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There's a spot on the Caps' blue line waiting for Madison Bowey. Will he seize it?

There's a spot on the Caps' blue line waiting for Madison Bowey. Will he seize it?

As the battle for the two open jobs on the Capitals’ blue line intensifies, one guy you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on is Madison Bowey.

His ankle is 100-percent.

He dropped a dozen pounds over the summer in an effort to get quicker.

He’s also as determined as he’s ever been.

“You have that extra motivation because you know [that] this year there’s a chance it’ll be your year,” said Bowey, who is expected to make his preseason debut Wednesday night in Montreal. “This year is my best opportunity.”

Indeed, it is.

RELATED: WHO IMPRESSED IN THE CAPS' PRESEASON OPENER?

Bowey might have made his NHL debut a year ago, but a gruesome ankle injury caused by an opponent’s skate blade sidelined him from late December him until mid-March. A week after the 2013 second round pick returned to the Bears’ lineup, he took a puck off the face, suffering two small fractures near his orbital bone in the process.

“Wearing a fishbowl a week after you just got back [from being out] three months was tough,” he cracked.

It wasn’t a completely lost season, though.

“It was the [second round] playoffs series against Providence when I really felt like myself again,” he said. “It was tough. I came back [in the regular season] and felt good and then I started kinda feeling it again. But in that Providence series, I really felt like that was my best, that I was getting back to my game. It was our last series and I ended off on a good note and I felt really good about my game heading onto the offseason.”

Bowey also entered the offseason knowing that he had some serious work to do in order to get his ankle back to 100-percent.

“Injuries happen,” he said. “Obviously, it’s what you do after that injury and how you bounce back. This summer was huge for me in that regard. I really got three months of hard training on and off the ice and I think that went a long way for me. I feel great.”

In addition to rehabbing the ankle, Bowey skated regularly with fellow Winnipeg residents Cody Eakin, Eric Fehr, Jonathan Toews and Travis Hamonic, among others.

Bowey also focused on dropping some excess body fat. Although he already considered himself nutrition conscious, he managed to lose a dozen pounds by cutting carbs and giving up ice cream.

As a result, he’s now listed at 6-2, 198.

“I felt 210 [pounds] was too much for my legs to handle,” Bowey said. “I feel a lot better on the ice and more explosive. I feel more mobile for sure. My cardio is way better than it was a year ago. I can skate well, and that’s huge in this league. Right now you can see the teams that are successful, their ‘D’ are mobile, they like to join the rush and contribute offense.”

He added: “There are two spots open and there’s a lot of great guys competing for it. I feel really confident in myself right now going into the preseason. It’s up to me to really just focus on the little things that I do right and not try to do too much and make sure I know when to pick my spots when the time is right. Hopefully I can help contribute to this team this year.”

One doesn’t have to look very hard to find a spot for Bowey in the lineup. As a right shot, he could fit very nicely on the third pairing alongside Brooks Orpik, a 15-year veteran who could also serve as a mentor for the 22-year-old.

Bowey has put himself in position but it’s no slam dunk that he'll make the opening night roster. He doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, the competition is stiff and Coach Barry Trotz is still waiting to see if he's able to put it all together.

“Probably like all of the defensemen, he’s had some really good moments and he’s had some moments of uncertainty or not so good moments,” Trotz said. “Tomorrow he’ll get an opportunity to be in a game and show what he can do. That’s really what separates everything. He practices well. He moves well. He’s got the skillset to do the right things. But can he make the strength and the skill and the skating translate into productive play in an NHL game? That’s the next step for Madison.” 

MORE CAPITALS: NESS' SKATING ABILITY GIVES HIM A CHANCE TO EARN A SPOT IN THE LINEUP

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Christian Djoos has added a few pounds, hopes to gain a bit more as Caps camp nears

Christian Djoos has added a few pounds, hopes to gain a bit more as Caps camp nears

Christian Djoos hit the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Friday morning, joining about a dozen veterans and prospects for the team’s informal practices.

Although training camp doesn’t begin until Sept. 15, players have been trickling back into town in recent weeks for a variety of reasons. Djoos’ reason for showing up early isn’t a hard one to figure out: The opportunity of lifetime is in front of him, and he wants to make sure he’s as prepared as possible.

“It’s a good chance for us,” he said, referring to all of the youngsters who'll be angling for an NHL job later this month. “We just got to make the best of it and take the chance. This year there's a bigger chance for us to play. We're happy about that.”

