Heading into their final two games of the exhibition season – tonight at home against the Boston Bruins and Sunday night at home against the New York Islanders (both on CSN) – the Capitals have some decisions to make at three key positions.
While Taylor Chorney appears to have the upper hand on Aaron Ness and Ryan Stanton in the hunt for the open spot as the Caps’ seventh defenseman, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer seems like the logical choice over Justin Peters as Braden Holby’s backup, the role of fourth-line center is down to a battle between Derek Roy, 32, and Chandler Stephenson, 21.
“I can tell you this,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s tougher decisions this year than last year.”
Tonight against the Bruins, Roy will start the game centering a second line between left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Justin Williams. But midway through the game, Trotz said he’ll insert Stephenson between Johansson and Williams so that he can get a fair assessment on both centers.
“That is the plan,” Trotz said. “They both know it. They’ve been told that. And now you know it. It is a true competition.”
In three preseason games Roy, who is on a professional tryout contract, has one goal on two shots, along with one assist, and is a plus-1 with four penalty minutes. Stephenson, who spent his first pro season with the AHL Hershey Bears last year, has no goals on seven shots and is also a plus-1 with no penalty minutes.
Roy, a veteran of 738 NHL games, recorded 12 goals and 20 assists in 72 games for the Predators and Oilers last season. Stephenson, a third-round pick of the Caps in 2012 (77th overall), had seven goals and seven assists in 54 games with the Bears.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Roy said following Friday’s morning skate at Kettler. “I’m taking one day at a time and not looking ahead.
“I’m not thinking too much about what anybody’s saying. I just want to go out and play my game. I can’t worry about whatever I can’t control. That’s the way I’ve been my whole life. I want to do whatever it takes to make this hockey club.”
The number of games center Nicklas Backstrom will miss as he recovers from hip surgery could be the determining factor in whether the Caps start the season with Roy or Stephenson. Trotz said Friday the Caps are preparing to be without Backstrom until Nov. 1.
If Roy is signed to a contract the Caps would be committed to keeping him on their roster all season. If Stephenson makes the team the Caps could assign him to Hershey without putting him on waivers once Backstrom returns.
Roy said that after some early soreness this is the best he has felt in training camp and is out to prove he belongs on the Caps’ 23-man roster, which is due to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
“He didn’t get a contract this summer, so just be the best he can be at this point in his career,” Trotz said of Roy. “He’s done a good job and with a couple days off he’s fresh and healthy.”
With forward Zach Sill and defenseman Connor Carrick assigned to Hershey on Friday here’s a look at the Caps’ current depth chart by position:
LEFT WING – CENTER – RIGHT WING
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Derek Roy/Chandler Stephenson - Michael Latta
Liam O’Brien – Sean Collins - Stan Galiev
Injured: Nicklas Backstrom
LEFT DEFENSE - RIGHT DEFENSE
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt - Dmitry Orlov
Ryan Stanton - Taylor Chorney - Aaron Ness
Braden Holtby - Philipp Grubauer - Justin Peters
MORE CAPITALS: Capitals have date in mind for Backstrom's return