Capitals

Observations from the first week of Capitals training camp

Capitals

The Capitals are a week and two preseason games into training camp. Here are some observations and key takeaways from what we have seen.

Nicklas Backstrom's health is a major concern

Backstrom had not been participating in the informal skates prior to the start of training camp, so when it was announced he would not be ready for the start of camp this was not a huge shock. The red flags came on media day from GM Brian MacLellan 

First, MacLellan said Backstrom is still rehabbing the same injury he dealt with in the playoffs of 2021.

“Rehabbing an injury that he’s had for a while, struggled with it in the playoffs, rehabbing it now and we are going to see where it goes here,” MacLellan said.

The second red flag is the fact that Backstrom's rehab in the offseason means he has spent almost no time on the ice, as confirmed by MacLellan.

It is not yet clear how close Backstrom is to returning to the ice or how much time he would need at that point to be ready to play, but any potential absence for Backstrom would have a massive effect on the team.

Trevor van Riemsdyk has a spot in the top six

Coming into the season, we believed there were two open spots on the defense but both Brian MacLellan and Peter Laviolette have made it clear that is not the case. Both have been effusive in their praise of Trevor van Riemsdyk and it is very clear they intend for him to be in the top six this season.

 

When MacLellan was asked if it was fair to say there was only one open spot on the 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."

This is a bit of a surprise considering he played only 20 games last season and he's a right-shot defenseman while the holes on defense are on the left. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be. After all, despite having very little cap room, the Caps still elected to re-sign van Riemsdyk in the offseason on a two-year deal. Sure, the $950,000 cap hit is low, but it's money they didn't have to spend. They did and all signs point to van Riemsdyk being a regular in the lineup in 2021-22.

Michal Kempny still needs to shake the rust off

Kempny has not played in a game since Aug. 14, 2020, so you can forgive him for looking a bit rusty in Wednesday's preseason game.

One thing I can tell you, he is jacked. Clearly, he worked hard to get himself ready for the start of the season. But that's about all we can tell right now. It is going to take him time to work his way back so I would not be surprised to see him get maybe three of the remaining four preseason games.

The cupboard is not completely bare

Years of competing for the Cup and trading draft picks have taken their toll on the Caps' prospect pipeline, but we have seen some flashes of talent in camp. We know that Connor McMichael, Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev are nearing the point of being NHL ready, but there are others showing their potential at camp.

Hendrix Lapierre has been, by far, the team's most noticeable prospect. He has shown great speed, great hands and great awareness leading to four assists in two games. He has really stood out thus far, making MacLellan look very smart for rolling the dice on him in the 2020 draft.

Martin certainly has NHL size, but he also looked very comfortable in his lone preseason game. He was physical, but also skated very well given his size. Aliaksei Protas really seems to have improved his skating which was the major question mark about his game. Beck Malenstyn should absolutely be a fourth-line player in the NHL someday. He seems to excel at that type of role and I was impressed by how good he looked in the first preseason game considering he missed all of last season with an Achilles injury. The salary cap will likely mean his shot won't come this season, but he will be an NHL fourth liner sooner rather than later.

Who plays half-wall on the power play?

In the first preseason game, I was surprised to see Lars Eller play the goal-line role instead of on the half-wall. If Backstrom is out, I have to assume Kuznetsov plays there on the top unit and Eller on the second. If not Eller, then who else?