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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 10 Brooks Orpik

There are many who believed that the 2016-17 season would be Brooks Orpik's last in Washington.

When the Capitals signed Orpik to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million per year in 2014, it was with the knowledge that his play would not match that cap hit in the later years of the contract. It's safe to say we have now reached that point.

But if you thought that would mean the Capitals would explore a buyout, it certainly does not sound as if general manager Brian MacLellan ever examined that option.

“I don't know that we really considered that,” MacLellan said when asked about a buyout for Orpik in July. “I thought Orpik had a good year last year, I thought him and [Nate] Schmidt played really well together on our third pair and I think we value what he brings to young defensemen.”

Here's the deal: whether you think the Caps should have pursued moving Orpik in the offseason is now irrelevant. He is still on the team, he will be on the team for this season and, with only five defensemen under contract, the Caps will need him to be an everyday player.

Orpik, who will turn 37 before the start of the season, is a physical, shutdown defenseman. He does not have great speed which can get him into trouble in this age of hockey when speed and quick transitions are more the norm. He also has a tendency of getting caught pinching in the neutral zone looking for a hit and he does not have the wheels to get back in time to cover his mistake.

The Caps may expect Orpik to be an everyday player, but it is going to be on the third pairing. Even after losing Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt, Orpik's days of being a top-four player are over.

So why does a bottom-pairing defenseman climb all the way to No. 10 on our list? The team greatly values his leadership in the locker room, but what really makes him important this season is how much the coaches will lean on him to help the younger players.

As mentioned above, the Caps have only five NHL defensemen under contract for this season. Assuming they keep seven on the roster (three pairs, plus one extra), that leaves two open spots that will likely be filled throughout the season by prospects such as Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Orpik is going to spend most, if not the entire season playing alongside a young prospect and the coaches are going to lean heavily on his experience and leadership to help those players develop.

“We have a bunch of young defensemen that are coming up,” MacLellan said. “I think we have like 10 or 12 guys that are under 22 and they're all pretty good players. We're going to value the ability of Orpik to mentor these guys.”

The Caps are taking a gamble by looking to their prospects to fill not just one, but two holes in their defense next season including a spot in the top four. The more Orpik can help those rookies with the transition to the NHL, the better the Caps will be as a team.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana

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Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Capitals forwards Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson were given a very clear message in the offseason. It came in the form of the team signing free-agents Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic.

Both Boyd and Stephenson held depth roles last season, but the addition of two fourth-line players made it clear that the team was not satisfied with their play last season. Now in training camp, they find themselves in a position where they have to compete to earn the roles they played last year.

“It's a competition,” head coach Todd Reirden said at media day. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

But even before camp started, both players understood what those signings meant for them and why they were necessary.

“I wouldn't sit here and say I wasn't disappointed or a little frustrated I guess watching the signings that we had here,” Boyd told NBC Sports Washington, “But at the same time I think all those signings help the team and I think definitely makes the team and this group of guys obviously a super dangerous group.”

Last season was Boyd’s first full year in the NHL. It got off to a rough start as an injury kept him out for several weeks. When he finally did get into the lineup, he struggled to stay in and found himself cycling in and out for the rest of the season. He finished the season with 53 games.

Boyd said that overall he felt he had a good season and showed he could contribute offensively with five goals and 15 assists in those 53 appearances. He did acknowledge though that the constant cycling in and out wore on him mentally which affected his play.

“There would be times where you would go a week, week and a half in between games,” Boyd said. “You don't really realize how tough that is until you're in that situation. Your ability to create offense in those situations is a lot harder because if it's your first game in a week and a half, for me personally, I probably wouldn't have came out (sic) there in the first period and been trying to make maybe some sort of a skill play at a blue line. You end up taking kind of the easy way out because it was your first game in a week and a half and you don't want to turn a puck over and then all of a sudden as soon as you turn that over a coach is like alright. It doesn't look good.”

That sentiment of the mental grind of trying to stay in the lineup was echoed by Stephenson who saw his production decline from 18 points in 2017-18 to 11 last season.

“I wasn't really just kind of going out and playing, playing freely,” he said. “Just felt like every game it was kind of a mind game for myself just with trying to stay in the lineup. Just wasn't playing and that's the biggest thing that you can't let yourself get to that point. Once you start thinking instead of just playing, it's usually not going to end well.”

If a guy like Alex Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie has a bad game, it does not come with that fear of wondering whether it means you will be out of the lineup. They can move on, but it is more difficult for Boyd and Stephenson who knew one bad game or even one bad play could be the difference between playing or getting scratched and not knowing when your next game will come.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that with so many depth players, that is not going to change this season. Even if they both do make the team, with so many depth players they are going to have to justify their spot in the lineup.

The experience of fighting for playing time last season should help both players with knowing how to deal with that mental grind, according to Boyd.

“Going in and out and playing on the fourth line was something I haven't done,” Boyd said. “I couldn't really tell you how long it's been for me there. Just being comfortable in that situation I think will help. For me, just put a little bit more effort and a little bit more focus on the practices, especially when you get into the grind of the season and once you actually get into the midpart of the season where a lot of days you can come here and really not be feeling that fresh. You might be able to sneak through a practice without really working hard or as hard as you could, but someone who's going in and out of the lineup trying to go 100-percent every day and trying to keep not only your body in that game shape, but also trying to get your mind into making quick decisions still and just trying to be ready for whenever you do get that chance again.”

First, however, both Boyd and Stephenson have to make the team which is not guaranteed.

Washington’s salary cap situation means general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to find a way to shed salary. That means either Boyd or Stephenson, or perhaps even both players could find themselves on the move. Training camp and the preseason offer them the chance to show the team they still deserve to be in Washington.

The suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov could also provide Boyd specifically a chance to impress.

With Kuznetsov out, Lars Eller is expected to move to the second line to replace him. That leaves an opening at third-line center.

This training camp was already important with Boyd fighting for his job. Now here is a chance to earn a third-line role to start the season and perhaps exhibit himself for the first three games until Kuznetsov returns.

“I can't even tell you how big it is,” Boyd said. “A chance to be in a role other than the fourth line if I am in that spot for these first three games, I'd love that. I'd love the chance, I'd love the opportunity. It's just a great opportunity for myself to showcase that I'm back from last year. I put on 10, 11 pounds over the summer so I've got some more weight to me this year, I feel like I'm moving well, I'm skating well I just want to go out there and, if I do get the chance in the first three games, go out there and show what I can do and hopefully show the coaching staff that hopefully I can play.”

As for Stephenson, he is taking a more relaxed approach to camp. If the pressure of staying in the lineup affected his play last season, he is determined to make sure the pressure of a competitive training camp does not drag him down.

“That'll just handcuff yourself and put you in a bad spot because you might be expecting something when it's not happening,” he said, “But for the most part, it's just a competitive camp. Come in, have fun, do what I can do and just do everything I can to stay here. I want to be here.”

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Caps cut an additional nine players, but keep all four goalies in the midst of fierce competition for backup role

Caps cut an additional nine players, but keep all four goalies in the midst of fierce competition for backup role

The Capitals reassigned nine players from its roster to the Hershey Bears on Sunday, sending Kristofers Bindulis, Tobias Geisser, Connor Hobbs, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Brett Leason, Philippe Maillet, Bobby Nardella, Garrett Pilon and Joe Snively to its AHL affiliate.

Training camp for Hershey begins on Monday making Sunday a convenient time to update the roster.

The latest round of cuts contains no major surprises. Jonsson-Fjallby is likely the most NHL ready of the group, but after returning to Sweden he is not quite used to the North American game as he needs to be. After a disappointing showing in the Prospects Showcase and in training camp, he now finds himself headed to Hershey. He has committed to remaining in North America this season regardless of where he plays and given the Caps’ salary cap constraints and depth, he will likely spend most if not all of the 2019-20 season in the AHL.

Leason was a second-round draft pick by Washington in 2019 and scored a goal in Saturday’s preseason contest. As a 20-year-old, however, he is headed to Hershey instead of to a junior team.

The Caps elected to keep both rookie netminders Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov which will leave the Bears a bit shorthanded as camp opens. Both goalies are competing with Pheonix Copley for the backup role behind Braden Holtby this season.

The Caps are expected to make additional cuts prior to their preseason road trip beginning Wednesday in Chicago.

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