With the departure of defensemen Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara in the offseason, it looked like the Capitals would enter training camp with two holes to fill on defense. After the first day of camp, however, it appears that may not be the case.
While Michal Kempny, Martin Fehervary, Alex Alexeyev and others compete on the left side of the Caps' blue line, they may all be fighting for just one open spot instead of two. It certainly sounds as if Trevor van Riemsdyk has already laid claim to one of the openings even though he is primarily a right-side defenseman.
van Riemsdyk, 30, came to Washington in a depth role and played in just 20 games in 2021, his first season with the team. With Kempny returning from a torn Achilles tendon that kept him out of the entire 2021 season and prospect Fehervary looking NHL ready, you may have expected those two to be the frontrunners to replace Dillon and Chara on the left side of the blueline.
After Thursday's media day for the start of training camp, however, it is clear that both coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Brian MacLellan see van Riemsdyk as an everyday player.
"I thought TVR was excellent last year," Laviolette said. "He didn't get in many games, he could've played in every game. We think that much of him, but we were fortunate and healthy with that regard on the back end and, when we did need him, he came in and played excellent. So there's a lot of confidence from the staff with regard to the way he plays the game."
When MacLellan was asked if it was fair to say everyone was competing for just one spot on defense with van Riemsdyk claiming the other, he said, "Yeah, it's fair. I really like van Riemsdyk's game. I think he's a good player. Unfortunately, didn't get to play as much as everybody would have liked last year. But he's a solid player."
The Caps actually tipped their hand in the offseason. A team that had no cap space re-signed van Riemsdyk after he played in just 20 games to a two-year, $1.9 million contract. He was then protected in the expansion draft over other defensemen such as Dillon, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen.
But the move still comes as a surprise considering van Riemsdyk is a right-shot defenseman and the holes on the defense are both on the left. The right side remains unchanged with John Carlson, Schultz and Jensen.
But switching sides is something van Riemsdyk says he is comfortable with."Yeah, I've done that a bit," van Riemsdyk said. "I did it a bit in Chicago, a little bit in Carolina, did it a lot in college, which I guess is a longer time away than it feels. But yeah. Definitely something over the summer that I worked on, kind of doing stuff on both sides. Definitely something that I'm comfortable with. There's some things you even like more being on your off side and not in your strong side so it's just kind of getting reacclimated with it."
van Riemsdyk also played both sides of the blueline in 2021 which added to the coaching staff's confidence in him.
"He played both and when he did, he played fantastic," Laviolette said. "So that gave us confidence as a coaching staff that he can play left or right so we feel good about that."
Whatever side he has to play, van Riemsdyk says he will be ready.
"I think it's just kind of be ready for anything," van Riemsdyk said. "Be ready to compete in camp and do that. I think we have a great group of guys, a lot of depth and it'll be fun. We've got everyone pushing each other and making each other better and that's always how the best teams, I feel like, are formed. When you have a little friendly competition along the way."