If we can assume pending free agent Jason Chimera will not be a member of the Capitals next season and that the Caps may not have the money to land a quality replacement through free agency, whom do the Capitals have in mind to fill the role of third-line left wing?
“That’s where the competition is,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I know who my 12 forwards are. I could go on my board and move a couple magnets that change the whole thing.”
Could the Caps move Marcus Johansson to third-line left wing, keep Justin Williams at second-line right wing and use Stan Galiev as a third-line right wing?
Galiev, 24, never got much of a chance with the Caps in his first full NHL season, appearing in just 24 games and recording no goals and three assists while averaging 9:07 of ice time.
If Galiev is not the answer, could left wing Jakub Vrana make the jump to the NHL after netting 34 points in 36 games in Hershey and another 14 points in 21 Calder Cup playoff games?
“His game has grown from a low-level pro game to a good pro game,” Trotz said. “His play without the puck has gotten better. I think he’s going to challenge, too. I think he’s not that far away. That’s a prime example. I wouldn’t want a couple of veterans standing in the way of a guy like Vrana. We want to have a little bit of a path for our young guys right now.”
Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann said that of the Bears forwards that are on the Caps’ radar heading into training camp, Vrana, who was taken by the Caps with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2014 draft, might be the closest to the NHL.
“I challenged him going into the Toronto series that he was going to face (William) Nylander and (Kasperi) Kapanen, two players from his draft year, and I thought he was fabulous in the Toronto series,” Mann said. “He’s going to be right there.”
Mann said he explained to Vrana that while Nylander and Kapanen may get their shots with the Toronto Maple Leafs next season, Vrana might need to be more patient, especially after missing half of last season with a broken wrist. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Vrana is five pounds heavier than when the Caps drafted him two years ago.
“Do I think he’s completely ready for the NHL?” Mann said.
“Absolutely not. He needs to continue to work on two things. He needs to get stronger. He admitted that in his year-end exit meeting. He felt that in that seven-week process he needed to get stronger to be a fixture in Washington or to make an even bigger impact in Hershey next year. And he has to continue to work on his defensive game because if you’re not going to play a 200-foot game you’re not going to play for Barry Trotz. I’ve told him that and that’s a work in progress. But in terms of his skating ability, his shot and his playmaking ability, to me that’s all NHL caliber. We just need to get him stronger and get him to the net.”