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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