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Rating Capitals' top prospects: Left Wing

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Rating Capitals' top prospects: Left Wing

With the Capitals’ rookie camp set to begin Sept. 12 in Ostero, Florida, training home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, we thought we’d spend this week examining the organization’s top prospects at each position. We’ll start at left wing.

LEFT WING

Liam O’Brien:

Age: 21

Ht/Wt: 6-1,205

Games: 45 (AHL)
Goals: 4
Assists: 4
Points: 8
Plus-minus: Minus-5
Penalty minutes: 121

Acquired: Signed as free agent 2014

Scouting report: O’Brien stunned just about everyone, including himself, by making the Capitals’ opening roster last season, mostly because of his feistiness and willingness to defend teammates at the drop of a glove. O’Brien does not figure to provide much in the way of offense, but he can be very disruptive with his big body checks and is capable of drawing penalties. That could be enough to keep him on the Caps’ opening roster again this October.

Nathan Walker

Age: 21

Ht/Wt: 5-10, 185
Games: 28 (AHL)
Goals: 1
Assists: 3
Points: 4
Plus-minus: Plus-2
Penalty minutes: 30

Acquired: Drafted in 3rd round (89th overall) in 2014

Scouting report: Coming off summer knee surgery, Walker is hoping to be fully cleared by the start of training camp. While he may not be able to fight as often or as well as O’Brien, Walker is just as feisty and is on a mission to become the first Australian-trained player to play in the NHL. Walker’s ceiling is not as high as other prospects and projects to be a solid AHL player.

Zach Sill

Age: 27

Ht/Wt: 6-0, 202

Games: 63 (NHL, Pittsburgh, Toronto)

Goals: 1

Assists: 3

Points: 4

Plus-minus: Minus-5

Penalty minutes: 84

Acquired: Free agent, 2015

Scouting report: Considered more a depth player than a prospect, Sill is a hard-edged utility player who can play all three forward positions. He’s coming off his first full NHL season, playing splitting 63 games with the Penguins and Maple Leafs. He has never scored more than 11 goals at the AHL level but proved last season he can be an effective agitator on the fourth line.  

Zach Sanford

Age: 20

Ht/Wt: 6-3, 185

Games: 38 (Boston College)

Goals: 7

Assists: 17

Points: 24

Plus-minus: Plus-10

Penalty minutes: 30

Acquired: Drafted in 2nd round (61st overall) in 2013

Scouting report: Sanford is expected to play at least one more season at BC but impressed the Caps’ coaching staff in last month’s development camp. He has a wicked wrist shot and uses his big body to shield the puck very well. The Caps believe that with a breakout offensive season at BC he’ll be ready to challenge for an NHL job this time next year.

MORE CAPITALS: HOLTBY SCORING AT SOME POINT?

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

The Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey was fined $8,467.74 for his body slam of T.J. Oshie in Wednesday’s game. It is a punishment that falls well short of the standard the DPS itself set earlier this season.

Late in Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Jets, Oshie skated to the corner of the offensive zone after the puck while locked in a physical battle with Morrissey. Morrissey checked Oshie into the boards, then, as he was falling back, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice. Oshie appeared to be dazed after the play which is troubling given his history of concussions.

There is nothing wrong with the initial hit. Both players were battling for the puck making Oshie eligible to be hit. The problem is after the hit when Morrissey slams him to the ice afterward, which is unnecessary and dangerous.

Oh, c’mon, you may be saying, Morrissey was just finishing his check! That’s not an argument anymore considering the DPS already suspended a player for doing the exact same thing earlier this season when Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson slammed Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice. Matheson was suspended two games for the play.

Matheson’s suspension was a matter of some debate within the hockey community not just because some argued Matheson was finishing his check on a hockey play, but because it was made to look worse by the fact that Pettersson is only 176 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than Matheson. The DPS didn’t buy it and Matheson was suspended.

If you compare the Morrissey and the Matheson hits, they are very similar. Matheson hits Pettersson with a legal check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. Matheson then slammed Pettersson to the ice after the initial check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. One can quibble somewhat with the fact that Petterrsson’s skates came off the ice making the throw down more violent, but the two plays are similar enough that, in my opinion, it is fair to compare them and the corresponding punishment. In fact, one could easily argue that the Morrissey hit is worse considering he and Oshie are both listed as 195 pounds. Oshie didn’t go down to the ice because of a size disparity, Morrissey had to physically slam him down.

In addition, Morrissey is considered a repeat offender after getting suspended in the 2018 playoffs for a crosscheck to Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal. To be fair, being a repeat offender is not supposed to affect the DPS’s decision on whether a play is worthy of a suspension or not, it is only meant to be taken into consideration when determining the length of a suspension.

But the remains that the DPS was presented with two very similar plays within one month of each other and came up with two completely different punishments. That is more than a little head scratching.

The DPS has one of the toughest jobs in hockey. No matter what they do, most people are going to be unhappy with the decisions they make. It’s the nature of the job when it comes to determining supplemental discipline. Having said that, the one thing people should be able to expect from the DPS is consistency. The Morrissey hit on Oshie seemed like a slam-dunk considering a very similar play happened a month before and resulted in a two-game suspension.

But hey, Caps fans can at least take comfort in the fact that Morrissey was issued the maximum fine allowed by the CBA. So there’s that.

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