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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 4 T.J. Oshie

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 4 T.J. Oshie

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. 4 T.J. Oshie

Brian MacLellan had a tough choice at the end of the season. With several key players on expiring contracts and the team facing a serious cap crunch, who if anyone would the team try to re-sign? Coming off a season in which he was tied for the team lead with 33 goals despite playing in only 68 games, Oshie was poised to be one of the most sought after free agents this summer. But even if MacLellan wanted him, could he even afford to re-sign him?

The answer was a resound...sort of. Oshie did indeed re-sign with Washington and at a fairly modest cap hit of $5.75 million, but it took an eight-year deal to get him which is a steep price for a player already 30 years old. Whether the team ends up regretting that contract in the later years of the deal remains to be seen, but the good news is the Caps get one of their top playmakers back in the lineup for this season.

Oshie's 33 goals last season were a career-high. It was the first time since 2004 that Alex Ovechkin was not the team's sole leader in goals. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Capitals lost a lot of goal production in the offseason and will need Oshie to continue to produce at the same level he did last year.

We have talked a lot in this countdown about players the Caps are hoping can help make up for the 48 goals they lost from their lineup with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams' departure. That number, however, assumes Oshie is still scoring 30+ goals. Last season was the first and only time Oshie has managed to pass the 30-goal mark in his career. His previous career high was 26 which he set in his first year in Washington.

Clearly, Oshie has thrived with the Caps, but the team is still asking a player who is about to turn 31 to continue producing at a career-high level.

But Oshie's impact is about more than just numbers.

Prior to the injury problems he faced last season, Oshie was the team's MVP. He was an emotional leader on the ice and someone the team could count on to give 100-percent on each and every shift. For a team with young prospects, Oshie is the kind of person a coach can point to and tell his prospects that is the level of effort that is expected each and every night.

Oshie was a player MacLellan determined the team could not afford to lose this offseason. Whether the contract haunts them is a question for the future. For now, the Caps need Oshie to keep playing at the elite level he has played in his first two seasons in Washington.

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

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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