Both the expansion draft and the entry draft have come and gone as have the flurry of trades that come with them. Through it all, the Caps find themselves short a top-four defenseman with the loss of Nate Schmidt to Vegas. Schmidt’s departure obviously changes the team’s plans for next season.
In May, I gave a projection of what the Caps’ opening night roster may look like next season. Obviously, things have changed, but just how much?
Here's an updated post drafts lineup projection.
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Marcus Johansson
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Riley Barber – Jay Beagle – Brett Connolly
Extra: Chandler Stephenson
Nothing new here. Whether Oshie would return next season was the biggest question mark. The team answered that question with his new contract that will keep him in Washington for the next eight years.
The question now is how to best organize that lineup?
Connolly’s skillset does not suit the fourth line very well, but Wilson’s strong postseason clearly made an impression. The Caps traded for Tyler Graovac in order to protect an extra forward from the expansion draft because they did not want to leave either Wilson or Eller exposed. That likely means they envision a larger role for Wilson going forward.
The big takeaway from this is that the team has more skilled players than spots in the top nine. Someone is going to get pushed down to the fourth line or perhaps be offered as part of a trade to another team.
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
(Philipp Grubauer trade) – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey
Extra: Taylor Chorney
The loss of Schmidt is a significant one as there is no clear replacement for him on the roster. Prospects Bowey and Christian Djoos will get their shots at training camp, but they are both rookies with no NHL experience. To put both in the lineup and one in the top-four would not be an ideal situation for a team still looking to make the playoffs. The team’s cap constraints, as well as a weak free agent market in terms of defensemen, makes it unlikely the team will sign someone this summer. That makes the most likely scenario a trade.
The expansion draft forced teams to evaluate who on their roster was expendable. Grubauer is the current backup and is not considered to be the team's future starter because of prospect Ilya Samsonov. Grubauer is a trade asset the team could afford to trade away for a top-four blue liner.
But this is a deal that the team needs to pull off sooner rather than later as the number of teams in the market for a goalie is quickly dwindling.
If Grubauer is gone, that would put Copley in line to take over the backup role next season. The clock is ticking for the Caps, however, given that he will soon be an unrestricted free agent and could sign with another team.
MORE CAPITALS: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for Caps
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.