In the wake of losing Nate Schmidt to the Vegas expansion draft, the Capitals re-signed defensive prospect Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract with the Caps, Brian MacLellan announced Wednesday.
Re-signing Djoos, a restricted free agent, became a huge priority for Washington in the wake of the expansion draft. Djoos was expected to compete along with Madison Bowey for a spot on the NHL roster next season even before Schmidt's sudden departure. Now the team may find itself in need of both prospects to take on full-time roles next season.
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The Caps are returning Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson next season, all who are expected to take top-three roles. Behind them are Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney. That gives the team only five defensemen when most teams carry seven.
Djoos, 22, showed he could be ready for the move up to the NHL with a 58-point season in Hershey. He is a great skater and tremendously skilled, but there are questions about his size. He is 6 feet tall and weighs only 164 pounds, putting him on the small side. Does he have the skill to make up for that lack of size? That is what the Caps will be asking themselves this offseason.
One other thing to consider si the fact that Djoos is no longer waiver exempt. he could prove to be a pretty tempting prospect for any teams if the Caps try to call him up or send him to the AHL. Wherever he starts at the beginning of the season, Washington or Hershey, is likely where he will stay.
MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan says prospects 'ready to make the jump' to replace Schmidt
If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.
Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.
At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.
Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.
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Here are a few observations from the past week:
- What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
- The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
- This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
- Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.
How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.
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The Capitals were able to pull out a win Friday in Colorado without Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie or Braden Holtby. With a game Monday in Montreal, the team hopes it will not be quite as shorthanded against the Canadiens.
Washington practiced Sunday in Montreal and three goalies took to the ice. Holtby was on the ice along with Pheonix Copley and Ilya Samsonov
Holtby suffered an upper-body injury Wednesday morning prior to the game in Winnipeg. That injury kept him out of the lineup both Wednesday and Friday. The Caps netminder told Chris Kuc of The Atlantic that he is ready to play, but still needs to be cleared by doctors.
Head coach Todd Reirden said after practice that Holtby was a possibility to start Monday.
With Holtby’s status still up in the air, Samsonov remains with the team in case he is needed to suit up as a backup.
While Holtby was on the ice for practice, both Kuznetsov and Oshie were not. Reirden told the media that both players are day-to-day and are with the team in Montreal. Their status for Monday remains uncertain.
With no Kuznetsov or Oshie, Reirden kept the offensive lines largely the same from Friday except for switching Devante Smith-Pelly to the third line and moving Brett Connolly down to the fourth.
Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly
Reirden switched up the lines frequently on Friday and Stephenson, Boyd, Smith-Pelly combined for a goal in the second period.
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