CHICAGO—After spending the past two seasons honing his game in American Hockey League, Capitals prospect Christian Djoos could get the opportunity of a lifetime come September.
Djoos, who was re-signed on Thursday, is one of a handful of blue line prospects the Caps hope will compete for playing time in the NHL next season.
“His hockey IQ is extremely high,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. “He has really good skill. He moves the puck really well. It was pretty evident by the points he put up this year in the American league.”
Djoos, a 22-year-old selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, did indeed put up big numbers playing for the Bears. In 66 games, he posted 13 goals and 58 points—the third highest total among AHL defensemen. The players who finished ahead of him—T.J. Brennan and Matt Taormina are longtime minor league vets.
As impressive as Djoos' offensive production was, though, Mahoney and Co. are equally as intrigued by his ability to make smart decisions under pressure and quickly transition the puck from the backend.
“He’s really, really intelligent,” Mahoney said. “Sees the ice really well. Finds the open man. Can speed the game up, slow the game down.”
The one concern about Djoos—as it's always been—is his size and how it'll affect his ability to battle bigger NHL forwards in the corner and in front of the net. He’s listed at 6 feet, 164-pounds. For comparison’s sake, the lightest players on Washington's roster last season were backup goalie Philipp Grubauer (182 pounds) and wingers Justin Williams (188) and T.J. Oshie (189). The lightest defenseman was Taylor Chorney, who at 191-pounds was the only D under 200-pounds.
So, yeah, Djoos has some work to do in that department.
“The challenge for him still is to get physically strong,” Mahoney said. “He’s getting there, so we’ll see after another good summer of training and see where he’s at come the fall.”
Depending on what happens in the free agent and trade markets, there figures to be an opportunity—or perhaps even two—waiting for a prospect like Djoos when the team convenes for training camp in mid-September.
After puck-moving defenseman Nate Schmidt was plucked by Las Vegas in the expansion draft on Wednesday night, the Caps were left with only four defensemen under contract (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson and Chorney) for next season. There’s also Dmitry Orlov, a restricted free agent the Caps intend to sign, but that still leaves a couple of openings.
Asked which blue line prospects are closest to being ready for NHL duty, Mahoney, in an interview with CSN on Thursday, named Djoos and his Hershey teammates Madison Bowey and Tyler Lewington.
“But,” Mahoney said, “it’s up to them to make sure they have a good summer of training, on and off the ice, and then come in and show the coaches that they deserve to be there.”
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