Later today we’ll begin our player-by-player analysis of the 2015-16 Capitals’ numerical roster (beginning with Matt Niskanen and ending with Evgeny Kuznetsov).
But since the topic of improving the Caps’ third-line center position has been a hot one lately, fueled by general manager Brian MacLellan stating it’s one of his top priorities in the offseason, it’s worth revisiting Jay Beagle’s take on where he’d like to fit into the Caps’ lineup in 2016-17.
“I want to be a third-line center,” Beagle said. “That’s what I want to be. That’s up to the coaching staff. Coming into this year that was my goal, to make that third line stronger and I felt the coaches gave me that opportunity and when I had that opportunity I did my best with it. Playing with guys like Chimmer (Jason Chimera) and Willy (Tom Wilson) was awesome. It was a lot of fun.”
And until Beagle broke his hand on Dec. 30, when he was slashed by Buffalo’s Jake McCabe when trying to glove an airborne puck, the Caps’ third line was pretty productive.
At the time of Beagle’s injury, he had six goals and six assists in 32 games. Chimera had 10 goals and 10 assists and Wilson had two goals and nine assists for a total of 18 goals and 25 assists.
Beagle underwent surgery on Jan. 2 and sat out the next 24 games, forcing the Caps to move Marcus Johansson into the role of third-line center. Johansson infused speed onto the line but was eventually replaced by Mike Richards.
Beagle began skating five days after his surgery but had just 70 percent grip strength when he returned to the lineup on Feb. 28, nearly two months after the injury.
He finished the season with just two goals and three assists in his final 21 games of the regular season and notched three goals in the playoffs, two against the Flyers and one against the Penguins.
With two years remaining on his three-year, $5.25 million contract with the Caps, Beagle said he’d love to be given another chance to play alongside Chimera and Wilson on the third line next season.
Whether he gets that chance depends on what the Caps are seeking in the free agent and trade markets.
“I think I had a pretty good season,” he said. “Breaking my hand midway set me back a bit, I think coming back on the ice I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent with grip strength and it took a bit to find a groove again. The start of the season I felt really, really good. I think it was the best hockey I played. Playing with Chimmer and Willy for as long as we did, they kept that third line together until I busted my hand, really.
“I felt like we had a lot of good chemistry and we were playing really good hockey. It was a lot of fun playing with them. I think it was the best hockey I played. Coming back (from the injury) I think I could have been better. I felt like I was not as good. I was still trying to find my groove but I found it later in the season and in the playoffs I felt pretty good.”
MORE CAPITALS: CAPITALS SETTING THEIR SIGHTS ON A NEW THIRD-LINE CENTER?