For the last few years, there has not been much on the line for the Caps in training camp. That is not the case this year with several holes in the lineup and several players competing for a roster spot.
Earlier on Thursday, Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir went over the five position battles to watch. Now here are the five players to watch as camp begins on Friday.
1. Jakub Vrana
Vrana’s future with the Caps may well be on the line considering how last season ended. The Czech winger made his long-awaited NHL debut scoring three goals and six points in 21 games. When he was sent back to AHL Hershey, however, he really seemed to struggle with his focus. At 21 years old, it normally would not be the end of the world if he did not make the NHL roster out of training camp, but it is absolutely critical Vrana does for two reasons. First, Washington has an obvious need for a right wing on the second or third line which they desperately need Vrana to fill. Second, considering how he looked last year in the AHL, would sending him back to Hershey even be a viable option? If Vrana does not have an impressive camp, it would not be inconceivable to see a trade.
2. Christian Djoos
Djoos is one of the Caps’ top defensive prospects. With two spots open on the blue line, this would be a great time for Djoos to make the jump to the NHL, especially since he is no longer waiver exempt. But first, he has to prove that he can handle playing against NHL players. It is not a question of talent, but rather a question of size. At 6-feet, 164 pounds, Djoos is by far the smallest defenseman at training camp. Now he will be competing against other NHL players for a roster spot. If he looks overpowered at camp, he will struggle against other competition in the NHL.
3. Alex Ovechkin
The Caps’ captain won’t be competing for a roster spot, but it will be interesting to get a glimpse of the slimmer Ovechkin. Does his weight loss also signal a shift in the way he will play? Seeing how Ovechkin looks, what he practices and where he plays will all be fascinating to watch.
4. Devante Smith-Pelly
While Vrana may be fighting to stay in Washington, Smith-Pelly may be fighting just to stay in the NHL. He may have a signed contract as opposed to a PTO, but make no mistake, Smith-Pelly is playing for his NHL career. Since his dominant performance in the 2014 playoffs, Smith-Pelly has not been able to return to that level of play. After getting bought out by New Jersey, Washington signed him in a low-risk move similar to the move they made with Brett Connolly the year before. The difference now, however, is that there is a lot more competition for a roster spot. Last season it was pretty much just Connolly and Zach Sanford. Now Smith-Pelly will have to compete with Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, Alex Chiasson, Anthony Peluso, Tyler Graovac, Chandler Stephenson and Liam O’Brien, among others.
5. Madison Bowey
There has been a lot of talk about Djoos this offseason and if he will be able to make the roster, but he may not even be the team’s best blue line prospect. Bowey is a player the team has long been high on and he will have a real shot of making this roster in camp. The one disadvantage for Bowey is that he is still waiver exempt. While the Caps may be forced into keeping Djoos on the NHL roster for the season to avoid exposing him to waivers, they can afford to play it slow with Bowey and potentially send him back to Hershey. He will have to really impress at camp to stay in Washington.
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