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Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament

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Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament

With the Capitals rookies set to complete their four-day camp in Estero, Fla., today with a 10 a.m. game against the Nashville Predators, a handful of players already have made a strong first impression on the Caps’ coaching and management staffs.

Among them:

Jakub Vrana, forward

Whether he can withstand the physical punishment of the North American game remains to be seen, but the 19-year-old Czech has game-breaking speed and hands of gold. He showed both in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second of three games for the Caps rookies.

Taken by the Caps with the 13th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Vrana scored his first goal of the tournament when he raced down an alley-oop pass from defenseman Madison Bowey and scored on Tampa goalie Adam Wilcox for the first goal on Sunday night.

Vrana is a left shot who can play either wing. Bears coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that he’d like to see Vrana use his linemates better and limit his attempts at beating opponents one-on-one. Mann said he saw that on Sunday night.

Connor Hobbs, defense

Taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL draft, Hobbs will play this season in Regina under former NHL head coach John Paddock, but through two games he leads all Caps rookies with two goals. His second came on a second-period slap shot from the point on Sunday night.

Madison Bowey, defense

Considered the Caps’ top defensive prospect, Bowey pick up a goal and an assist against the Lightning, setting up Vrana’s mad dash down the right wing and blasting a power play point shot through Wilcox for his first goal of the tourney.

Bowey, 20, is expected to begin his first pro season in Hershey but if he continues with a strong training camp he could warrant consideration from the Caps.

Caleb Herbert, right wing

Following Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers Mann said he wanted to see more out of Herbert, who was taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft. On Sunday he delivered with a pair of assists on goals by Hobbs and Nathan Walker. Herbert, 23, is expected to begin the season in Hershey but is hoping to establish himself as a reliable AHL callup.

RELATED Could Roy give Caps the depth they need up front?

With a 1-0-1 record the Caps can win the tournament with a win over the Predators on Tuesday morning, a fact thart has not escaped Mann.

“I think it’s important that these guys work on some more things, because ultimately they’re going back to Washington to hang out with the big boys starting on Friday,” Mann told reporters.

“I think it’s important that they continue to work on the system play that (Caps coach Barry Trotz) is going to introduce to them and it’s a little bit of a leg up for them going into training camp where they know the neutral zone forecheck.”

Ovechkin arrives

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who turns 30 on Thursday, has arrived in D.C. and is expected on the ice for today's informal workouts with the Capitals. Free-agent center Derek Roy, 32, is also expected to participate. 

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

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

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss 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: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to CapFriendly.

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