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. 2 Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom has been overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin and underappreciated throughout his career despite being an elite franchise-caliber center. Now it is time to give him his due which is why he comes in at No. 2 on the countdown, one spot ahead of the Great 8.
While there is some concern over whether Ovechkin has begun to decline, there is no such doubt over Nicklas Backstrom who continues to play at an elite level. His 86 points last season led the Caps and ranked fourth overall in the NHL. It was his best season since 2009-10 when he scored 101 points.
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In addition to his offensive acumen, Backstrom is a great shutdown forward and has established himself as the team's vocal leader. It was his words in a team meeting after a Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that seemed to boost the team to force seven games after facing a 3-1 series deficit.
Despite being such an important piece to the puzzle, however, Backstrom may not even play on the top line this season. An eight-year, $62.4 million contract for Evgeny Kuznetsov indicates that the Caps see him as a top-line center as well. The question is whether they see him in that role this year or in the near future. Just where Backstrom and Kuznetsov play is one of the stories to watch throughout training camp.
Regardless of where he plays, however, there is no skater who holds more importance to this 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
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin
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: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?
What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.
What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?
First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.
"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."
And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.
I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.
Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.
Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.
Other key Caps questions:
There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.
He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds.
Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:
Connor McDavid 10/3
Sidney Crosby 13/2
Auston Matthews 10/1
Alex Ovechkin 10/1
Jon Tavares 10/1
Taylor Hall 15/1
Nikita Kucherov 15/1
Nathan MacKinnon 15/1
Mark Scheifele 15/1
Anze Kopitar 18/1
Evgeni Malkin 18/1
The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.
Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so.
Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title.
In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season.
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