At the outset of training camp, the Capitals expected to keep the roster maximum of 23 players.
As the days unfolded, though, it became clear that keeping 22 made more sense.
Why the change of plans? The unexpectedly strong play of rookie Zach Sanford.
“Most of it is how well Zach has done,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said of the decision to keep one player under the max. “You [attempt to] project what players are going to do during camp. We were going to bring in [Brett] Connolly. We’d like to take a longer look at Zach, see how he progresses. And we were hoping to see some improvements in [Stan] Galiev.”
“The way it turned out,” MacLellan added, “Sanford played the best out of all of them.”
With two goals and an assist in five preseason games, Sanford finished third on the team in points and, in the process, squeezed past Connolly, a free agent addition who did not suit up for Sunday’s dress rehearsal against the Islanders, and Galiev, who was sent to minor league Hershey.
If the forward lines from Sunday remain unchanged when the regular season opens Thursday in Pittsburgh, Sanford will be on the third line while Connolly will sit out as a scratch.
“We tried to be aggressive on getting him in our lineup this year,” MacLellan said of Sanford, the team’s second round pick in 2013. “We tried to recruit him [to sign his entry level contract]. Tried to make a good sales pitch, that he’d have a good chance to make the team. And I think he took advantage of it. He came in and played really well. It’s been an impressive job he did. He might be ahead of schedule in how quickly he’s adapted to the bigger, stronger players. Other than that, he’s right where he should be.”
As for Galiev, he simply did not back up his potential with enough production.
“Stan I thought had an average camp,” MacLellan said. “And we had to make decisions based on, basically, the performance of all of the players.”
Indeed, Galiev did not record a goal in 24 games with the Capitals last season. Then he failed to register a point in four exhibition contests this preseason. As a result, the Capitals chose to send him down in the hopes that he might rediscover his scoring touch.
“He was in a tough spot where [did not] play a lot last year,” MacLellan said of Galiev. “We were trying to make improvements with him. He came into camp and the coaches wanted to give him a good shot, and we needed to see some production out of him and we didn’t get it. So, hopefully he goes to Hershey and works at his game a little bit, and he might get another shot as a call up.”
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