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5 players to watch as Capitals camp opens

5 players to watch as Capitals camp opens

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.

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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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Prediction recap: No one saw Tuesday's defensive matchup coming

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Prediction recap: No one saw Tuesday's defensive matchup coming

Well…that certainly did not go the way many thought. With two of the best offenses squaring off against two questionable defenses, the goals were expected to come fast and furious on Tuesday between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen allowed only one goal between them on the night with Toronto adding and empty netter for the exclamation point in a 2-0 win over the Caps.

So this was a game that did not go at all the way anyone expected. With that in mind, let’s go over the predictions!

RELATED: WHEN THE OFFENSE WENT SILENT, HERE ARE THE CAPS WHO STOOD OUT ON DEFENSE

Fan predictions:

Wrong

After allowing eight goals to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps did a good job stifling one of the NHL’s bright young talents. Matthews only managed one shot on goal for the game.

Wrong

After a strong start for the Caps’ offense, no one was able to get one past, least of all Andre Burakovsky despite four shots on goal and seven total shot attempts.

Push

There was no overtime and I really liked just how bold this prediction was, so I will give it a push.​

JJ’s predictions:

Both teams will combine for at least 10 goals – Wrong

I was close though, only eight goals short.

Evgeny Kuznetsov will score a goal – Wrong

Had Kuznetsov shot the puck before he was caught on the backcheck on his power play opportunity in the second period, I may very well have gotten this one right. But Kuznetsov once again resorted to the bad habit of waiting too long to get the shot off and it turned a great opportunity into a much more manageable one for Andersen.

Toronto will outshoot Washington by at least 10 shots – Wrong

Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Caps had only managed to outshoot their opponents once in six games. Toronto had been held to fewer than 31 shots only once in five games. So what happened? The Caps and Leafs each managed 30 shots on goal. Go figure.

MORE CAPITALS: TYLER GRAOVAC'S GAME ENDED EARLY ON TUESDAY, HERE'S WHY

Scoreboard:

Fans
Correct: 0
Wrong: 2
Push: 1

JJ
Correct: 0
Wrong: 3
Push: 0

Both the fans and I are off to a roaring start. Better luck next game.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

With the score tied at 0 in the second period, the Caps had a chance to put the first goal on the board on their second power play of the night. Specifically, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance to score the first goal of the game and his first of the season. But with a golden opportunity on his stick, Kuznetsov waited too long to shoot the puck the opportunity was lost. It is an issue that has seemingly plagued Kuznetsov throughout his career and one that may have cost the Caps a chance at two points on Tuesday.

After a scrum in the left corner, the puck was fed over to John Carlson on the right near the blue line. With some room to work with, he advanced to the top of the right circle and then fired a pass cross-ice to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov had set up shop in Alex Ovechkin’s office in the left faceoff circle and the Leafs evidently forgot about him.

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With the puck on his stick and no one between him and Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, Kuznetsov waited. He waited so long in fact that forward Connor Brown was able to backcheck and turned what would have been a very good opportunity into a much easier save for Andersen.

“A guy caught him,” Barry Trotz said after the game. “Just get it off quick. Guys close quick on you defensively.”

Would Kuznetsov have scored if he had fired the shot? Would the Caps have won if he had scored? We don’t know, but Kuznetsov would have had a better chance at scoring had he shot the puck quickly and Washington would have been in a better position to win if they had gotten the first goal on the board.

It was just another moment that made fans watching in Capital One Arena and at home yell in unison, “Kuznetsov, shoot the puck!”

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