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Will the Capitals find a seventh defenseman at development camp?

Will the Capitals find a seventh defenseman at development camp?

Development camp offers a glimpse of some of the Capitals’ future stars and the future could come as early as next season for some of the young defensemen.

Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs are considered three of the team’s top defensive prospects and it did not take long for them to emerge as the three of the top players at this year’s camp.

“You can tell the guys that play pro are ahead of everybody else,” director of player development Steve Richmond said Tuesday. “Those three guys, [Siegenthaler] and [Johansen] and [Hobbs] are I think way ahead of the other guys right now, as they should be.”

All three players are coming off their first full season in the AHL and it’s not a stretch to believe they will be in contention for an NHL promotion come the fall.

The Capitals will most likely want seven defensemen on the roster, as most teams do. John Carlson re-signed with the team on Monday joining a blue line that already has Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov under contract. The team has also made an offer to Michal Kempny to re-sign. Assuming he comes back, the team’s top four on defense should be locked in. Youngsters Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos will be back as well, but that still leaves one opening left after the team traded Brooks Orpik.

General manager Brian MacLellan could re-sign Jakub Jerabek or look to the free agent market to fill that spot. He perhaps could even bring Orpik back for one year.

Or MacLellan could look internally for the answer.

If the Caps are hoping to replace Orpik with a like-minded player, Siegenthaler would be the pick.

“I'm actually a stay at home defenseman so I try to get better at where I'm good at,” Siegenthaler said after Tuesday’s practice. “I always look be able to work on my D-zone and that's what I'm going to do.”

Siegenthaler certainly boasts the size and defensive acumen to be a talented defenseman and he is a much more mobile player than Orpik. For all the criticism Orpik took over the years, if you had a chance to have a younger, more mobile version of him on the roster, most would jump at that opportunity.

“There's going to be a spot open and I think everybody will try to fight for his spot,” Siegenthaler said. “Hopefully everybody's going to be ready for main camp. It's going to be a fun battle I think.”

The most skilled of the three would be Johansen, the team’s first-round pick in 2016.

A two-way player, Johansen tallied 27 points in his first season with the Hershey Bears, second in points only to Aaron Ness among the team’s defensemen.

“He became more offensive,” Richmond said. “I think he'll be better on the power play so when he steps in here he's ready to play.”

Johansen has managed to bulk up to about 189 pounds which has been a major focus for him and now wants to work on his skating, something that has become a point of emphasis within the organization.

“I want to come into camp a little better skating shape,” Johansen said. “There's a difference between when you're in really good physical shape from the gym and then there's skating shape. I want to skate a little more before I come into camp because when it comes down to it, you've just got to be good in the games.”

But don’t make the mistake of thinking Johansen may have a leg up because of where he was drafted. That only got him in the door. He is going to have to prove himself.

“Everyone wants because you're a first-round pick, you're going to step right in after a year of pro,” Richmond said. “It's not that easy. Especially we've got a pretty good team here. And we don't rush guys as you can tell.”

Hobbs is a more offensive-minded blueliner who boasts a deceptively good wrist shot and an incredible slap shot. With his skill set, he should essentially be penciled in at the point of the Caps' power play in the future.

For now, however, he needs to focus on his play in his own end, as well as his skating.

“I've got to become a more efficient skater,” Hobbs said Tuesday. “I skate very awkwardly in the way that my knees work and can't ever change that, but I can change how fast I get from Point A to Point B. So that's something that needs to change this summer.”

There’s no question that all three players still have aspects of their game they need to improve on, but after committing $8 million per season to Carlson and depending on how their remaining free agent signings pan out, the Capitals may again find themselves in need of cap relief again this season.

Looking internally to Siegenthaler, Johansen or Hobbs could be a cheap way to fill out the team’s blue line.

“I think they have a chance to [play],” Richmond said. “They had a good year last year, they've improved. I can see improvement already out here even though it's summertime. Obviously we'd like to keep it in-house if we can. I think they have a shot to play."


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Capitals prospect report: New local prospect reflects growth of hockey in the DMV


Capitals prospect report: New local prospect reflects growth of hockey in the DMV

The Alex Ovechkin effect on Washington hockey was clear in June of 2018 when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head. His lasting legacy, however, may be about far more than just one championship banner.

On Monday, the Capitals signed Herndon, Va, native Joe Snively to an entry-level contract beginning in the 2019-20 season. Snively just finished his fourth year at Yale and is an alum of the Washington Little Capitals youth hockey program. His new NHL contract reflects the growth of hockey in the area at the youth level.

“When the Caps started to become successful, you could just see the amount of people in the local rinks,” Snively said Monday on a conference call. “It just started to increase. More kids wanted to play hockey. For sure, hockey in general, it became a hockey city. It's been really cool to witness and be a local of Northern Virginia and just see how the hockey community's just gotten so much bigger.”

“He's (evidence) of generations of players that are starting to come around thanks to Ovechkin and [Nicklas Backstrom] and the growth of the organization,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. “It's going to be fun to watch the next few years the impact that they've been able to have on young hockey players and building the game of hockey in the area. It's just going to keep growing from there from what we were able to accomplish as a team last year. The overall numbers of players playing youth hockey and number of coaches that want to get involved in it is amazing and that's what it's all about: growing the game of hockey, for me. Our older guys that have been here for years have been great ambassadors and so fortunate to have such generational talents as a guy like Ovechkin and Backstrom and others. It's pretty neat to see it all kind of come full-circle."

Snively’s love for the Caps may have ultimately been cemented in a dentist’s office. Snively apparently shared the same dentist as Ovechkin growing up and ran into him while he was a kid.

"I was just waiting for my annual cleaning,” Snively said, “And Ovechkin came in -- he was obviously a lot younger than he is now because this might have been 10 years ago, I can't remember -- but of course, I recognized him. I had my hockey bag in the car because I was going to practice, and I got a pair of hockey gloves signed, which was funny."

Snively was a coveted free agent coming out of college. Frank Seravalli reported that more than 20 teams had expressed interest in signing him. While Snively said the number of teams he spoke with was much lower, it is clear that his love for the Caps growing up certainly played a role in him signing with Washington.

Snively confirmed this saying, “It for sure played a factor.”

"I love the Caps,” he added. “They're my favorite team. I root for them every year. It was really special to watch them win the Stanley Cup last spring, and I've been following them all the way since they wore the old black and gold jerseys. My dad's a season-ticket holder. Every year, I watch the Caps, so that kind of sums it up."

The fact that interest in the game is growing at the youth level and that it is producing talent reflects the growing popularity of the game in the area. That it can also help the Caps snipe a few of those homegrown players is also a definite plus.

Other prospect notes

  • Snively signed an amateur tryout agreement with Hershey on Wednesday. The Caps currently have the maximum of 50 contracts so Snively’s does not actually begin until next season. In order to play for Hershey then, he had to go this route and sign an amateur agreement.
  • Riley Barber now leads the AHL in goals with 31 and his 58 points ties him for fifth. He is also tied for first on the team in points with Mike Sgarbossa. I have gotten a lot of questions on Barber in recent days. I would have liked to see him get called up at some point given how great of a season he has had in Hershey, but I am not sure it makes sense to do it now at the tail end of the regular season. The fact is, the Caps still have 14 forwards on the roster and Devante Smith-Pelly in Hershey and I am not sure eight games with the Caps at fourth line minutes would be enough for Barber to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup over players like Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd or Smith-Pelly. One other thing to note is that 31 of his 58 points have come on the power play this season. That is not a bad thing at all, but Barber would not be getting any power play time in Washington so I am doubtful he would be able to step into the lineup and produce right away. I would have liked to see it earlier in the season, but for now the best place for him is Hershey for the playoff push.
  • The Bears’ remarkable turnaround now has them at third place in the Atlantic Division. After a slow start to the season, Hershey has gone 21-2-3-2 in its last 28 games. Two big factors in that turnaround have been Sgarbossa and goalie Ilya Samsonov. In those 28 games, Sgarbossa has 11 goals and 19 assists while Samsonov has gone 12-1-1-1 with a 1.64 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.
  • Aaron Ness leads all AHL defensemen with 43 assists. His 47 total points sits third in the league among blueliners.
  • Garrett Pilon scored the overtime winner in Tuesday’s game against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He took the drop pass from Sgarbossa and ripped a shot top-shelf for the win. You can see the highlights of the game here:

