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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 23 Riley Barber

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USA TODAY Sports

The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 23 Riley Barber

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Jill Sorenson, 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. 23 Riley Barber

When it became clear the Capitals would have spots open on the fourth line, Riley Barber was on the short list of players who seemed destined for an NHL role next season.

As a sixth-round draft pick, not much was expected of him at the NHL level. With an impressive career at Miami University of Ohio, however, he showed he had much greater potential than originally thought. In his final college season, Barber scored 40 points in 38 games. That potential did not go unnoticed by USA Hockey. While in college, Barber played in the World Juniors and even served as the captain for Team USA in 2014.

Barber has remained productive at the AHL level scoring 55 points in his first professional season. A hand injury shortened his second season to only 39 games, but he did manage to make his NHL debut with three games for the Capitals last season.

The Pittsburgh native has managed to find production at every level of the game and his two-way style of play will serve him well when vying for a spot on the fourth line.

Barber is an overachiever in every sense of the word. The 167th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, he has exceeded expectations every step of the way. In three years at Miami (Ohio), he was consistently one of the better scorers in college hockey and impressed on the international stage with Team USA. 

At 6-0 and 193 pounds,  Barber does not have outstanding physical gifts. But what he does have is determinationa nd moxie, enough of it to make up for his lack of physical stature.  He found a way to score at every level and plays a strong two-way game. Barber also has the makings of a future leader, something that measurements and statistics can't quantify.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out past player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson

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Caps prospect watch: Walker scores first goal of the season in Outdoor Classic loss

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Caps prospect watch: Walker scores first goal of the season in Outdoor Classic loss

The AHL spotlight was on the Hershey Bears on Saturday as they hosted the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the Outdoor Classic at Hersheypark Stadium

The outcome of the game was not what the team had hoped as the Bears fell 5-2. Even with the loss, however, the event itself was still an incredible experience for all involved.

“Any time you get to do those type of things outside it's special, especially when you get to that day,” head coach Troy Mann told NBC Sports Washington. “This is my third so I was just real excited for the first-timers because it's a very unique experience and not every player gets to experience it. I was pretty elated that it was a good chunk of our roster that it was their first time. We got to practice outside twice and morning skate plus the game. Everybody enjoyed it.”

For Nathan Walker, the outdoor game was just another “first” for the young Aussie in a hockey season that has already seen him play his first career NHL game, get claimed off waivers by Edmonton, get reclaimed by Washington and is now in Hershey.

“It’s been unreal,” Nathan Walker said. “I’ve never been in anything like this. It was really special, and it’s something that I’ll definitely take to the memory bank, for sure.”

Walker and Travis Boyd scored Hershey’s two goals.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • Nathan Walker’s goal in the Outdoor Classic was his first of the season. He has five points in nine games since he was sent to the AHL by Washington.
  • You had to feel for Colby Williams who missed the Outdoor Classic as he served the last of a three-game suspension for a hit he delivered to Lehigh Valley’s Danick Martel. "Disappointment would be a big word for me," Williams said. "It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me." Martel suffered a broken jaw on the hit.  Williams told Chocolate Hockey that he had exchanged messages with Martel to express his remorse over causing him a significant injury.
  • Ilya Samsonov could be heading to the Olympics. The Russian Hockey Federation gave the IOC a list of 47 players and the IOC returned that list to them on Monday with 42 approved players from which the federation could choose from to build a team for the Pyeongchang Olympics. Samsonov was among the 42 players approved by the IOC. While the country of Russia has been banned from the Olympics, the country is still allowed to send a team to compete as Olympic Athletes from Russia. Among the 42 approved players are six total goalies which will eventually be whittled down to three. The final roster is expected to be released on Thursday.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

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USA TODAY Sports

Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

The biggest storyline surrounding the Capitals coming out of the bye week is how much the team seems to hate lengthy breaks.

By now you probably have heard Washington has lost three straight out of the bye. In addition to that, there have been three stretches this season in which the Caps have had to wait at least five days for their next contest. They lost two of those three games and they did so in decisive fashion.

Caps played Oct. 21, lost next game on Oct. 26 at Vancouver 6-2
Caps played Nov. 25, lost next game on Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles 5-2
Caps played Jan. 2, won next game vs. St. Louis 4-3 in overtime

This also is not a new problem. Coming out of the bye week last season, Washington lost its first two games back and then went on to lose eight of 14 before they finally got back on track.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS LAND IN THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS?

But why? Aren’t breaks in the schedule a good thing? After all, the bye week was negotiated for by the Players’ Association.

On Tuesday after practice, Barry Trotz tried to explain the difficulties of returning from the bye.

“The best way I can describe it is it's not different than someone going on a 2-week vacation. You come back to work and the first couple days, not really productive, right?

“You know how it is, when you get back, it's hard to get back in that routine.”

The bye week in hockey is different than what we see in football. In addition to no games, the players do not even practice. They do not get the benefit of a having a week of practice before the next game like in the NFL.

This year in Washington’s case, the Caps did not even get a chance to practice before returning to game action as they were forced to cancel practice the day before their game in New Jersey due to travel issues.

“You lose a little bit of that edge, a little bit of that sharpness,” Trotz said. “You lose a little bit of everything and then when it's over 20 guys, then all of a sudden it's difficult.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov also noted how the team struggles in January and February as an additional explanation.

“Physically we're pretty good and emotionally we're pretty good,” he said. “It's just those moments. If you look at the last 3 years I've been here, it's every year the same [expletive], same time. Always those 10-15 games in late January, early February it's always been wasn't great for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ LIKES WHAT VRANA BRINGS EVEN IF THE ICE TIME ISN'T THERE

You do often hear about the “dog days” of a season when it suddenly becomes hard for teams to stay motivated every single night with half the season still to go. Now add in a bye week and you can understand why it may be hard for the players to ramp up the intensity level.

The added obstacle for Washington is they now face another break with the All-Star Game. Thursday’s game in Florida will be the team’s only game in a nine-day period.

With the Metropolitan Division standings as tight as they are, the Caps likely cannot afford another stretch of eight losses in 14 games like they suffered last year.

It’s interesting to see a team struggle after having too much time off. It’s a problem most people reading this probably wish they had. But it’s one that’s not quite as easy to overcome as you may think.

“I just think from the last couple years with the breaks in it, you understand that it's not just, hey you had a break, you should be fresh when you go on the ice,” Trotz said. “Unless you've played the game, it's hard to explain to people.”