Barring some late summer moves, the Capitals' roster for next season is set. That means it's time for everyone's offseason activity: projecting the lineup.
Today we will look at the defense and goaltending.
Top pair: Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Year two of the Orpik contract begins and while he may be another year older, there were no signs of his game declining last season. He needs to generate more points (78 games without a goal? Really?) and fewer penalties (third on the team with 66 minutes), but otherwise he brought exactly what the Caps expected him to. He did undergo wrist surgery this summer, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Carlson meanwhile had the best professional season of his career. Orpik and Carlson played well together last season and there's no reason to go away from it now.
Second pair: Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
No surprise here either. Alzner thrived under head coach Barry Trotz and actually contributed offensively for a change with five goals and 21 points, both career highs. After posting 46 points in his final season with Pittsburgh, Niskanen came back down to Earth with 31 points in his first season with the Caps. Chances are that's more in the range of what we can expect from him points wise and that's OK. The only real concern for Caps fans is the fact that he looked a bit exposed defensively in the playoffs. Still, he's good enough both offensively and defensively to remain on the second pair.
Third pair: Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt
This is where things get interesting. With Mike Green, Tim Gleason and Jack Hillen gone, the third pair will consist of one player who did not play a single game last season and another who spent the majority of the season in Hershey. Lingering wrist issues kept Orlov out for the entire season meaning he will have to both get back into game shape and adjust to Barry Trotz. There was some growing frustration regarding Orlov even before the injury as he had failed to establish himself as a top four defenseman. Now at 24 years old, he needs to show that he's ready to take the next step and he needs to do it now as he enters the final year of his contract. There are fewer questions over his partner, Schmidt, who has proven he is ready to be a full-time NHL defenseman with his stellar play in Hershey.
Seventh defenseman: Taylor Chorney
At 28, Chorney is not a player who needs to go back down to the AHL to further develop. While everyone would rather play than sit in the press box, he is primarily an AHL player. The chance to stay full-time with an NHL team is a good deal for him even if he only ends up playing in a handful of games this season. Someone like Connor Carrick, meanwhile, is better served by staying in the AHL and being called up if the team needs him. Even if Chorney remains with the team, someone like Carrick may end up with more NHL games this season even as a call-up.
Goalies: Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer
Obviously Holtby is the starter, the real question is who will back him up. That question was answered in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals against the Islanders last season. With Holtby out sick, Grubauer was an emergency call-up from Hershey and started over Justin Peters. Holtby playing in 73 games last season had as much to do with Trotz's lack of faith in Justin Peters as it did with his trust in Holtby. While Holtby was able to handle it last year, you do not want to get into the habit of having your starter play 70+ games a season. The only issue with bringing Grubauer up is the fact that he will not play nearly as much as the team would probably like. At 23, Grubauer is still a young, developing goalie while Peters is a career backup. If Peters really wows Trotz at camp, he could justify sending Grubauer back to the AHL to get more playing time, but there's a very slim chance that happens. Peters played his way into the AHL last season while Grubauer played his way to the NHL.
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