  • Pilon leads Bears rookies with 30 points. He managed only 11 points in his first 34 games, but has 19 points in his last 31.
  • Goalie Vitek Vanecek registered his second shutout of the season on Tuesday, turning aside all 17 shots he faced from the Penguins.
  • It’s playoff time for the junior leagues! In the OHL, Kody Clark helped the Ottawa 67s to a first place finish in the league with 17 goals and 46 total points in 57 games. Ottawa will play Hamilton in the first round of the playoffs.
  • In the WHL, Alex Alexeyev has been declared out of Red Deer’s first-round series against Prince Albert, according to the Red Deer Advocate. He was seen wearing a large knee brace as he accepted an award as the Red Deer Advocate’s Male Athlete of the Year award.
  • Erick Florchuk finished with 21 goals and 50 points in 68 games for Saskatoon while teammate Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had 13 goals and 29 points in 62 games. Saskatoon will play Moose Jaw in the first round of the playoffs starting on Friday. Florchuk was also presented with the Heinrichs player of the month award on Friday.
  • Riley Sutter has yet to play in the 2019 calendar year and is listed as week-to-week. His WHL team, the Everett Silvertips, finished atop the U.S. Division and will play Tri-City in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Alex Kannok-Leipert scored five goals and 19 points in 67 games for the Vancouver Giants this season who will face Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
  • It is also tournament time in the NCAA. Quinnipiac will have to wait until Friday’s selection show to discover where they will play in this year’s NCAA tournament. Chase Priskie had to watch his Bobcats get swept in the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals by Brown as he was serving a two-game suspension for a kicking penalty in the season finale. The good news for him is that he was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, just the third finalist in school history. He was also named ECAC Hockey First Team All-League.
  • Steven Spinner saw his season come to an end as Nebraska-Omaha was swept by Minnesota Duluth 2-0 in the NCHC Quarterfinals. Spinner scored two goals and four points in 29 games this season.
  • The season is also over for Benton Maass as well as New Hampshire was swept by UMass 2-0 in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Maass had one goal and six points in 30 games. 



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Todd Reirden praises Jakub Vrana's commitment to his teammate in first NHL fight

Todd Reirden praises Jakub Vrana's commitment to his teammate in first NHL fight

The Capitals' Wednesday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning had everything a hockey fan loves; goals, high stakes and fighting.

In the second period of the Caps' 5-4 OT loss, Michal Kempny was knocked out of the game with a lower-body injury after a back-and-forth scuffle with Cedric Paquette. Forward Jakub Vrana decided to stick up for his teammate and dropped the gloves with the Lightning's Yanni Gourde in what was the 23-year-old's first NHL fight. 

"That's our team. That's something that is acknowledged whenever a player does it," head coach Todd Reirden said on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies Thursday. "It's not an easy thing to do. It obviously takes courage and pride and major, major credit is sent his way between periods and after the game for doing something like that. "

Vrana, who made the Caps' roster back in 2017 and cemented himself within their lineup during their Stanley Cup championship run with two game-winning goals, has officially made it clear he's got his teammate's backs. 

"Anytime a player steps outside of their box and grows, especially in a situation like that, he's not a guy that gets into fights...he stood up for the Washington Capitals," Reirden added. "And I can not put enough praise on something like that because that's at what the end of the day, that's commitment to your teammate, that's togetherness, that's team, and especially a guy like Gourde [who] has fought Tom [Wilson]." 

Vrana was sent to the penalty box after fighting who the NBC Sports Network commentators described as a "pocket Hercules" in Gourde. While Reirden would have liked the speedster to have been on the ice for the Caps in the following moments, he couldn't help but praise the strides he took as both a player and teammate. 

"And like I said, Vrana's been a phenomenal player for us this year, and you don't necessary like the tradeoff of not having Jakub on that situation, but that was something that he did and I'm really proud of him for that," he said. "Not just for what happens in a hockey game, but for him as a young player."