25 important Caps

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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 1 Braden Holtby

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 1 Braden Holtby

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 1 Braden Holtby

A poor postseason had some wondering if it was time for the team to move on from Braden Holtby and turn the starting mantle over to Philipp Grubauer. Here in the rational world, Holtby is still recognized as one of the top netminders in the NHL.

Yes, Holtby did not play well in the playoffs and he will be the first to admit that, but this was the first time Holtby has played poorly in the postseason. Here are some stats for you:

2011-12 playoffs: 14 games played, 1.95 GAA, .935 save percentage
2012-13 playoffs: 7 games played, 2. 22 GAA, .922 save percentage
2014-15 playoffs: 13 games played, 1.71 GAA, .944 save percentage
2015-16 playoffs: 12 games played, 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage
2016-17 playoffs: 13 games played, 2.47 GAA, .909 save percentage

You can see that the 2017 postseason is very much the outlier. Holtby ranks first among active goalies and second all-time in career playoff save percentage with a .932 and second among active goalies with a playoff GAA of 2.00. Anyone who claims Holtby is not "clutch" or that he falls apart in the playoffs is a prisoner of the moment because that is simply not the case.

RELATED: OVECHKIN CONCEDES HE WILL NOT BE PLAYING IN PYEONGCHANG

At 27 years old, Holtby is still very much in his prime and has arguably has been the best goalie in the NHL over the past two years. Not only did he win the Vezina Trophy in 2016, but he was the only goalie to finish as a finalist in each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals lost a lot of players in the offseason. Offensively, the team needs to make up the 60 goals they lost with the departures of Marcus Johansson (24), Justin Williams (24) and Daniel Winnik (12). When a team loses a lot on offense in an offseason, they could enter the season looking to be a more defensive team. The problem for Washington is that they currently only have five defensemen and the two remaining spots will go to either rookies like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey or middling veterans like Jyrki Jokipakka and Aaron Ness. They have questions at both ends of the ice and cannot enter the season looking to rely on their offense or defense to be the stronger part of their game.

If Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky are not enough to make up for the offensive gap and Djoos and Bowey are not ready to step in and be fully dependable NHL players just yet, who will be able to keep this Capitals team playing at a level good enough to reach the postseason despite competing in the best division in hockey? The answer is Holtby.

A good goalie can make up for a lot of roster holes and weaknesses. No, I do not believe the Capitals are destined for the collapse some people foresee, nor do I think they remain as one of the frontrunners to win the Metropolitan. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. What is clear is that for the first time in years, this Washington team enters the season with serious question marks. Holtby can make up for some of those weaknesses if he can keep playing at the level we have become accustomed to in recent years allowing the team to see what it has in its prospects and where the roster needs shoring up.

On any given night, the goaltender is the most important position on the ice and the Capitals have one of if not the best goalie in the NHL. Holtby is important to Washington by the nature of his position and becomes the team's most important player because of just how good he is and because it is the one position on the team in which there are no questions heading into the season.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin
— No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom has been overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin and underappreciated throughout his career despite being an elite franchise-caliber center. Now it is time to give him his due which is why he comes in at No. 2 on the countdown, one spot ahead of the Great 8.

While there is some concern over whether Ovechkin has begun to decline, there is no such doubt over Nicklas Backstrom who continues to play at an elite level. His 86 points last season led the Caps and ranked fourth overall in the NHL. It was his best season since 2009-10 when he scored 101 points.

RELATED:  EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR TRAINING CAMP

In addition to his offensive acumen, Backstrom is a great shutdown forward and has established himself as the team's vocal leader. It was his words in a team meeting after a Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that seemed to boost the team to force seven games after facing a 3-1 series deficit.

Despite being such an important piece to the puzzle, however, Backstrom may not even play on the top line this season. An eight-year,  $62.4 million contract for Evgeny Kuznetsov indicates that the Caps see him as a top-line center as well. The question is whether they see him in that role this year or in the near future. Just where Backstrom and Kuznetsov play is one of the stories to watch throughout training camp.

Regardless of where he plays, however, there is no skater who holds more importance to this team.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin

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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 3 Alex Ovechkin

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 3 Alex Ovechkin

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 3 Alex Ovechkin

Surprised to see Alex Ovechkin at No. 3? No, his production is not going to fall off a cliff. While his 50-goal seasons are likely behind him, I believe he will score more goals than last year and finish in the 35-40 goal range to lead the team. But goals are not the sole determining factor when it comes to gauging a player's importance.

Soon to be 32 years old, Ovechkin is at a crossroads in his career. The mantle of leadership no longer falls squarely on his shoulders. Now there is T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Niskanen and Braden Holtby. Plus, a new core of players is starting to come into their own. Players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky on the offense will be expected to take a bigger role on the offense going forward.

There's been a lot of talk this offseason about the offensive production the Caps lost in the summer—Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson scored a combined 48 goals last season—but notice that no one is talking about how much pressure Ovechkin is under to make up for that loss. Instead, the team will look to players like Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson to start hitting the back of the net and rack up the goals.

It's not just about Ovechkin anymore because it can't be.

Ovechkin is no longer in his prime. Even if he was, that's not enough to win in today's NHL. Not only have the Caps failed to get past the second round of the playoffs in the Ovechkin era, but look at the teams that do win. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not the two-time defending champs because of Sidney Crosby. They are the two-time defending champs because of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang (the first year), Jake Guentzel (the second year), etc.

Ovechkin is still the captain, he will likely still lead the team in goals and will be a very prominent figure in the team's success or lack thereof this season. He comes in third on this list not because his production is about to drop off or because he's no longer a leader on the team, but rather because the Caps will look for more from their other players both offensively and in the locker room. 

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie