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Secret handshake? Trotz fueling Regina pipeline


Secret handshake? Trotz fueling Regina pipeline

Upon introducing himself to Capitals defensive prospects Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs, Capitals coach and fellow Regina Pats alum Barry Trotz extended his hand and said …

“He asked me if I knew the secret handshake,” said Williams, part puzzled and part amused by the question. “I guess that must have fallen through the cracks over the years, so I don’t know it. And he wouldn’t show me.”

Hobbs was just as perplexed, wondering if there is such a thing as a secret Regina Pats handshake.

“I didn’t have a clue and I kind of felt bad,” Hobbs said. “Maybe we’ll have to make a new one.”

Near the end of the 2015 NHL draft, the Capitals did something they had never done before, taking Regina defense partners Hobbs and Williams in the fifth and sixth rounds of the draft. With Pats alums Garrett Mitchell (sixth round, 2009 draft) and Chandler Stephenson (3rd round, 2012) already in the Caps’ farm system the Caps are starting their own pipeline from Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan and the former home of Trotz and Capitals assistant general manager and scouting director Ross Mahoney, who also played for the Pats before attending the University of Regina.

“That’s where home was for Coach Trotz for a bit and that’s where home is for me and Colby,” Hobbs said. “It’s the oldest junior team in Canada. Everywhere you look it’s Pats, Pats, Pats.”

Now, the same can be said of the Capitals’ development camp locker room. And that’s a good thing, according to John Paddock, a former draft pick of the Caps (37th overall in 1974) who has spent the past 30 years coaching or managing six different AHL teams and three different NHL teams and is now the had coach and senior vice president of the Pats.

“I didn’t talk to Ross or Barry, but the Capitals picked up two really good defensemen,” Paddock said from Saskatchewan. “I think they’re going to be happy they took those two guys.”

Hobbs, 18, is a hard-hitting, hard-shooting 6-foot-2, 191-pounder from Saskatoon who was taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the draft, 143rd overall. He began last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western League, but was seventh on the club’s defensive depth chart and was traded to the Pats on Jan. 4, his 18th birthday. He said his season took off after that, picking up one goal and 15 assists in 33 games while playing alongside Williams.

“If I didn’t get traded I don’t think I would have gotten drafted,” Hobbs said. “I don’t think I could have gone to a better spot than with John Paddock. It’s so perfect for me.”

Hobbs and his father were in the stands at BB&TCenter in Sunrise, Fla., when the Caps called his name, making him their second of three defensemen drafted that day, along with second-rounder Jonas Seigenthaler. When the Caps selected Williams, his 20-year-old defense partner, in the sixth round with the 173rd pick overall, Hobbs was elated.

“I was like, ‘What the heck?’” he said. “I thought it was so cool.”

Williams, who is more of a natural skater and puck mover than Hobbs, had been passed over in two previous NHL drafts and was in the midst of a 7K Spartan race on an Alberta ski slope when the Capitals made him their final pick of the draft.

Two hours later, when he re-established cell service, Williams said he retrieved a text from his agent congratulating him on being drafted, along with a phone message from Hobbs.

“I didn’t really believe it until my agent texted me and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Washington Capital,’ Williams said. “The feeling that came over my body was unbelievable.”

A 6-foot, 195 pounder from Regina, Williams said a lack of consistency had kept him from being drafted as an 18- and 19-year-old, but when Paddock took over for former Pats head coach Malcolm Cameron, Williams said his game turned around.

“I kind of had a rough two years,” said Williams, who recorded a career-high 11 goals, 30 assists and 95 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Pats.

“I had a different coach than I’m used to. He was hard on the guys about playing tough. I’m kind of an opposite player than that. It’s not that I’m not tough, but I play differently than how he wanted me to play. With John, he allowed me to play how I wanted to play and that helped me a lot.”

Paddock used Williams and Hobbs as his top pairing and said he was impressed with the way Williams took Hobbs under his wing.

“I think he epitomizes the kind of defenseman that is emerging more in the league,” Paddock said. “He’s a really good skater and a really smart player. He went from a plus-23 to a plus-45 while playing with a younger partner. I think that speaks volumes about the kind of season he had. He’s a bit of a late bloomer but based on last year I think he has a chance to play in the NHL.”

While Hobbs is ticketed for a return to Regina next season, the Capitals have the option of sending Williams back to Regina for one more season or signing him to his first pro contract and assigning him to AHL Hershey next season.

“I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to that question,” Paddock said. “Either way, it’s a win. If he’s going to play 12 to 20 minutes a night in Hershey that’s where he should be. If not, they know he’ll be with us and he’ll play 20 to 28 minutes a night. I think it will be beneficial either way.”   

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 


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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?


Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses 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: What rookies will have an impact with the Caps next season?

In the team's push for the Stanley Cup the last few years, the Capitals brought in several veterans through free agency and trades to bolster the roster. As a result, there was not much room for the team's prospects. Last season, however, Washington took a very different approach.

Nine rookie players suited up for the Caps for at least one game in the regular season in 2017-18, the most the team has played since the 2013-14 season. Six rookies also played at least one game in the playoffs. Washington dressed zero rookies in the postseason in each of the two years prior. In fact, that is the most rookies Washington has used in a postseason in franchise history. 

To say the Caps won because they used their young prospects more so than before would be a gross oversimplification, but clearly there was value to adding cheap, young, talented players to the lineup.

But by returning virtually the same roster as last season, there will be little room for rookies to make a similar impact in 2018-19.

Here's a projected roster of the Caps' opening night lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd/Travis Boyd - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

Barring injury, there's just not much room there for the young players to break in.

Of the players who still qualify as rookies, the ones to watch are Boyd, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Liam O'Brien, Riley Barber, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov.

The most obvious answer to the question is Boyd. Jay Beagle's departure leaves a spot open at fourth line center and Boyd would be my pick for the most likely player to fill that role.

The addition of Nic Dowd means Boyd may be the only rookie forward to make the team on opening night. Barry Trotz usually kept only one extra forward and defenseman on the roster, but we do not know if Todd Reirden will have a similar outlook. If there is another spot open, Walker, Gerish, O'Brien and Barber will be in the running. I am not sure I see Walker becoming an every day NHL player, but I could see him coming on as a 14th guy since the Caps have a little bit of breathing room under the salary cap. The same does not go for Gersich who has a higher NHL ceiling. Even though he jumped right into the NHL last season, it is much more likely he goes to the AHL this year to take a large role in Hershey rather than to play scattered minutes in Washington.

O'Brien and Barber also make this list because the clock is ticking for them. Both are 24 and both have spent several years in the organization. They need a strong training camp to prove they belong in the NHL or they risk being viewed less as prospects and more as lifetime AHLers.

Like the offense, the defense also seems pretty set. Of the team's defensive prospects, Siegenthaler is probably the most NHL ready, but I have a hard time believing he will supplant any of the seven defensemen in training camp.

And that brings us to Samsonov.

Samsonov will make his North America debut this fall playing in Hershey. Brain MacLellan has been adamant that Samsonov will be starting in the AHL in order to adjust to the North American game. Just how quickly he can adjust, however, may determine if he earns a jump to the NHL at some point next season.

Samsonov is widely seen as Washington's future in net. While there is no reason to rush him, it is not hard to envision him supplanting Pheonix Copley as the backup should Copley struggle. But first, he has to play well in Hershey.

While the Caps look set throughout the roster, injuries always leave open the possibility for a player to get called up and play his way into a full-time role. As of now, however, it looks like there is not much room for the team's rookies this season, other than Boyd.

Other key Caps questions: