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Are Caps targeting defenseman in first round?

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Are Caps targeting defenseman in first round?

In their 40-year history the Capitals have had 51 first-round draft picks and have used more of them on defensemen [17] than any other position.

Considering the Caps have taken only forwards in the first round over he past six years – Marcus Johansson in 2009, Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2010, Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson in 2012, Andre Burakovsky in 2013, and Jakub Vrana in 2014 – and have two up-and-coming goaltending prospects in Philipp Grubauer and Pheonix Copley, the Caps could be aiming for a defenseman with the 22nd pick of this year’s draft, which will take place Friday night and Saturday morning at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Last year, only five defensemen were taken in the first round of a forward-heavy draft, all of them within the first 19 selections. In 2013, nine defensemen were taken in the first round, eight of them within the first 18 picks. And in 2012, a total of 13 defensemen were taken in the first round, including 10 in the first 22 picks, with Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta arguably the best of them at No. 22.

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Based on that sample size, it’s anyone’s guess which defensemen might be available if the Caps retain their first-round pick at No. 22 overall.

NHL Central Scouting has nine defensemen ranked among its top 30 prospects. Six of those defensemen are projected to be taken before the Caps pick at No. 22.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at five defensemen who could be available when the Caps pick at No. 22.

Oliver Kylington, Farjestad (SWE): Smallish by NHL standards [6-foot, 185 pounds] Kylington is an offensive defenseman who was ranked first among European skaters on Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings but fell to six after he ended the season with 10 goals in 45 games with three different Swedish teams. In all likelihood he’ll be gone before the Caps pick at No. 22.

Jeremy Roy, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): Ranked seventh among defensemen, Roy is another smallish offensive defenseman [6-foot, 188] who recorded 43 points [5 goals, 38 assists] in 46 games for Sherbrooke. A right-handed shot, Roy can play either side and is projected as an NHL power-play quarterback.

Gabriel Carlsson, Linkoping Jr. (SWE-JR): If the Caps are looking for the next Brooks Orpik [and they probably should be], Carlsson is a big Swede [6-foot-4], who needs to grow into his frame [183 pounds] before making an impact at the NHL level. He’s ranked second on Central Scouting’s list of European players. He lacks the offensive skills of players like Kylington and Roy, but the Caps will like his size and the fact he had a plus-21 rating with Linkoping's under-20 team.

Thomas Chabot, Saint John (QMJHL): If there is a run of defensemen taken before the Caps select at No. 22, many believe Chabot might be the best choice for the Caps. Described as a two-way defenseman Chabot led Saint John blue liners with 41 points [12 goals, 29 assists] and should be able to pack muscle onto a 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame.

Noah Juulsen, Everett (WHL): Central Scouting bumped Juulsen from No. 38 on its mid-term rankings to No. 22, where the Caps will be picking. A right shot, two-way defender Juulsen is 6-foot-1, 174 and is coming off a nine-goal, 52-point season in which he finished a plus-22.

For those piqued by positional analysis, here’s a composite list on the Caps’ first-round selections:

Defensemen: 17

Rick Green, Robert Picard, Darren Veitch, Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher, John Slaney, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner, Nicholas Boynton, Steve Eminger, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Sasha Pokulok, Joe Finley, Karl Alzner, John Carlson

Centers: 15

Alex Forsyth, Greg Carroll, Ryan Walter, Bob Carpenter, Reggie Savage, Pat Peake, Jason Allison, Alexandre Volchkov, Kris Beech, Brian Sutherby, Nicklas Backstrom, Anton Gustafson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg

Left Wings: 9

Yvon Corriveau, Jeff Greenlaw, Trevor Halverson, Alexander Kharlamov, Brad Church, Miika Elomo, Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky

Right Wings: 7

Tim Coulis, Mike Gartner, Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana

Goaltenders: 2

Olie Kolzig, Semyon Varlamov

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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

On Nov. 14, T.J. Oshie suffered a concussion on a hit from Josh Morrissey. The concussion sidelined him for nearly a month. He finally returned to the lineup Tuesday for a game against the Detroit Red Wings, but it sounds like he was medically cleared to return sooner.

During the team’s morning skate on Tuesday, Oshie revealed he had wanted to return a week sooner, but had actually been held out as a precaution.

“I've been good now for about a week and a half,” he said. “This is the longest [concussion] I've sat out. I wanted to play last week. We were pretty careful about it, and the guys that were in the lineup did an outstanding job of allowing them to give me that rest.”

