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20 offseason Caps questions: Which D prospects will make an impact for the Caps?

20 offseason Caps questions: Which D prospects will make an impact for the Caps?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

As GM Brian MacLellan goes about reshaping the Caps’ roster this summer, fans can be relatively certain of one thing: cap considerations will ensure that youth will be served in Washington next season. Young players already on the team are going to get more responsibility. And prospects that have been frozen out by veterans and good overall team health the past couple of years are finally going to get their turn. Over the next two days, we’re going to discuss some of the youngsters and where they might fit in.    

Today’s question: Which blue line prospect (s) will make an impact next year in Washington?

Sorenson: I think Washington’s future is very bright in Hershey and the Capitals would be wise to give more than a few of its Bears players 10-15 games each in the NHL this season. One of the blueliners I expect we’ll see on a regular basis is Madison Bowey. I thought we would see more of the Winnipeg native last season, after he turned in a few strong preseason performances with the Capitals before suffering an upper body injury. Things got worse for the young defenseman during the regular season while in Hershey as he missed two and a half months after having surgery to repair a partially severed tendon in his ankle. Bowey did manage to put up 14 points in 34 regular season games. When he returned in March, Bowey found his game in the postseason, scoring two goals and recording two assists in ten playoff games. At  6’2” 206 pounds, his size will serve him well as the Capitals want to see heavy play from speedy defensemen.

RELATED: Projecting the Caps' protected list for the expansion draft

Regan: Not only will Madison Bowey have an impact next year, I have him penciled in as Brooks Orpik’s partner on the third pair on opening night. With Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk expected to leave in free agency, the Caps have an opening on the third pair and I believe the hope is for a prospect to seize that role and not for there to be a constant rotation. I expect Bowey will stick with the NHL squad for most if not all of the season and be a regular in the lineup. Christian Djoos also has a chance. There’s no denying his talent, but at 6 feet, 161 pounds, he needs to bulk up. There is some excitement over 2016 first-round pick Lucas Johansen, but he has not yet played in an AHL game and is still someone who needs more time to develop. Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time as well to adjust to the North American game before we even begin to talk about him getting time in the NHL. There is a chance Tyler Lewington makes his NHL debut this season, but I think the ceiling is pretty low for him and I don’t have high expectations. To summarize, I expect Bowey to definitely have an impact and possibly Djoos.

El-Bashir: I expect a few blue line prospects to get a shot in Washington next winter, but I’m less bullish on the situation than JJ. I mean, there’s a chance Niskanen, Orlov, Schmidt, Carlson, Orpik and Chorney all return, giving the Caps at least six veteran options at a position where experience matters. If something were to change (ahem, Vegas, I’m looking at you) then, of course, things could open up considerably. And, based on how things unfolded in Hershey last season and a couple of conversations I’ve had with folks who watched the Bears closely, I suspect Christian Djoos, a smallish but dynamic puck-mover, will get a really good look in September. Listed at 6-foot, 161-pounds, he’s definitely on the light side, but his offensive game flourished in Hershey as he racked up 58 points (13 goals, 45 assists) in 66 games. Right-shooting Madison Bowey also figures to get strong consideration for a significant role with the Caps, though the 2013 second rounder’s development was stunted a bit by the injury Jill mentioned. My sleeper pick to see time in Washington next season is Tyler Lewington, who is tough, reliable in his own end and solid on the penalty kill. Jonas Siegenthaler is well-regarded but, as JJ said, he needs time in Hershey to adapt to the North American game. I suspect Aaron Ness is viewed as more of a call-up guy. So the bottom line for me is this: I don’t necessarily consider any of the defensive prospects as a lock to be in the opening night lineup. If it does happen, though, I’d expect Djoos and/or Bowey to be the guy (s) suiting up.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: What should the Caps do about their No. 2 goalie?

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Tom Wilson gets a goal and a penalty on the same play

Tom Wilson gets a goal and a penalty on the same play

It took just one period into his first game of the season for Tom Wilson to score a goal. Unfortunately, it also took him just one period to get a reputation penalty called against him.

And somehow, they both happened on the same play.

In a very “this could only happen to Wilson” moment, Wilson crashed the net in the first period of Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Wild looking for a tip-in on a pass from Dmitry Orlov. He is engaged by defenseman Ryan Suter from behind on the play. Wilson gets his stick on the ice to tip it in for the goal but is pushed into goalie Devan Dubnyk which knocks the netminder’s helmet off and left him down on the ice for several moments.

So now, if you’re the referee, you have a call to make. Either Wilson was pushed into Dubynk meaning the play is legal and the goal counts or Wilson is guilty of crashing into the goalie and guilty of goalie interference which would negate the goal and possibly give Wilson a two-minute minor.

The referees went with Option C: All of the above.

The goal counted, but Wilson was also given a two-minute minor for goalie interference.

Tuesday’s game is Wilson’s first of the season after a neutral arbitrator reduced his 20-game suspension. The image of Wilson celebrating a goal over a sprawled goalie will likely cause some grumbling amongst the Wilson detractors.

It should be noted, however, that Minnesota did not challenge the goal for goalie interference and the goal was allowed to stand. You have to think that if Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau thought he had a chance of getting that goal overturned, he would have taken it.

Instead, Wilson was given the goal...and somehow the penalty for goalie interference on the same play.

Only Tom Wilson.

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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

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USA Today Sports

Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

WASHINGTON —Tom Wilson had his 20-game suspension reduced just in time by a neutral arbitrator Tuesday and the Capitals will welcome back their rugged winger tonight against the Minnesota Wild. 

Better late than never after Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season. The arbitrator, Shyam Das, actually knocked the suspension down to 14 games from the original 20, but there’s no time machine to put Wilson back in the lineup for home losses to Columbus and Arizona.

There’s also no time machine for Wilson to go back and avoid illegally checking St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the head. That play, during a Sept. 27 preseason game, was the final straw for the NHL, which had suspended Wilson three times in the previous 13 months. 

It was a bad hit at a pointless time in a meaningless exhibition game and gets right to the heart of the matter: Can Tom Wilson change how he plays? And if he does, is he worth what the Capitals invested in him this summer?

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there, and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said on Oct. 14. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Washington signed Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract in July. He is a unique player in the NHL, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wrecking ball who can put the fear of God into opposing players, but isn’t just another goon. He can play. He had 14 goals and 21 assists last year, doubling his previous best, while playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Capitals believe Wilson has more in him.

"No, I don't think he has to change. I've been in this situation, too,” Ovechkin said. “To be honest with you, I don't want to talk about his game because he knows what he has to do. I think it's just a situation where you let it go…He just have to play the same way he played and don't listen to no one because it's your choice how you playing."

There is also an elephant in the room. Ovechkin is only under contract two more years after this one. Nicklas Backstrom is a free agent after next season. Both players will be well into their 30s when free agency hits. The Capitals would love them to retire here, but no one can say what will happen. Wilson is a potential captain, a gregarious, vocal presence who is under contract through 2024. He is young enough to lead the post-Ovechkin team the organization builds. 

But all of that investment goes to waste if Wilson can’t stay on the ice and that is the immediate problem. Because the next bad decision, the next time Wilson crosses the line the punishment only goes higher. Remember when he broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw in the second round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last May? If that happens again Wilson will be staring at a 25-to-30 game suspension. That’s almost one-third of an entire season. 

Wilson’s teammates have been supportive. Ovechkin’s comments indicate that. T.J. Oshie has been outspoken on Wilson’s play since the playoffs last year when he had multiple close calls, including the Aston-Reese hit that earned him a three-game suspension during the Pittsburgh series. Wilson hit Columbus forward Alex Wennberg in the first round, but escaped supplemental discipline.    

“When I'm going to hit someone, I'm going to hit him as hard as I can. But that doesn't mean I want to hurt him,” Oshie told NBC Sports Washington on Oct. 2. “It means I want to change the way the game's going. I want to separate him from the puck. I want him to fall down so for a brief moment, we have five guys going and they've got four. Tom does it the same way. He gets penalized, I think, for his size and strength.”

There is a fine line, however, between being supportive and enabling a player and Washington’s players, coaches and executives at least walk that line with their public comments. The organization is still upset at the suspension for the Aston-Reese hit. Wilson himself, while acknowledging all the work he did last year to meet with NHL officials and understand what he can and can’t do, said after that hit that ex-players and friends around the league were texting him not to change a thing. 

Those mixed messages could prove troublesome because the NHL itself is unambiguous. Wilson is out of chances and no matter how the Caps feel about that interpretation, they need him to heed the warnings.     

“There are certain ways they are calling things,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “You need to be aware of how they’re making their calls on suspensions. Tom is a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact. He needs to be aware of how they’re determining what’s legal and what’s illegal from the league’s standpoint.” 

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