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Barry Trotz makes clear Nate Schmidt remains the Caps’ No. 7 defenseman

Barry Trotz makes clear Nate Schmidt remains the Caps’ No. 7 defenseman

Nate Schmidt made Barry Trotz’s lineup decision tougher with his recent play, but not tough enough to stay in the lineup.

After serving a two-game suspension, Kevin Shattenkirk will play in Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators. That was not unexpected, but Trotz did hint after Tuesday’s game that perhaps Schmidt could stay in the lineup saying, “We do have a little bit of an interesting scenario here. [Schmidt] stepped in and is making our decisions tougher.”

As the team took to the ice for morning skate Thursday, however, the pairs returned to what they were before Shattenkirk’s suspension.

Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk

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Following the skate, Trotz made very clear the team’s defensive depth chart.

“Our top six are what you're going to see tonight. That's our top six. Nate is seven and what I said is he played very well and made some decisions tougher. And that's his job as a player. He's in that seven hole and that's perfect.”

The Caps snapped a four-game losing streak on Tuesday with a win over the Minnesota Wild in a game in which Nate Schmidt scored. With the Caps back in the win column, some wondered if that meant Schmdit may get another game in Shattenkirk’s place.

But that was never going to happen.

The Caps showed what bringing left-right balance to each defensive pairs meant to them by trading Zach Sanford, a first-round pick and a conditional pick in order to acquire Shattenkirk. That made it unlikely that Schmidt, a left-handed shot, would stay in the lineup over Shattenkirk, a right-handed shot.

“When you make trades you make yourself deeper,” Trotz said. “[Genearl manager Brian MacLellan] did that to make us deeper and give us a better chance and Nate has been in that sort of six hole all year. Shattenkirk, we didn't get him to be the seventh. Those are our six and [Schmidt’s] seventh.”

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Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

CHICAGO—The Capitals tried to move up a couple of times on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, but those deals did not materialize.

Instead, GM Brian MacLellan and his staff used the four picks they began the day with...and continued a trend the organization has established in recent drafts: selecting defensemen.

In fact, three of the players the Caps drafted Saturday at United Center were blue liners—Switzerland’s Tobias Geisser in the fourth round, Sweden’s Sebastian Walfridsson in the fifth and Minnesota high schooler Benton Maass in the sixth. (Winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen was the team’s seventh round pick.) Going back to last year's draft, Maass' selection marked five straight defensemen drafted by the Caps.

“It’s not a conscious effort,” MacLellan said of using three of the team’s four picks on defenseman. “The philosophy has been to take the best player available and our amateur staff liked these guys here today.”

Assistant General Manager Ross Mahoney added: “It comes down to taking the best player that was available to us, and there happened to be defensemen that we liked that were still on the board, so we took them.”

Conscious or not, the trend is tough to ignore.

Dating to the 2015 draft, the Capitals have chosen defensemen with nine of their 15 picks during that span. Among them are highly regarded prospects Lucas Johansen (first round in 2016), Jonas Siegenthaler (second round in 2015) and Connor Hobbs (fifth round in 2015). 

Mahoney acknowledged that have a surplus of blue liners in the pipeline can be a good problem to have.

“It is for sure,” he said. “Teams are always looking for defensemen. There’s no problem having extra defensemen in the farm system.”

Mahoney also said that as the game gets faster, finding and developing smart, puck-moving rearguards will become even more critical.

“You want your defensemen to be able to skate and have good sense and be able to make quick decisions because the game is so fast now,” he said. “The forwards get on the defense really quickly, so you want to make sure you get guys that can skate and move the puck well.”

None of the Caps’ draftees were in attendance. It was unclear as of Saturday afternoon if any of them will attend next week’s development camp at Arlington.

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Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup. 

“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. 

“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”

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Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.

“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”

The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.

“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”

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