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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

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Jakub Vrana is really trying to not let the pressure get to him

Jakub Vrana is really trying to not let the pressure get to him

There is perhaps no one on the Capitals roster with more on the line in training camp than Jakub Vrana.

Depending on how he performs, Vrana could climb into the team’s top-six or he could fail to make the roster at all and potentially be sent back down to Hershey in the AHL.

RELATED: WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME FEATURES A LOOK AT AN OVECHKIN-KUZNETSOV LINE

For a 21-year-old, it normally would not be an issue if he had to go back to the minors to further develop. As a first-round pick with questions about his focus in the AHL, as well as a clear hole in the top-six, there is a lot of pressure on Vrana's shoulders to prove he’s ready for the big leagues and he knows it.

“If you would think about [the pressure], you would probably kill yourself so I just try to don't think about it,” Vrana said to CSN after Wednesday’s morning skate. 

Vrana will make his preseason debut Wednesday in Montreal. In what could be a preview of the regular season lineup, Vrana will skate on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Barry Trotz stressed that it was important for the player not to read into anything in terms of who he plays with and where, but it is clear there will be a lot on the line for Vrana in Montreal.

“If he plays really well, it doesn't matter who he plays with, he'll make the hockey team,” Trotz said. “If he doesn't play well, then he won't have a chance to make the hockey team.”

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME

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Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov team up for preseason game in Montreal

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov team up for preseason game in Montreal

Two nights after opening the preseason with a loss in New Jersey, the Capitals will make a day trip to Montreal on Wednesday for Game 2 of the exhibition season.

And they’ll ice a completely new group of players.

Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz will have them line up:

Forwards
Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana
Simpson-Stephenson-Smith-Pelly
Connolly-Pilon-Wilson
Sill-Albert-Peluso

Defense
Orpik-Hobbs
Jokipakka-Bowey
Siegenthaler-Williams

Goalies
Grubauer
Copley

RELATED: HOW TO WATCH WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME

A few notes and observations from the skate:

  • The Caps made the first roster move of the preseason Wednesday morning, returning 2014 seventh rounder Kevin Elgestal to HC Vita Hasten. On Monday night in New Jersey, Elgestal got pickpocketed by Devils first overall pick Nico Hischier on Hischier’s nifty goal.
  • Coach Barry Trotz said the first significant round of cuts is coming Thursday, followed by another round over the weekend. The roster currently stands at 39 forwards, 18 defensemen and 7 goalies.
  • The stakes are high Wednesday night for a handful of players who are battling for spots. Among them: Vrana, Smith-Pelly, Peluso up front and Bowey on the backend. Vrana’s getting a look on the top line, Smith-Pelly is coming off his best day of practice on Tuesday, Peluso has looked good so far and Bowey needs a strong showing in the preseason to lock down a spot.
  • Trotz on Peluso, who is vying for the right wing spot on the fourth line: “He’s got pretty good hands for a man that’s known for other qualities. He’s a student of the game, works on his game. I like what he’s done in camp. We’ll see how he does tonight.”
  • Stephenson, a prospect who’s appeared in 13 games for the Caps the past two seasons, is the only player who will have appeared in both of the first two exhibition games. Stephenson can play center and wing. He’s also got to clear waivers in order to be sent to the minors. “He’s got a skillset that is NHL ready,” Trotz said. “Now it’s just can he showcase and be very consistent. If he does and has production, I think his chances are very good.” 
  • After taking a pair of faceoff penalties Monday night, Trotz said the coaches reviewed some video with the centers. There was also discussion about slashing fouls after the Caps were whistled for three infractions in Newark. “Players are really smart, and they will adjust,” Trotz said.

 

MORE CAPITALS: JAY BEAGLE SEES METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF NHL'S FACEOFF EMPHASIS