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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 11 Jakub Vrana

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 11 Jakub Vrana

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. 11 Jakub Vrana

From making his long-awaited NHL debut and scoring three goals for the Caps to being a healthy scratch for the Hershey Bears in the playoffs, Jakub Vrana had a very up and down 2016-17 season.

In two call-ups to Washington over the season, there were times when Vrana showed flashes of the elite skill that made him a first-round draft pick in 2014. With only six points in 21 games, however, he was sent back down to Hershey where he appeared to lose focus.

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For many players with NHL aspirations, once they get that taste of the big leagues, it can be hard to go back to the AHL. It's hard to go from bright lights and chartered flights to long bus rides and small arenas. The Capitals are hoping he will be focused for the start of camp because while the team could previously afford to bring him along slowly, they are now at a point where they need him to be NHL ready.

Washington lost both Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams in the offseason, two top-six forwards who scored a combined 48 goals last season. That is a lot of production the team will need to make up. Having Vrana, a sniper forward, ready for a full NHL season should help and there is an opening for him on the right side of the second or third line. But the Caps are not simply going to give him a spot, especially not in the top-six. He is going to have to earn it and there are still aspects of his game he needs to work on.

“He definitely has NHL speed, NHL shot [and] NHL goal-scoring ability," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters in May. "We still project him as a top-six guy, but he’s going to have to learn to play the complete game."

Vrana is a goal-scorer and power play specialist, but he needs work in the defensive zone and he needs to learn how to position himself away from the puck. The effort is there, but there were definitely times last season where he seemed lost without the puck. He will have to improve and it will have to happen fast for both the team and the player's sake.

If Vrana is not among the best forwards in camp or he shows he still needs time to improve aspects of his game, what will the Caps do with him? Previously they would just send him back to the AHL, but given the way in which he handled his demotion to Hershey last year, is that even an option now? Washington may not have enough forward depth to wait another year, or even half a season for Vrana to continue developing. It may be now or never for their 2014 first-round pick.

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

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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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3 players who stood out in playoff rematch against the Hurricanes: Samsonov gets the full game and the win

3 players who stood out in playoff rematch against the Hurricanes: Samsonov gets the full game and the win

WASHINGTON -- In a reversal of last season’s playoff, the Capitals dominant forecheck suffocated the Carolina Hurricanes for much of the game on Friday in a 3-2 preseason win. The game was the final preseason game in Washington as the Caps’ three remaining contests all will come on the road.

Here are three players who impressed in the home preseason finale.

Ilya Samsonov

Samsonov faced only 15 shots from a clearly outmatched Hurricanes roster, but he looked impressive in the few times he was tested. The save of the night came in the second period when he denied Julien Gauthier on a breakaway.

Gauthier attempted the old Peter Forsberg move and skated to his right while trying to craftily tuck the puck in to the left. Samsonov slid with Gauthier, but stuck out his stick to deny the shot and make the tremendous save.

Samsonov continued to demonstrate his comfort playing the puck with his stick as he also denied a scoring opportunity with a well-timed poke check and was always quick to play the puck when it came behind the goal line.

One area in which he was not comfortable was the glove. There were multiple occasions in which he was able to get a glove on the puck, but was not able to catch it creating dangerous opportunities for Carolina’s offense.

The Hurricanes managed only seven shots on goal through the first two periods, but managed some more pressure in the third. The shutout bid was ended in the third when Brock McGinn followed up his own rebound to score Carolina’s first goal of the game. The second goal came on a fluky bounce off the backboards that Janne Kuokkanen was able to whack behind Samsonov before he could get a glove to it.

While Todd Reirden likely hoped Samsonov would be more tested than he was, he was up to the task with 13 saves.

Brian Pinho

The Caps recorded three goals on the night and Pinho had two of them.  In the first period, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby created a turnover on the forecheck. Feeling the pressure, Fredrik Claesson tried a hopeful clear that was cut off at the blue line by Pinho who skated in and tucked the puck through the 5-hole of goalie Anton Forsberg. He scored again in the third period on the power play when his shot deflected off of Jake Bean and took a favorable bounce up before dropping into the net.

Pinho led the Capitals with five points in three games at the 2019 Prospect Showcase, but at 24 years old, he would be expected to play well. He faced slightly better competition on Saturday and still was able to produce with two goals on the night.

Richard Panik

One of the newest Caps, Panik has looked extremely comfortable in both of his preseason games thus far. He was again strong on the penalty kill where he logged 1:35 of ice time. He also looked strong offensively.

Panik played very heavy below the goal line which suits the Caps’ offensive cycle the team likes to utilize. He also showed good vision as, in the third period, he was able to fight off a check and literally kicked the puck out to a wide-open Tavis Boyd in the slot.

With Panik and Carl Hagelin together, the Caps should have a much more formidable penalty kill this season.

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