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When Djoos arrived a year ago, the Caps did not have an opening on the blue line. This year there’s a couple of ‘Help Wanted’ signs, if you count the spare, and Djoos has as good a chance as any prospect of earning a full-time job.

“I’m going to come ready to camp and see what happens,” the soft spoken Swede said after the 75-minute session, which included Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Jonas Siegenthaler, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, Vitek Vanecek and Devils’ forward Marcus Johansson.

No one questions Djoos’ skill or ability to produce points from the backend. In fact, he ranked third in the AHL in points by a defenseman last season, racking up 58 (13 goals, 45 assists) in just 66 games.

What no one knows about Djoos, however, is whether his body can stand up to the rigors of the NHL.

Djoos was listed by the Caps last season at 6-0, 164 pounds. He told reporters on Friday that he’s bulked up to 168 pounds and hopes to continue to add weight in the coming weeks. To put that into perspective, consider this: Even if he got up to 170, that would still leave him as the lightest defenseman on the roster…by a lot. Taylor Chorney was the lightest last year at 191.

“For sure, I need to get bigger,” he said. “We’re working on it every day here in the gym and back home over the summer. It feels good, getting bigger and stronger.”

The Capitals have him on a high calorie diet that requires him to eat much more than other players.

“You just got to eat everything almost,” he said. “Not the bad stuff but you gotta eat all the time. Just trying to do that every day.”

He then cracked: “I just got to keep eating, keep eating, work out, then maybe one day just explode and gain some pounds.”

Djoos said he’s learned to compensate for his slight build while playing in Hershey the past two years.   

“You kind of have to, especially over here with the smaller rink,” he said dodging big hits. “It’s faster. You got to move your head, look over your shoulder all the time. Of course, you get hit sometimes [but] that’s part of the game.”

Where exactly Djoos fits into the Caps’ plans is TBD. But considering the season he had last year, the team’s need to replace a puck-moving defenseman and the fact that he’d need to clear waivers in order to return to Hershey, there’s a good chance he’ll at least start the season in Washington.

“They want to see me keep playing the game as I did in Hershey,” Djoos said, asked what the coaching staff has told him. “Move the puck good. Good first pass. And still do what we’re going to do in the defensive zone, too. Just got to do the same things and step up a little bit, be a little bit better.”

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 19 Nathan Walker

The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 19 Nathan Walker

WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN WALKER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.

Some 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. 

RELATED: CAPITALS' 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Today’s player: No. 19 Nathan Walker.

Walker was drafted by the Caps in the third round, No. 89 overall, in 2014.

In some organizations, he may have already made his NHL debut. But the Caps weren't just some organization in recent years as they spared no expense to pursue a Stanley Cup. In addition to boasting a deep roster of productive vets, Washington also managed to avoid a spate of injuries that would have necessitated multiple call-ups simultaneously.

As a result, Walker, like a handful of other prospects in Hershey, saw his upward mobility stymied.

Well, that’s about to change for the 23-year-old, who’s aiming to become the first Australian to reach the NHL.

When training camp begins in mid-September, Walker will have the opportunity to earn a job on the fourth line, perhaps the left wing spot vacated by Daniel Winnik, who remains a free agent. The right wing job on Jay Beagle’s line also figures to be up for grabs.  

RELATED: WHAT ROLE CAN WALKER CARVE OUT WITH THE CAPS?

Walker is small, listed at 5-8 and 180 pounds or so. He’s quick, feisty, solid positionally and unafraid to mix it up with bigger opponents. Two years ago, he also showed some offensive upside by amassing 17 goals and 24 assists in Hershey.

In an effort to give himself every advantage next month, Walker traveled this week from Sydney to Arlington, Va., so that he could participate in the team’s informal pre-camp practices.

He's among the first prospects to get into town, joining Jonas Siegenthaler and Vitek Vanecek as well as veterans John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

Will Walker claim a spot?

That’s not totally clear; the competition will be stiff. Other prospects like Chandler Stephenson, Liam O’Brien and Travis Boyd are going to be in the mix, as will a veteran like Devante Smith-Pelly and potentially others.

What Walker can be certain about is this: unlike previous years, he’s now got a letgit chance. And for a well-regarded prospect who’s got to clear waivers in order to be demoted, it appears to be a very good one.

“It’s pretty big,” Walker told me recently.

“But at the end of the day, I’ve got to grind it out. I’ve got to push for that spot. I've been [in Hershey] for four years now, so hopefully I can prove a point and get my chance up here.”

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPTIALS' MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS

— 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