The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.
Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.
Today's question: Are Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey ready to be everyday NHL players?
Both Djoos and Bowey looked like players who could break into the NHL lineup last season and both did. The results were largely impressive for two young rookie players on the blue line.
Let's start with Djoos. Djoos ultimately played in 63 games with three goals and 14 total points. His size was a concern all season long, but the fact that he was able to step in and play 22 games in the playoffs when the play becomes very physical, that's a good sign. He's never going to be a physical juggernaut, but he appears to be a smart enough a player to mitigate the physical disadvantage of being only 169 pounds.
Bowey's season was much more up and down. He played in 51 games with 12 points, is still looking for his first NHL goal and did not play at all in the postseason. It is important to remember, however, that Bowey was put in some difficult situations.
Despite clearly being one of six best defensemen in training camp, Bowey found himself in Hershey to start the 2017-18 season because he was waiver exempt and the Caps were up against the salary cap. He was recalled after Matt Niskanen suffered an injury and, because it was a back-to-back for Washington, was thrust into the lineup the same day against Philadelphia in what turned into a blowout loss for the Caps.
Something else to consider is that Djoos played much more sheltered minutes than Bowey. One way to measure this is by comparing how many offensive zone face-offs a player was on the ice for versus how many defensive zone faceoffs. If a defenseman is on the ice for significantly more offensive zone face-offs, that is a reflection of how a coach is utilizing him and sheltering him from more defensive responsibilities.
Per Natural Stattrick, in the regular season at 5-on-5 play, 60.43-percent of the faceoffs Djoos was on the ice for were in the offensive zone (note: this stat excludes neutral zone face-offs and focuses only on the percentage of offensive and defensive face-offs). That's the highest among all of the team's defensemen including Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness. That's higher even than Alex Ovechkin who we know is not typically used in defensive situations. Bowey's percentage was 54.62, fourth among the team's defensemen.
Djoos may have had the more impressive season, but it seems Bowey was much more trusted in his own end. I bring this up not to discredit Djoos, but to show Bowey had a tougher season last year because he was given tougher minutes. This was also reflected in the fact that the team re-signed Bowey with a two-year, one-way contract. Clearly he is expected to play in the NHL this season.
While I do believe they are ready for bigger roles, I do not anticipate either playing 82 games next season even if they are healthy.
With Michal Kempny and John Carlson back, the team's top-four is pretty much set with Kempny-Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen as the top two pairs. As much faith as the team may have in both Djoos and Bowey, they are not ready to be their own pair. We will no doubt see it at times this season, but for the most part, I would expect a cycle between Djoos, Bowey and Brooks Orpik throughout the campaign.
So, to answer the question, do I believe both players are ready for everyday roles? Yes. Will both players end up playing every game when healthy? Probably not.
Other key Caps questions:
- How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
- Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
- Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
- Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?
- Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?
- Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?
- Will Tom Wilson make more headlines this season for his offense or physical play?
- Can Pheonix Copley handle the backup role?
- Can Jakub Vrana consistently play like a top-six forward?
- Will Devante Smith-Pelly's postseason performance translate into more production this season?
- How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Caps?