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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

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. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom has been overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin and underappreciated throughout his career despite being an elite franchise-caliber center. Now it is time to give him his due which is why he comes in at No. 2 on the countdown, one spot ahead of the Great 8.

While there is some concern over whether Ovechkin has begun to decline, there is no such doubt over Nicklas Backstrom who continues to play at an elite level. His 86 points last season led the Caps and ranked fourth overall in the NHL. It was his best season since 2009-10 when he scored 101 points.

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In addition to his offensive acumen, Backstrom is a great shutdown forward and has established himself as the team's vocal leader. It was his words in a team meeting after a Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that seemed to boost the team to force seven games after facing a 3-1 series deficit.

Despite being such an important piece to the puzzle, however, Backstrom may not even play on the top line this season. An eight-year,  $62.4 million contract for Evgeny Kuznetsov indicates that the Caps see him as a top-line center as well. The question is whether they see him in that role this year or in the near future. Just where Backstrom and Kuznetsov play is one of the stories to watch throughout training camp.

Regardless of where he plays, however, there is no skater who holds more importance to this team.

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
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin

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Pressure and confidence has taken Brett Connolly from a healthy scratch to potent scorer

Pressure and confidence has taken Brett Connolly from a healthy scratch to potent scorer

Brett Connolly is the Caps’ hottest scorer with three goals in two games, but this past week almost never happened.

With the team finally healthy, Barry Trotz has a tough decision to make every game with 13 forwards and only 12 spots in the lineup. Connolly was going to be scratched for the game on Jan. 11 against Carolina, but Andre Burakovsky came down with an illness before the game and did not play that night or travel with the team to Carolina the next. Connolly did not score on Jan. 11, but he scored a late game-tying goal in Carolina to set up Jay Beagle’s miracle buzzer-beater. In the team’s return from the bye on Thursday, Connolly scored twice including another late, game-tying goal.

This past week really is a perfect encapsulation of how Connolly’s NHL career has gone. A first-round draft pick from the 2010 draft, Connolly is brimming with talent but always seems to be on the end of two extremes. Either he is scoring like one of the Caps’ top offensive players, or he is battling just to earn a jersey every night.

RELATED: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-CANADIENS

That pressure seemed to overwhelm Connolly when he first came into the league, but now it is leading him to excel.

“There's just a lot of competition through our lineup which is pushing guys to be better and it's making us a better team,” Connolly said Friday after the team’s morning skate. “We're just looking to keep going here, we're looking to keep pushing each other. We're going to make everybody better, we're going to be a better team because of it.”

Connolly came to Washington in the summer of 2016 as an unrestricted free agent on a one-year deal worth only $850,000. He became a UFA after the Boston Bruins elected not to give him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. For a player to go from a sixth overall draft pick to fighting to playing on a one-year deal just to keep his career alive was quite the fall, but Connolly responded with 15 goals and eight assists to earn himself a new two-year contract with Washington.

“When you're drafted in this league there's a lot of expectations,” Connolly said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for other guys just to find that fit on a team. It all comes within yourself, I think. You're the only person that kind of knows how much you can bring to the table every night and how much potential you have. It comes from within.”

The way Connolly responded again this season after a near scratch cannot be lost on the coaches.

But if it was desperation that was fueling him before, now it’s confidence.

“It's all about feel, getting your touches and playing with confidence,” Connolly said. “I think when you go through these stretches, I've been through these stretches before, just try to get open. It just feels like whenever you're shooting it, it doesn't matter how good of a shot you get off sometimes, it just finds a way in.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHICH CAPS CAN MAKE A SECOND HALF RUN AT SOME NHL AWARDS?

It’s not hard to see why he may be feeling so confident. In addition to scoring three goals in the past two games, Connolly also has 12 goals on the season. That puts him at third on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin (28) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (13).

“I feel like I’m finally kind of figuring out the game and figuring out the way I need to play,” said Connolly.

Whether he has truly turned the corner on his career or if this is just another high in a career full of extreme highs and lows remains to be seen. But so long as he keeps feeling the pressure and confidence that has fueled him thus far, he should certainly remain among the Caps' top scorers for the season.

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2018 NHL Awards Tracker: Resetting after the bye week

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2018 NHL Awards Tracker: Resetting after the bye week

A week by week look at where the race for the major individual NHL awards stands and which Caps could be in contention.

There is not much movement from the Caps on the Awards Tracker this week because of the bye week. It's time to reset and look at which players could make a second-half run at some hardware this season.

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

All-Star snub aside, you cannot deny the impact Carlson has had on this team this year. He is fifth in the NHL in ice time per game and second among all defensemen in points with 35. His play on both the offensive and defensive end of the ice should have him on the shortlist of Norris candidates, even if he's not among the top three just yet.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Braden Holtby

In contention for: Vezina

Yes, Holtby’s GAA and save percentage are not as good as in previous years, but he is excelling at perhaps the most important stat of all: Wins. Holtby sits second in the league in wins with 24. Of all the goalies ranked in the top ten for wins this season, only one, Pekka Rinne, has played in fewer games than Holtby's 34.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Alex Ovechkin, for the moment, leads all players in goals with 28 and he is doing it at the age of 32. What's more, he is the best player on a team sitting in first place in the competitive Metropolitan Division, a place not many expected the Caps to be in this season.

Barry Trotz

In contention for: Jack Adams

There's no question over who is getting the most out of his talent and that is Gerard Gallant in Vegas. But a reasonable argument could be made to say Barry Trotz is doing his best coaching job in Washington this season with the Caps in first place int he division. Given all the uncertainty over this team when the season started, the fact he has gotten them to this point should at least put him in consideration.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!