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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 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.