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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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3 stars of the game: Caps' home magic doesn't follow them to Brooklyn

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Caps' home magic doesn't follow them to Brooklyn

The Caps saw their four-game win streak come to an end on Monday in a 3-1 loss at the hands of the New York Islanders.

Washington found themselves trailing 1-0 less than three minutes into the game. New York jumped out at the start of the second period as well with two goals in 94 seconds to take a 3-0 lead and end Braden Holtby's night.

Dmitry Orlov got Washingtoni on the board in the third period, but it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Andrew Ladd

The Caps did not have a great first period, but still find themselves trailing by only one. Ladd's goal just 36 seconds into the second period was a crucial one as the Islanders really cemented their control. He was a dominant force offensively all game even if it only translated into one point for him on the scoresheet. Ladd recorded a team-high six shots on goal.

2. Jaroslav Halak

What is about the Caps for this guy? Halak has not had a great season by any means, but he looked like vintage Halak in this one. You wouldn't know it from the score or the flow of the game, but the Caps actually had more shots on goal. Halak turned aside 31 of those shots to stifle any comeback hopes for Washington.

3. Philipp Grubauer

When the score was 3-0, Barry Trotz elected to make a goalie change and in stepped Grubauer. It's always a tough task to come into a game cold, but it was an even tougher situation considering that the Caps weren't doing much defensively to help their netminder. Grubauer, however, played exceptionally well. Even under a frequent barrage from the Islanders, Grubauer stopped all 17 shots he faced keeping it close on the scoreboard even if it did not feel all that close at all.

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NHL Power Rankings: A heck of a race is developing in the Metropolitan Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A heck of a race is developing in the Metropolitan Division

Four points separate first place from second place in the Pacific Division. Four points separate first place from second place in the Central. Three points separate first place from second place in the Atlantic. In the Metropolitan Division, however, five points separate first place from…sixth place.

About a third of the way into the season, one division stands out with a traffic jam atop the standings. The Columbus Blue Jackets sit in first place with 39 points, the New York Rangers are in sixth with 34 and in between are the Washington Capitals (37), New Jersey Devils (36), New York Islanders (35) and Pittsburgh Penguins (35).

No other division in the NHL comes close to how crowded things are in the Metro.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS

Given the way Washington started the season, the fact that they have been able to climb all the way back into second place by early December is a testament to just how good they have been of late.

The good news for the Caps is that, because of how tight the division is they were able to climb the standings fairly quickly even after a tough start. The bad news is that now there is little margin for error.

Washington enjoyed sitting atop the division for a handful of minutes on Friday before Columbus retook the top spot. The Devils have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, but three losses in four games has dropped them from first place to third. The Rangers have won seven of their last 10 games and that has them sitting only in sixth.

Having so many teams battling for supremacy of the division should make for a compelling race all season long. The only thing is no team better get down for too long. Otherwise, there are five other teams ready to leave you in the dust.

The Capitals have won eight of their last ten games to climb to second place in the division. Where did they climb in this week’s Power Rankings? Find out here.