY'S LOSS

The question is do the Caps have enough time to wait for them to continue to develop this season or do they need to improve the defense now?

There’s no question having two rookies in the team's top six is not an ideal scenario. It is hard for the coaches to shelter them as they normally would like. It is also having a strain on the other veteran defensemen who are taking on a heavier workload as a result. The 37-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik played 16:56 through two periods and John Carlson finished the game with a season-high 29:48 on Saturday.

You can’t win a Stanley Cup in October and November, but you can lose it if you get buried too far in the standings. The Caps are 4-4-1 through nine games and have six games between now and when Matt Niskanen is eligible to return from LTIR, assuming he is ready at that point.

Can the defense as it’s currently constructed keep the Caps afloat until Niskanen’s return? Is it good enough with Niskanen in the lineup? Those are questions Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan are going to have to answer quickly.