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Is Stephenson ready for a shot with Capitals?


Is Stephenson ready for a shot with Capitals?

From now until the start of rookie camp in early September Capitals coach Barry Trotz will be kicking around line combinations in his head, trying to figure out who complements each other best. But when he gets to the top-line center spot, there is a pause.

With Nicklas Backstrom’s offseason hip surgery threatening to delay his start to the regular season, Trotz already has begun some mental musical chairs.

“If we do nothing right now, we can put some people in the middle,” Trotz said. “T.J. (Oshie) has even played center. We can put (Andre) Burakovsky there. (Brooks) Laich could go there.

“We’ve got some options, but at the same time I know we’re not done looking. We don’t have a lot of (cap) room, that’s more of a thing for Mac (general manager Brian MacLellan). I’m probably looking internally more. Can a Chandler Stephenson come up and play in one of the roles? We’ll look internally in our own group first but if something is the right fit, I know Mac will go out and do an excellent job like he has and fill a hole if we have one.”

With the Capitals’ salary cap space of $11 million about to be eaten up by contracts for restricted free agents Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, the Caps’ options of signing a third-line center to replace unsigned free agent Eric Fehr appear limited.

Which brings us to Stephenson, a hard-working, versatile, 21-year-old center who grinded his way through his first pro season last year with the AHL Hershey Bears.

“You can’t help but be nervous,” Stephenson responded when told of Trotz’s comments at the conclusion of last week’s development camp. “It’s obviously a huge honor that he could see myself in a center spot. That’s unbelievable. I just have to take that in, try to be myself, and run with it.”

After netting a goal on his first shot as a pro, Stephenson went on to record seven goals and seven assists in 54 games for Bears coach Troy Mann, who used him as a fourth-line center between Liam O’Brien and Garrett Mitchell, as well as a penalty killer. Stephenson added one goal and four assists in 10 playoff games.

“Playing last year in Hershey gives me a lot of confidence and experience knowing what that’s like, how big the guys are and the speed,” Stephenson said.


Taken by the Capitals in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft (77th overall) Stephenson put up big numbers in his fourth and final year with the Regina Pats of the Western League, netting a career-high 30 goals and 89 points in 69 games.

He said adapting to a defensive role in his first season as a pro was not as significant as adapting to the hard-hitting style of play.

“You almost have to run with whatever position a coach gives you,” he said. “I had a lot of great veterans around me who helped guide me and show me the way. If I was having an off day or feeling down they were always there to pick me up.”

Stephenson’s development camp was his fourth with the Capitals and it ended with a two broken teeth and cuts to both lips, thanks to an accidental high stick by free-agent invitee Marcus Basara.

“I went wide and I didn’t see the stick and felt my head go back,” Stephenson said. “My front four (teeth) are already fake, so it will be interesting to see what Mom says. He apologized a whole bunch, but I said it’s not a big deal, they’re already fake. At least now I look the part.”

When training camp rolls around Stephenson is hoping to push centers Michael Latta and Zach Sill for ice time and a spot as a fourth-line center, even if it is a short-term stint that allows Backstrom more time to recover.

Trotz said he’s looking forward to the competition.

“I’ll do my ghost lineups so we know how many games each guy will play,” Trotz said. “When we break camp, what numbers do we want to get down to when Hershey starts? I’m trying to formulate some of those, but they’re hypothetical sometimes because there’s always a surprise every year.”

Last year, Liam O’Brien was that surprise. This fall, Stephenson is hoping it’s him.



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Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."


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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.


The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.


Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30


Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.


Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.