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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPP GRUBAUER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

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. 

RELATED: CAPITALS' 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Today’s player: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer.

Last season, Grubauer was arguably the most reliable backup goaltender in the NHL, posting a 13-6-2 record, a .926 save percentage and the third best quality start percentage—.684—in the league.

And, at 25 years-old, he appears to be ready for a bigger role.

That opportunity, however, likely won’t happen in Washington, not with top-3 starter Braden Holtby under contract through 2019-20. In addition to being very good, Holtby also shoulders a heavy workload. In fact, he’s made 201 starts the past three seasons—eight more than anyone else.  

There was a time earlier this summer when Grubauer thought he might be selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He was not taken, of course, as Las Vegas GM George McPhee swiped defenseman Nate Schmidt instead.

Grubauer also entered the offseason as restricted free agent with arbitration rights. His camp did not elect arbitration because, according to a source, he did not want the Caps to opt for a two-year award. In the end, he signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension to stay in Washington.

So what now?

In the near term, Grubauer is doing and saying all the right things. He arrived in Arlington, Va., a bit earlier than usual this summer, eager to ramp up his preparations for training camp in mid-September.

“Just be patient, work really hard and be successful out there, be ready to go every time,” Grubauer told me after an informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I want to be ready to follow where I left off last year, keep improving and working hard, get better every day and we’ll see what will happen.”

What could happen is a trade involving Grubauer at some point this season. Such a move would give the German netminder a bigger role elsewhere and deliver to the Caps an asset that could assist in their efforts reload on the fly. If that were to happen, Washington could turn to Pheonix Copley, Hershey’s No. 1 goalie and a well-regarded prospect, to back up Holtby.

All of that, of course, is out of Grubauer’s control. So he’s got his focus exactly where it should be for now: stopping pucks and continuing to build his resume.

RELATED: MOST IMPORTANT CAPITALS, RANKED

— 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

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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

In the very first edition of JJ vs. the fans bold predictions, no one got a single prediction right. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!

The Caps hit the road on Friday to take on the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus). Let’s check out our predictions.

RELATED: MADISON BOWEY IS ALREADY LOOKING MUCH IMPROVED

Fan predictions:

For those who don't know, a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight all in one game. Tom Wilson gets the promotion to the top line tonight and Wade is expecting big things. I am not so bullish on it. I think adjusting to a new line and a new side, Wilson has moved from right wing to left, will take Wilson some time.

The Caps face former defenseman Mike Green and Garrett thinks he is going to get one past Braden Holtby. This is pretty bold considering Green has yet to record a single point in five games against his former squad.

The Capitals’ defense has had its problems of late and it has certainly dragged down the penalty kill. Remember how hot the penalty kill was to start the season? Now the Caps rank 19th in the league at 78.6-percent. Still, two power play goals is a lot considering Detroit ranks 24th in the NHL with a success rate of only 14.8-percent.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-RED WINGS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will allow more than two goals

Washington’s defense is not as bad as they looked against Philadelphia, but it isn't as good as they looked against Toronto either. One thing that helped against the Maple Leafs was that the game was at home. Barry Trotz could get the favorable matchups for his rookie defensemen as his team had the second change. That won’t be true on Friday in Detroit. The defense will struggle as a result.

John Carlson will play more than he did against Toronto

See above. Carlson logged a hefty 27:33 on Tuesday and that was with the Caps getting the second change. The Caps will rely even more on him on the road.

Washington will get at least two goals form players not named Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have 17 of the Caps’ 22 goals this season. Perhaps the big three will have another big night, but eventually the team will need someone else to step up and score. Whether because the team emphasizes it or through just dumb luck, the Caps are going to record a few points from a few of their other players on Friday.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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

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USA TODAY Sports

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.”

RELATED: BURAKOVSKY DEMOTED TO THIRD LINE

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.”