When hockey finally returns in 2021, the Capitals will have their sights set on the Stanley Cup. Every team enters each season with questions that need to be answered. We are looking at the biggest questions facing the Capitals in 2021.
Today's question: Where will the Caps get their depth scoring from?
There were many reasons why the Capitals finally got over the hump in 2018 to win the Stanley Cup, but depth scoring was certainly a major factor. The team got plenty of offensive contributions from the bottom-six, including key contributions from Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Over the past two seasons, however, offensive depth has dried up, especially in the playoffs.
In 2019, Washington got only five goals and four assists from its bottom-six forwards in seven games. In that same series, Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists by himself. In 2020, the bottom-six accounted for only two goals and three assists in eight games.
That's just not good enough.
To make matters worse, with limited cap space and a number of holes to fill on the roster, depth scoring was an area general manager Brian MacLellan was not able to address in free agency. If the team needs more production outside of its top-six, just where is that production going to come from?
The first player to mention is Daniel Sprong who looks like he may be a candidate to play on the third line in the hole left by the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk. Sprong was acquired at the trade deadline in a deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Though he spent the majority of last season in the AHL, he is a player who has already established himself as a consistent point producer at the NHL level.
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Sprong has 97 games of NHL experience with 19 goals and 11 assists. His defensive acumen is considered his weakness and most coaches tend to stay away from playing one-dimensional offensive players in the bottom-six given that limited ice time means limited offensive opportunities. Having said that, this is a player who certainly looks like he could boost the team's bottom-six offensive production.
If Sprong does indeed play on the third line, that will keep Richard Panik on the fourth. Panik was signed in 2019 to be a third-line winger, but did not seem to thrive with the Caps until moving down to the fourth. Having a fourth line of Panik, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway is a very solid unit that could prove over time to be more dangerous than most fourth lines.
Washington may also have the benefit of increased offensive production from the defensemen as well.
Yes, we are coming off a season in which John Carlson recorded 75 points in 69 games, but the system of head coach Peter Laviolette and assistant coach Kevin McCarthy is known for having the defensemen play a very offensively aggressive style. That should provide additional offense for a Caps team in which, last season, did not have a blueliner outside of Carlson score more than four goals.
Depth scoring is important for teams so as not to overuse their top-six. That is especially crucial for a team with as many 30+ players in the top six as Washington has. The Caps need Sprong to pan out and find chemistry with Lars Eller who is expected to center the third line as he has the last several seasons. The team needs the fourth line to rebound from an awful postseason and it also needs increased production from the blue line. If that happens, Washington will be fine. If not, then MacLellan is going to have to get creative about how to add additional goals. Sprong is the only in-house candidate who, as of the time of writing, appears ready to make an impact at the NHL level. If that's not enough, the Caps will have to look outside the organization to find more goals.