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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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: What rookies will have an impact with the Caps next season?

In the team's push for the Stanley Cup the last few years, the Capitals brought in several veterans through free agency and trades to bolster the roster. As a result, there was not much room for the team's prospects. Last season, however, Washington took a very different approach.

Nine rookie players suited up for the Caps for at least one game in the regular season in 2017-18, the most the team has played since the 2013-14 season. Six rookies also played at least one game in the playoffs. Washington dressed zero rookies in the postseason in each of the two years prior. In fact, that is the most rookies Washington has used in a postseason in franchise history. 

To say the Caps won because they used their young prospects more so than before would be a gross oversimplification, but clearly there was value to adding cheap, young, talented players to the lineup.

But by returning virtually the same roster as last season, there will be little room for rookies to make a similar impact in 2018-19.

Here's a projected roster of the Caps' opening night lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd/Travis Boyd - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

Barring injury, there's just not much room there for the young players to break in.

Of the players who still qualify as rookies, the ones to watch are Boyd, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Liam O'Brien, Riley Barber, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov.

The most obvious answer to the question is Boyd. Jay Beagle's departure leaves a spot open at fourth line center and Boyd would be my pick for the most likely player to fill that role.

The addition of Nic Dowd means Boyd may be the only rookie forward to make the team on opening night. Barry Trotz usually kept only one extra forward and defenseman on the roster, but we do not know if Todd Reirden will have a similar outlook. If there is another spot open, Walker, Gerish, O'Brien and Barber will be in the running. I am not sure I see Walker becoming an every day NHL player, but I could see him coming on as a 14th guy since the Caps have a little bit of breathing room under the salary cap. The same does not go for Gersich who has a higher NHL ceiling. Even though he jumped right into the NHL last season, it is much more likely he goes to the AHL this year to take a large role in Hershey rather than to play scattered minutes in Washington.

O'Brien and Barber also make this list because the clock is ticking for them. Both are 24 and both have spent several years in the organization. They need a strong training camp to prove they belong in the NHL or they risk being viewed less as prospects and more as lifetime AHLers.

Like the offense, the defense also seems pretty set. Of the team's defensive prospects, Siegenthaler is probably the most NHL ready, but I have a hard time believing he will supplant any of the seven defensemen in training camp.

And that brings us to Samsonov.

Samsonov will make his North America debut this fall playing in Hershey. Brain MacLellan has been adamant that Samsonov will be starting in the AHL in order to adjust to the North American game. Just how quickly he can adjust, however, may determine if he earns a jump to the NHL at some point next season.

Samsonov is widely seen as Washington's future in net. While there is no reason to rush him, it is not hard to envision him supplanting Pheonix Copley as the backup should Copley struggle. But first, he has to play well in Hershey.

While the Caps look set throughout the roster, injuries always leave open the possibility for a player to get called up and play his way into a full-time role. As of now, however, it looks like there is not much room for the team's rookies this season, other than Boyd.

Other key Caps questions:

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4 Capitals to play in Da Beauty League summer tournament

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USA TODAY Sports

4 Capitals to play in Da Beauty League summer tournament

Just like you, hockey players are trying to fill the void of summer until hockey returns in the fall. To that end, several Caps are headed to play in Da Beauty League starting on Wednesday.

Travis Boyd and Shane Gerich will both participate in this year’s league, as well as Hershey Bears defenseman Aaron Ness. The league indicated newly acquired Nic Dowd will also be playing, though he is not yet listed on the official roster.

In addition, former Caps Taylor Chorney, Matt Hendricks and Nate Schmidt will also be participating as well as former prospect goalie Adam Carlson.

You can see the full roster here.

Da Beauty League is a casual summer league in Minnesota to help professional players prepare for the upcoming season. It will take place from July 11 through Aug. 20.

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Less than a week after signing, Caps prospect Gersich to make NHL debut

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Less than a week after signing, Caps prospect Gersich to make NHL debut

On Wednesday night vs. the Rangers, touted prospect Shane Gersich will make his NHL debut less than a week after leaving college to sing with the Caps.

Gersich is slated to skate on the left side of Washington’s third line with Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Gersich, the Caps’ fifth round pick in 2014, will become the fifth player to make his NHL debut for the Caps this season, joining Nathan Walker, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey and Travis Boyd.

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Only Djoos remains on the roster.

“Enjoy it. Just play hockey,” Caps Coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday morning, asked what advice he’s given to the rookie.

“Don’t overthink it systematically,” Trotz continued. “Don’t overthink it. Just go out and play and work and don’t get paralyzed by thinking, ‘I can’t make a mistake.’ I want to see him play. It’s a special moment for him and his family.”

Gersich, 21, had an inkling that he was close to getting tapped on Tuesday, based on his linemates in practice.

Following practice, Trotz told him he could call his family and share the good news.

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Dad, Frank, mom, Shar, and older brother, Cade, managed to catch a flight to Washington late Tuesday and will be in attendance Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

“I’ll try to take a nap this afternoon, but we’ll see,” Gerisch said after the morning skate. “It’s a dream come true for me. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. It’s nice to have my family in town to enjoy the experience with me.”  

At the University of North Dakota, Gersich posted 43 goals and 34 assists in 117 games. He signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps last Friday and immediately joined the team, burning a year on his deal.