This was the fifth documented concussion of Oshie’s career. While there is still much we do not know or fully understand about concussions and their effects on the brain, it certainly appears as if the severity of a concussion and concussion symptoms can worsen with successive injuries. As a result, the team’s medical personnel took no chances when it came to Oshie and held him out of play even after he was medically cleared to return.

“I felt good so what we did paid off,” Oshie said following Tuesday’s game. “It was an open conversation, a bunch of conversations between me and [Jason Serbus] our head medical trainer and really all our whole team of doctors. We went through it day by day. As it lingered on it was a couple of days by a couple of days and once I started feeling good they let me go. We took it slow and I got a week in of bag skates so legs-wise I felt pretty good out there. That was kind of the process for me.”

Oshie admitted there had been times in the past he thought he was ready to return, but it was clear after returning he had not fully recovered which could have been a factor in the team’s decision to be extra cautious.

“Every concussion's different. This one was different than all the last ones. It's really just not coming back until you're ready. I've had some where you think you're ready to play and you're pretty sure, maybe not 100 percent sure, and then a couple games in you get hit or your head hits something or whatever it is and you don't have a concussion but you have a headache now every time you get hit for sometimes a month or so.”

Oshie suffered a concussion last year after a hit from San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton. He returned to game action 15 days later, but did not look quite right initially and registered only a single point in his first seven games after returning.

If you believe the team’s decision to hold Oshie out had anything to do with that, however, Oshie disputes that notion.

“Last year I don't think I came back too quick,” he said. “I wasn't able to find ways to score, really. I was missing some passes that I normally don't miss. Everyone kind of jumps on the goal-scoring drought stuff, but I felt like I was doing a lot of good things away from the puck. I was keeping the puck out of our net and I was creating chances for teammates to score. It was a learning experience, but I felt like I was 100 percent when I came back last time.”

But why was it even necessary for the team to hold Oshie back? With his repeated history of concussions, not to mention his family’s history with Alzheimer’s, it may be surprising to some that Oshie had hoped to return earlier or that he wanted to return at all.

While the long-term effects of repeated concussions are still being studied and debated within the medical community, it is not a stretch to believe that repeated blows to the head can be detrimental to one’s health.

Oshie was asked if he felt concerned after suffering repeated concussions. His answer? “Not really.”

“I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned about what's going to happen to me, I'm not going to play at the top of my game,” Oshie said. “Doesn't really concern me. I just kind of roll with the punches every day and if it does, it does. Hopefully it doesn't.”

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The conversation that convinced Todd Reirden his hockey future was behind the bench

The conversation that convinced Todd Reirden his hockey future was behind the bench

In the fall of 2004, Todd Reirden had a conversation that would change the course of his hockey career.

Reirden’s first season with the Houston Aeros of the AHL was not going the way he had hoped. A three-inch tear in his oblique meant that not only could he not play, but he could not practice or skate. He could not do much in the way of physical activity for the next six weeks other than let the injury heal.

That’s when Houston head coach Todd McLellan called Reirden into his office.

“There was a couple different conversations where we talked about leadership and the role that I was going to have on the team and where he was going to put me in the locker room and how he was going to utilize me as an extension of the coaching staff and that's what good leaders and captains or assistant captains of the team do,” Reirden said. “At the time, I really hadn't connected the dots on where he was going with it.”

This conversation, however, was different.

McLellan asked Reirden to look at video and help out the coaching staff develop the players. What had only previously been hinted at was suddenly coming into focus for Reirden. He, a player, was being asked to take on more of a coaching role with the team.

“He was still a player,” McLellan said. “We’re probably pushing him out of a player position and into a coaching spot.”

“I guess at that point I probably should have stopped playing hockey,” Reirden said. “Once a coach tells you that, it’s maybe a good time to start thinking about being a coach.”

Things had not come easy for Reirden over the course of his playing career. For every star NHL player like an Alex Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom, there are several more player like Reirden who have to claw their way from the bottom all the way up just for a chance to reach the NHL. Once they get there, their career at the highest level is brief and over before most players may realize it.

Reirden climbed the ladder playing in the ECHL, AHL and IHL all before he finally got an opportunity to play in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Reirden career saw him play for Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and finally Phoenix.

The 2004-05 lockout came at the wrong time for Reirden who was at the tail-end of his NHL career, though he had not yet realized it. After playing in only seven games for the Phoenix Coyotes the year before, a 33-year-old Reirden signed with the Minnesota Wild and was sent to the AHL during the lockout.

