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Even Samsonov surprised Capitals took him in first round

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Even Samsonov surprised Capitals took him in first round

The Capitals didn’t need to meet 18-year-old Russian Ilya Samsonov to know they liked him enough to make him the first goaltender taken in Friday night’s NHL draft.

All they needed to do was watch him play.

“We really like his competitiveness and athleticism,” Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said after the Caps selected Samsonov with the 22nd pick of the first round. “He has really good size for a goaltender, 6-foot-3. And he played really well in international tournaments. We were really pleased.”

As a result, the Capitals now have a goaltending depth chart that reads: Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, Pheonix Copley, Vitek Vanecek and Samsonov.

Too many, you might say? Not if you ask Mahoney, who has an excellent rack record of mining talent [Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson] near the end of the first round.

“We’ve always talked in the past that we take the best player available to us and for sure we felt he was the best player to take at that place,” Mahoney said.

Samsonov, the top-rated European goaltender in the draft, told reporters in Sunrise that he has three more years committed to his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, but Mahoney said that contract could be shortened if the Samsonov believes he can develop better in North America.

MORE CAPITALS: A DEEPER LOOK AT SAMSONOV 

Samsonov did not attend the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, citing he was taking exams for school and was nursing an injury.

“I was very surprised because I didn’t have much contact with the team and I didn’t have a chance to go to Buffalo for interviews,” Samsonov said through an interpreter. “So when they selected me I was very surprised. It’s obviously a big honor for me. I want to thank the Washington Capitals for selecting me and I’ll work hard and do whatever I need to do to make sure I play well and succeed in the NHL.”

Samsonov said his mother, who works for the local government in Magnitogorsk, and father, who is a construction businessman, did not fly to Sunrise, Fla., for Friday night’s draft.

“I’m sure they are happy,” he said.

He said he knows the Capitals because of Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin and Russian teammates Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov and is looking forward to working with the Capitals.

“I’m still a very young goalie and there are a lot of areas of my game I need to improve and that’s what I will continue to concentrate on,” he said. 

As for playing under fiery former NHL coach Mike Keenan, Samsonov laughed before saying, “He’s a really good coach. At times he can be pretty strict. But overall he’s a great coach, a good person to learn from and a winner.”

Samsonov said he models his game after Montreal goaltender Carey Price and Tampa netminder Ben Bishop. Mahoney says he sees tons of potential in Samsonov, as long as the Capitals are willing to wait for him.

“He’ll get lots of games and lots of shots,” Mahoney said, “and we’ll be patient with him.”

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss 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: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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