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Prospect report: Nathan Walker out four-to-six weeks with broken hand

Prospect report: Nathan Walker out four-to-six weeks with broken hand

Hershey update: 21-13-7-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-0-0-1

After a rough month, the Hershey Bears tried to end January on a high note with three points in two games. But there was some bad news as well as Nathan Walker suffered a broken hand that will keep him out for the next four-to-six weeks.

Walker broke his hand blocking a shot in the Bears’ win on Saturday over Springfield. The injury comes at an inopportune time not just for the team, but for him as well. When talking about bringing prospects in from Hershey on Monday, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz brought Walker’s name up specifically.

“Nathan Walker was a name that we were thinking about bringing up and he got hurt this weekend so he’ll be eliminated there for a little bit.”

While the NHL was enjoying its All-Star weekend, the AHL held its All-Star festivities as well. Travis Boyd scored two goals and one assist in the 3-on-3 tournament as the Atlantic Division fell in the championship game.

Following the NHL All-Star break, the Caps recalled defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson. The callup was the first NHL callup for Djoos who, as Trotz said, was being rewarded for good play.

With the Bears off for the AHL break, the time allowed the Caps to get a closer look at Djoos. He may not have gotten into a game, but he did get some valuable practice time at the NHL level.

Stephenson, meanwhile, played in his third NHL game this season on Wednesday in place of an injured Justin Williams. He was reassigned to Hershey on Thursday, but with the Caps playing in Montreal on Saturday, it is likely the team will make another call up for an extra body on Friday.

Scott Murray, the associate goaltending coach for Hershey, spoke to the Lebanon Daily News about the Bears’ goalie tandem this season including prospect Vitek Vanecek:

There’s always room for improvement, regardless of how young or old a goalie is, but if you look at last year Vitek exceeded expectations with South Carolina. We didn’t want to rush him so if he needed to go back there again that’s what would have happened but he earned himself a spot here. So far this year he has exceeded expectations again, is pushing the envelope, and that’s a good trend for him.

As a high pick it isn’t always easy to do that. The ultimate goal for anybody in that position is to prove himself as fast as possible, without rushing it, so he can be an option to give us great minutes but also be available to do the same thing for Washington quicker than was in the original plans.

Coach Troy Mann does an unbelievable job of setting up how we protect our goalies but when we needed them to come up with the big saves, Vitek has really done that to keep things going in our favor or holding the fort. He’s done a really good job of finding those saves to help us turn things around.

Vanecek made 37 saves on 39 shots on Friday in the team’s shootout loss to Providence.

RELATED: Trotz calls Backstrom one of the best passers ever

Other prospect notes:

Buzz is starting to grow as the NHL trade deadline nears. While everyone focuses on the big NHL names that could be on the move, there are always some prospects added to trade deals as teams shop around young players as trade bait. Ross Sellers provided an interesting trade scenario on the Mile High Sticking blog between the Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche are clear sellers at the deadline which means a player like Jarome Iginla will be on the market. Sellers posits Washington as a possible trade partner because the team could use a leader like Iginla given its recent history of playoff struggles. The most interesting part is what he thinks Colorado could get in return.

Unfortunately, the Capitals are also right up against the salary cap, and would probably need the Avs to take a player like Daniel Winnik or Lars Eller home with them.

If the Avs do end up taking on a contract like that, then they can ask for more in return from the Capitals.

The Avs could possibly ask for a 2nd round draft pick, and a middle level prospect like Jonas Siegenthaler, especially if they throw in a fourth round draft pick themselves.

First off, you can take Lars Eller off the table given Washington acquired him in the offseason specifically for depth scoring in a playoff run. No way the Caps break up the third line and trade away a player they targeted to help them in the postseason.

As for Siegenthaler, keep in mind that this is a player the team traded up to get in the 2015 draft. When I say the team, I don’t mean George McPhee, I mean Brian MacLellan, the current general manager. He saw something in Siegenthaler that made him trade into the second round to get him.

Could the team have soured on Siegenthaler since? Sure. He struggled in his first stint in Hershey last season and dealt with personal issues in training camp that made it hard to really evaluate where he was in his development. But Siegenthaler’s stock should be high again after a tremendous performance in the World Juniors tournament. To think MacLellan would be interested in shopping around a second-round pikc like Siegenthaler now at the deadline seems unlikely.

Tim McGauley’s second professional goal was a big one as he scored the overtime winner on Saturday to lift South Carolina over Florida.

Other big performers this week were Beck Malenstyn who scored three goals for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) and Chase Priskie who scored twice in Quinnipiac's win over Arizona State on Friday. Connor Hobbs had one goal and two assists including a game-winning one-timer with just 24 seconds remaining to lead Regina over Moose Jaw on Wednesday.

Finally, forward Brian Pinho sat down for a video segment on “This Week in Friars Hockey” in which he talks about being a team leader as a junior and he gives his Super Bowl prediction.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps struggle to diagnose the problem with the PK

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

The Capitals have made another significant round of cuts, reassigning 16 players to AHL Hershey and releasing another.

Among the players headed to the Bears are: forwards John Albert, Mathias Bau, Chris Bourque, Dustin Gazley, Hampus Gustafsson, Tim McGauley, Garrett Mitchell, Mason Mitchell and Wayne Simpson; defensemen Kristofers Bindulis, Connor Hobbs, Tommy Hughes, Lucas Johansen, Hubert Labrie; and goalies Adam Carlson and Vitek Vanecek.

The club also released forward Stephen Collins.

The highest profile cuts were Johansen, the team's first round pick in 2016, and Hobbs. The Caps have high hopes for the young blue liners, but it’s obvious both will benefit from some seasoning in the minor leagues as they make the leap from junior to the pro ranks.

Hershey’s training opens on Monday.

After taking Sunday off, the Caps will return to practice on Monday with a roster of 36 players—and three preseason games left to sort out the position battles.  

Forwards Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker are left battling for the three available jobs up front.

Meanwhile, defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Jyrki Jokipakka, Tyler Lewington, Aaron Ness, Jonas Siegenthaler and Colby Williams are competing for the two open spots on the backend.

Although some players, such as Chiasson and Walker, have already begun to separate themselves from the others, you can expect the competition to intensify over the next week. The Caps host the Devils on Wednesday, then play at the Hurricanes on Friday and at the Blues on Sunday.

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.

At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.

"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."

Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?

RELATED: CHIASSON, WALKER MAKE THEIR CASE TO MAKE THE TEAM

Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.

"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."

That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.

That would be just fine with Beagle.

"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."

At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.

"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."

With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON SUSPENDED 2 PRESEASON GAMES