Assuming center Nicklas Backstrom returns from offseason hip surgery sometime in the first month of the season, the Capitals are fairly certain their top two forward lines will look something like this in early November:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky/Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Aside from the fact Tom Wilson is projected as a third-line right wing, the battle for the remaining five forward positions should be a fierce one between Burakovsky or Johansson, Jason Chimera, Derek Roy, Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Michael Latta and Stan Galiev.
“(Roy) is going to play with some of our top six forwards and see what we’ve got,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of the 32-year-old free agent. “Once we know where Nicky is then I think it will fall into place better.”
“I think Derek can play different parts of the lineup,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s got enough skill to do that. We want to take a look at him and see how he fits in with our group, if it possibly makes our team better or it doesn’t. We’ll see how it goes in the exhibition season.”
MacLellan said the Caps’ third-line center spot is open, with Burakovsky, Roy and Beagle the likely candidates.
The real battle could come at the left wing position, where beyond Ovechkin, there is no real certainty of who will play where.
If Roy begins training camp at center and Burakovsky begins at left wing, Johansson could slide from the second line to the third line, with Laich, Chimera, Latta and Galiev pushing for spots on a fourth line with Jay Beagle.
“I think we’re looking for Brooks Laich to give us more this year, a better two-way game,” MacLellan said of the 32-year-old forward, who managed seven goals and 13 assists in 66 games last season.
“We need more offense, more plays, more goals, more production from him. He’s struggled through some injuries and we’ve been patient with him coming back and hopefully we get a little bit more out of him this year.”
It won’t take long before the Capitals start assembling their forward lines. They begin regularly scheduled practices on Saturday and kick off their seven-game preseason on Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
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