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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 19 Nathan Walker

The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 19 Nathan Walker

WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN WALKER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.

Some 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. 19 Nathan Walker.

Walker was drafted by the Caps in the third round, No. 89 overall, in 2014.

In some organizations, he may have already made his NHL debut. But the Caps weren't just some organization in recent years as they spared no expense to pursue a Stanley Cup. In addition to boasting a deep roster of productive vets, Washington also managed to avoid a spate of injuries that would have necessitated multiple call-ups simultaneously.

As a result, Walker, like a handful of other prospects in Hershey, saw his upward mobility stymied.

Well, that’s about to change for the 23-year-old, who’s aiming to become the first Australian to reach the NHL.

When training camp begins in mid-September, Walker will have the opportunity to earn a job on the fourth line, perhaps the left wing spot vacated by Daniel Winnik, who remains a free agent. The right wing job on Jay Beagle’s line also figures to be up for grabs.  

RELATED: WHAT ROLE CAN WALKER CARVE OUT WITH THE CAPS?

Walker is small, listed at 5-8 and 180 pounds or so. He’s quick, feisty, solid positionally and unafraid to mix it up with bigger opponents. Two years ago, he also showed some offensive upside by amassing 17 goals and 24 assists in Hershey.

In an effort to give himself every advantage next month, Walker traveled this week from Sydney to Arlington, Va., so that he could participate in the team’s informal pre-camp practices.

He's among the first prospects to get into town, joining Jonas Siegenthaler and Vitek Vanecek as well as veterans John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

Will Walker claim a spot?

That’s not totally clear; the competition will be stiff. Other prospects like Chandler Stephenson, Liam O’Brien and Travis Boyd are going to be in the mix, as will a veteran like Devante Smith-Pelly and potentially others.

What Walker can be certain about is this: unlike previous years, he’s now got a letgit chance. And for a well-regarded prospect who’s got to clear waivers in order to be demoted, it appears to be a very good one.

“It’s pretty big,” Walker told me recently.

“But at the end of the day, I’ve got to grind it out. I’ve got to push for that spot. I've been [in Hershey] for four years now, so hopefully I can prove a point and get my chance up here.”

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPTIALS' MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS

— 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

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

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USA Today Sports Images

Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.

Here’s how everyone lined up:

Forwards

Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana

Connolly – Graovac – Wilson

Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

Walker

Defense

Orpik – Bowey

Djoos – Carlson

Orlov – Chorney

Ness

Goalies

Holtby

Grubauer

RELATED: Caps destroyed by Flyers in lopsided road loss

Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:

  • Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”

 

  • The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”

 

  • If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”  

 

  • Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”  

 

  • As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”

 

  • As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.

 

MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

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USA Today Sports Images

Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.

No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.

Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.   

“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”

RELATED: Andre Burakovsky's first NHL fight

Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.

First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.

On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.

MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly