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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPP GRUBAUER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

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. 

RELATED: CAPITALS' 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Today’s player: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer.

Last season, Grubauer was arguably the most reliable backup goaltender in the NHL, posting a 13-6-2 record, a .926 save percentage and the third best quality start percentage—.684—in the league.

And, at 25 years-old, he appears to be ready for a bigger role.

That opportunity, however, likely won’t happen in Washington, not with top-3 starter Braden Holtby under contract through 2019-20. In addition to being very good, Holtby also shoulders a heavy workload. In fact, he’s made 201 starts the past three seasons—eight more than anyone else.  

There was a time earlier this summer when Grubauer thought he might be selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He was not taken, of course, as Las Vegas GM George McPhee swiped defenseman Nate Schmidt instead.

Grubauer also entered the offseason as restricted free agent with arbitration rights. His camp did not elect arbitration because, according to a source, he did not want the Caps to opt for a two-year award. In the end, he signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension to stay in Washington.

So what now?

In the near term, Grubauer is doing and saying all the right things. He arrived in Arlington, Va., a bit earlier than usual this summer, eager to ramp up his preparations for training camp in mid-September.

“Just be patient, work really hard and be successful out there, be ready to go every time,” Grubauer told me after an informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I want to be ready to follow where I left off last year, keep improving and working hard, get better every day and we’ll see what will happen.”

What could happen is a trade involving Grubauer at some point this season. Such a move would give the German netminder a bigger role elsewhere and deliver to the Caps an asset that could assist in their efforts reload on the fly. If that were to happen, Washington could turn to Pheonix Copley, Hershey’s No. 1 goalie and a well-regarded prospect, to back up Holtby.

All of that, of course, is out of Grubauer’s control. So he’s got his focus exactly where it should be for now: stopping pucks and continuing to build his resume.

RELATED: MOST IMPORTANT CAPITALS, RANKED

— 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

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Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

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: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

To answer this we first have to know what a center is. A center’s main focus in the middle of the ice. He is expected to cover that area at both ends and be almost a third defenseman when the puck moves into the defensive zone. Because they are expected to cover more of the ice, they need to be strong skaters. They also typically are the best setup player on a line as they set up the wingers. Obviously there are exceptions where centers can be strong goal scorers and wingers can be good setup players, but this is typically their function.

So a defensively responsible forward who is a strong skater? Stephenson certainly has that skillset.

But there is a difference between a good skater and a fast skater. Jakub Vrana, for example, is one of the fastest skaters on the team, but there's no denying he is a winger. Stephenson always seems to be better offensively when he’s ahead of the play rather than trailing it. His speed is most effective on the counter.

If you want to know what the Caps are thinking, consider this. There is a spot open at fourth line center and the team signed Travis Boyd, a center, to a one-way contract and signed winger/center Nic Dowd as a free agent. It certainly seems as if the team is looking at options other than Stephenson to fill that spot.

General manager Brian MacLellan essentially confirmed this when he spoke with reporters in July.

“I prefer Chandler on the wing,” he said. “He seems to be more effective there, but I’m not opposed to him playing center, too.”

Stephenson is an option at center if the Caps need it, but it’s clear the team sees him more as a wing.

Other key Caps questions:

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Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

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: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Michal Kempny proved to be an absolute steal at the trade deadline for the Caps who acquired him for just a third-round pick. Washington had an obvious need for a top-four defenseman and they took a chance on a little-known blue liner from the Chicago Blackhawks who struggled to stay in the lineup.

It worked.

Kempny quickly found chemistry with John Carlson and his addition bolstered the team's top-four on defense, turning it from a weakness to a strength in the playoffs.

But can he do it again?

Kempny has only two seasons of NHL experience. The most he’s played in a single season is 59 games which he did in 2015-16 while playing in the KHL. As well as he played in the playoffs, it is a bit of a gamble to simply rely on him to take a full-time top-four role going forward given the NHL sample size is still small.

But there is no reason to expect any drop-off in Kempny’s play.

Kempny thrived with the opportunity to take on a bigger role. Here’s a breakdown of his 2017-18 season:

  • October to Feb. 19 with the Chicago Blackhawks: 31 out of 59 games played, 15:19 of ice time per game, seven points (1 goal, 6 assists)
  • Feb. 19 through the regular season with the Caps: 22 out of 24 games played, 16:45 of ice time per game, three points (2 goals, 1 assist)
  • Playoffs: 24 out of 24 games played, 17:42 of ice time per game, five points (2 goals, 3 assists).

Kempny went from a healthy scratch to a top-four defenseman once Todd Reirden got his hands on him, and, in case you haven’t heard, Reirden isn’t going anywhere. With a full season to work on him, there’s good reason to be excited about what Kempny can do going forward. He knows it, too.

Despite getting interest from other teams prior to becoming a free agent, he chose instead to re-sign with Washington for four years with a $2.5 million cap hit. That’s a bargain price for a top-four defenseman, but after struggling to start his NHL career, Kempny decided not to mess with a good thing.

Kempny proved to be a dependable top-four defenseman for the Caps throughout the playoffs under the tutelage of Reirden. With Reirden now head coach, there’s no reason to think Kempny will not continue to thrive in Washington.

Other key Caps questions: