Caps counting on young defensemen

Caps counting on young defensemen
August 5, 2013, 9:45 am
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Capitals have difficult season ahead

The Capitals have a trio of promising young defensemen in their minor-league system in Dmitry Orlov, Cameron Schilling and Tomas Kundratek. At least one of them should be on the opening night roster on Oct. 1 at Chicago.

Washington has five defensemen on one-way NHL contracts. A sixth, Steve Oleksy, is not – though he played the final 28 games of last season and all seven in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But barring another roster move – a trade for a top-four left defenseman or a free-agent signing – the Caps must fill out their blueline with Orlov, Schilling, Kundratek or Nate Schmidt, an undrafted college free agent. But Schmidt, 22, has just eight games of AHL experience after leaving the University of Minnesota following last season and immediately joining the Hershey Bears.

Orlov, 22, played 60 games in the NHL with the Caps in 2011-12 and has another 80 games in the AHL under his belt. Kundratek played well at times last season when an opening-night injury to Jack Hillen called for his promotion from Hershey. At age 23 he already has 196 AHL games played and has appeared in 30 NHL games with Washington over two seasons.

Schilling, who also wasn’t drafted out of Miami University, has played 86 games for the Bears over two seasons and one game for the Caps. He is also older than the other two, turning 25 a week into the season.

There are no other veterans in front of those three on the organization’s depth chart. Kundratek, who signed a new two-year contract extension with the team last month, actually has a one-way deal in 2013-14. He is guaranteed $550,000 whether he plays in Hershey or in Washington. Next year that dips to $150,000 in the AHL.

Ideally, financial considerations shouldn’t determine who makes a roster. But at the very least they can tip the scales if players are reasonably close in performance during training camp. Orlov remains on his entry-level deal and would make far less ($67,500) in the AHL. Schilling, as an undrafted college free agent, enters the second and final year of his two-year entry-level contract. He, too, would make less money in Hershey ($70,000).

But should one of Orlov or Schilling clearly show well enough in training camp to make the final roster, the Caps always have the option of keeping eight defensemen. That’s usually not an ideal scenario. In the past it has led to awkward situations for players like Steve Eminger and Jeff Schultz, among others. An issue for Schilling would be the team’s depth on the right side of the blueline, where Green, Carlson, Kundratek and Oleksy all play.