While Reirden was hoping to make it back to the NHL, McLellan had planned for Reirden to stay and had pushed the organization to sign him.

“A lot of the American League teams, International League teams didn't want to have players like myself there because all they were doing was blocking development of young players,” Reirden said. ‘[McLellan] felt the value of having someone like myself around to be able to just serve as a role model in terms of character in terms of how hard I worked on the ice, off the ice.”

But it went beyond just being a role model or an on-ice leader.

Once Reirden joined the team, McLellan saw the way Reirden understood the game and the way he communicated with other players. He saw coaching potential in Reirden and decided that his true value was not on the blue line as a defenseman, but as an extension of the coaching staff.

“There are some great instinctive players that are hall of famers that might not be real good coaches because they might not be able to get their point across or have the necessary explanation technique,” McLellan said, “Where there’s some others -- and often they’re grinders that have to rely on hockey IQ and the ability to share thoughts and ideas and poke and prod -- that end up being good coaches.”

At first, Reirden helped with video. The team did not have a video coach so Reirden would help cut video and watch with the team and players. Reirden focused primarily on helping the younger players.

“You could tell he loved the game,” said former teammate, Matt Foy, who was 21 years old during his season with Reirden. “He was a leader, but he had fun with it. He was an easy guy to talk to, very easy player to talk to. Loved yapping guys, telling them different stories and stuff. He was almost like a big brother at that time to me.”

“He wasn't one of those hard veterans who would lean on you and expect you to do something that you're not capable of doing. He was really, really supportive and a friend.”

After a while, Reirden’s role on the team began to grow.

“Eventually [McLellan] started bouncing things off me,” Reirden said. “I think he also learned and grew a little bit himself because he would ask me things. What do you think I should say to the players today? How did that come across, that meeting? That's how it started with him was simple questions like that where he was getting a pulse of the room through me and trusted that what he said stayed between he and I.

“I started then to read off of him and when I saw something that maybe he didn't ask me about, I would come to him and say I think this would have been the time where you could be a little firmer on the team. Right now, the guys are uptight a little bit, maybe if you could interject something different, a different sort of meeting today that would come at things from a different angle. He took what I said to heart and it was, I think, a really good working relationship between an older veteran player and a young, up-and-coming coach.”

But eventually, injuries heal and Reirden was back on the ice. Suddenly the extension of the coaching staff had to suit up with his teammates again. Eventually, Reirden had to go back into the locker room, a sacred place among hockey teams where what is said among teammates stays among teammates and he still had to be accepted as a member of the team.

“It was something where I wanted to help [my teammates],” Reirden said, “But I also wanted to still be a player so to be able to combine that player-coach type of role, not that I was every listed as that by any means, but I think that's how some of my teammates felt about me so I wanted them to still have trust that we could still talk about things that they knew weren't going to necessarily get back to the head coach but they could still open up to me. So it was a fine line I think that I had to go through there.”

“He was more of a player than he was a coach in my eyes,” Foy said. “It's not like I'd watch what I'd say around Todd because he'd go rat me out to the coach. He was a friend. I don't think any of us looked on him as like oh, we've got to watch what we say. He was more of our teammate.”

Reirden helped the Aeros improve by 12 wins and 18 points in the 2004-05 season. The season ended in disappointment as Houston was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but more importantly for Reirden, it completely changed the trajectory of his career. Though he could not bring himself to quit playing just yet, he knew his future in hockey was behind the bench.

“Once I got over the fact of when someone's telling you that you're not maybe as good a player as you may have thought you were at that time,” Reirden said, “It was actually a great transition into helping me understand the next phase of my life and how I could use this game that's been amazing to myself and my family and allowed us so many amazing experiences and opportunities to how I could possibly continue working in the game of hockey.”

Reirden got his first official coaching job in 2007 when he was hired as an assistant coach at his alma mater Bowling Green State University. Just as he did as a player, Reirden climbed the ranks to the NHL. He started as an assistant in college, became an assistant in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and took over as head coach when Dan Bylsma was promoted to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. In 2010, Bylsma added Reirden to his staff in the NHL and was hired by the Caps in 2014 where he helped lead the team to its first Stanley Cup in 2018 and is now the head coach.

“He understood the time that it was going to take daily, monthly, yearly to climb the ladder and he was willing to stick it out,” McLellan said. “There’s not many former players that are willing to do that. Give him credit.”

As a coach, Reirden is known for his ability to communicate with players and help each one with a specific, individual development plan. He credits the lessons he learned in Houston for getting him this far and specifically, one conversation in particular for starting his coaching career.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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