The Capitals’ training camp roster reduction continued on Monday when goaltender Vitek Vanecek, forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber and defensemen Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington were sent to AHL Hershey for the start of the Bears’ training camp.
While Vrana, Barber, Djoos and Lewington are expected to compete for jobs with the Bears, Vanecek is tabbed to begin the season with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.
“I’m very happy with all of them,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I think they’re going to be a big part of our future. They’ve made great strides.
“There’s nothing wrong with playing lots. The American Hockey League is a tremendous league. I don’t think we’re overbaking them. We just don’t have a spot for them right now. But I’d rather have them overbaked than underbaked.”
Trotz said Vanecek’s ability to learn English has helped accelerate his development under goaltending coach Mitch Korn and spending his first season in North America should continue the progression of the Czech-born goalie.
Vrana, 19, was taken with the Caps’ first pick (13th overall) of the 2014 draft and he will also get his first extended taste of North American hockey after three seasons in Sweden. Trotz said Vrana has the skill, speed and attitude to be a top-six forward in the NHL, just not right now.
“I just don’t have the room for him,” Trotz said.
Djoos, 21, was a seventh-round draft choice of the Caps in 2012 and will spend his first season in the AHL after spending his playing career in Sweden.
“He is a very gifted young man and he plays the game more cerebrally,” Trotz said. “He’s a puck mover, just a little bit undersized (listed at 6-foot, 162 pounds), but we’ll work on giving him more strength.”
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Lewington, 20, is another late draft pick (204th overall in 2013) who will be starting his first year of pro hockey.
“Lewington is physical and hard to play against, similar to a Brooks Orpik type of guy, with natural leadership skills,” Trotz said.
With Monday’s cuts, the Caps’ training camp roster is down to 22 forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders, including Philipp Grubauer and Justin Peters, who will share the nets tonight against the New York Islanders.
The Caps need to submit their 23-man opening night roster to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Trotz said the battles for 13th forward and seventh defenseman remain open, with Derek Roy, Sean Collins and Chandler Stephenson vying for a spot at the forward position and Ryan Stanton, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney battling it out for the seventh spot on the blue line.
He also said he’s been especially impressed by Collins, a sturdy, 6-foot-3, 201-pound left wing who will play on a third line with Carter Camper and Stan Galiev tonight.
“He’s got a lot of (Joel) Ward qualities,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to watch him really closely. He’s not going to jump out at you and make you go, ‘Man, that guy’s dynamic with his skill level.’ You have to watch closely.
“He gets pucks out, he’s got a good stick, he’s a reliable guy. Like Wardo, he can do a lot of those hard things that some guys can’t do. If you watch him closely he will make you like him as a coach. I think he could be a guy who can find a role on our team. He’s a guy who could be perfect as a 13th forward. He might be a great fit.”
Collins, 26, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps on July 1. A Cornell graduate, he played parts of the last four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets (19 games, 3 assists) and their AHL affiliate Springfield Indians (203 games, 45 goals, 113 points).