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. 6 Matt Niskanen
No one would say Matt Niskanen's is the Caps' best player, but you can sum up just how important he is to the team with one question: What would they do without him?
There are lots of players on the team who it would hurt if Washington lost, but very few are essentially irreplaceable. If Niskanen were to suffer an injury this season, the team really has no player to replace what he brings to the lineup. He is the team's best defensive-player, the anchor on the top pair of a blue line that currently has only five players on it.
There are some defensemen who are labeled "two-way" because they are okay at both ends of the ice, but not great at either. That's not the case for Niskanen. He is a great shutdown defenseman, but with a high offensive upside.
Guess who led the Caps' defensemen in points last season? It wasn't John Carlson. It was Niskanen whose 39 points were two more than Carlson's 37.
The NHL is moving further and further away from the Karl Alzner/Brooks Orpik type of shutdown players. Today's NHL looks to players who are more versatile as their top shutdown players. Niskanen certainly fits the mold.
That brings us back to the original question: What happens if Niskanen goes down with an injury? Most likely Carlson would move up tot he top pair. Dmitry Orlov is capable as a top-pair defenseman, but he struggled with Carlson last season. Who becomes the team's top penalty killer on the blue line? Is there another player the team can depend on to shutdown the other team's top offensive players in key moments?
Niskanen established himself as the team's most important defenseman last year and his position has been further cemented by the loss of Alzner and Nate Schmidt. He is clearly the team's most indispensable player on the blue line.
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