Eastern Edge – Capital Opportunities

by Russ on July 11, 2017
John Carlson - USA TODAY Sports Images

 

Last season, Washington was the odds on favourite to win the Stanley Cup, but once again, fell short in the playoffs. The Capitals lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. A case could be made that had Washington won that game seven instead of Pittsburgh, they might have been the ones to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Regardless, it was another disappointin season for the Caps.

Salary cap concerns have forced the Caps to trade Marcus Johansson and not bring back Justin Williams, Karl Alzner or Kevin Shattenkirk in order to re-sign T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov to new contracts. They also lost defenseman Nate Schmidt to the expansion draft.

Their defense took a massive hit this off-season by losing three of their top seven rearguards in Shattenkirk, Alzner and the aforementioned Schmidt. There is a huge opportunity for promotion from within for that number two third-pairing defensemen.

 

 

Alex Ovechkin

 

Ovechkin failed to score at a 50-goal clip for the first time since the 2011-12 season. He had 32 in the 48-game lockout season, which is nearly a 55-goal pace.

I know what you’re all thinking, is Ovechkin done as an elite scorer in the NHL? This was probably a bad season to make that assessment, but yeah, I think it’s obvious that his best days are behind him. He will be 32 years old as the season gets underway, and due to cap concerns, the Caps are a weaker team. Ovechkin has played in 921 regular season NHL games, and with how physical he plays, he’s got some wear and tear on his body.

This is also an Olympic year, and whether he defies the NHL and tries to represent his country, or it simply serves as a distraction, it is likely to affect his performance this season.

 

 

Andre Burakovsky

 

The trading of Marcus Johansson and decision to not bring Williams back gives Burakovsky a huge opportunity at sticking in the top six this year. Dare I say he’s a lock? The 22 year old just signed a two-year, $6 million dollar contract. He will be looking for a breakout season after recording 38 points two seasons ago. Burakovsky also scored a respectable 35 points in only 64 games last year.

Burakovsky should see a nice uptick on the 13:15 of ice time per game he received last year. If he can play his way onto the No. 1 power-play unit, he is certain to set new career highs. The opportunity is there for the taking, let’s see if he can take advantage.

 

 

Brett Connolly

 

As with Burakovsky, Connolly has a legitimate shot at playing with some serious talent. The versatile 25 year old can play both wings and has a real shot to seize a top-six role. For those in salary cap leagues, his $1.5 million dollar cap hit has plenty of bang-for-the-buck potential.

In his two AHL campaigns, he has 120 points in 137 games, but Connoly hasn’t been able to make the same impact in the NHL. He has struggled to stay healthy, so it's probably best not to expect a full season from him even if he finds his way onto a scoring line.

 

 

Tom Wilson

 

Don’t look at Wilson’s penalty minute totals and think he’s simply a goon. That would be a mistake. In his final season of junior, he lit the lamp 23 times, had 58 points and 104 penalty minutes in 48 games. He also scored nine goals and 17 points in 12 playoff games that year. He’s only played in two AHL regular season and three playoff games.

This is a guy who has found a role in the NHL and is playing it the best way he can. There is some untapped offensive potential in Wilson, so if he ever lands on a scoring line, he may surprise.

Wilson’s value lies mostly in roto leagues and he has a realistic shot at 25 points, 150 penalty minutes and 250 hits. There is an outside chance for 35 points, but as the points rise, the penalty minutes tend to decrease.

 

 

Jakub Vrana

 

The 13th overall pick from the 2014 entry draft could steal a top-six spot with a great training camp. Sure, Burakovsky and Connolly have an edge due to their experience, but Vrana has some serious skill and could find his way onto a scoring line.

As a 19 year old in the 2015-16 season, Vrana showed his offensive prowess in the AHL by recording 34 points in 36 games and had another 14 in 26 playoff games. This year, he only had 36 points in 49 AHL games, but was honing his overall game so that he’s not a liability in the NHL.

While Vrana is bit of a dark horse to play in the top six this year, if he finds some chemistry, he could be a steal late in drafts. He projects as a low-risk, high-reward flier.

 

 

John Carlson

 

Carlson had his worst season offensively since 2013-14, when he recorded the same 37 points. In the two previous years, he had 55 points and 39 points in 56 games, which is a 57-point pace. 

With Shattenkirk out of the picture, Carlson will be the go-to defender on the Caps top power-play unit. Look for a return to the 50-point mark this season.

 

 

No.5-6 Defenseman

 

With the exodus of defensemen this off-season, one of Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey or Connor Hobbs could find themselves on an extended audition with the big club this fall. It’s hard to imagine any of them having a large enough fantasy impact to draft in a points-only league, as they would be behind Carlson, Orlov and Matt Niskanen for power-play minutes. However, it's still a situation to dig into.

 

Christian Djoos

His two-way contract turns into a one-way deal after this season. Djoos was the third highest scoring defenseman in the AHL with 58 points in 66 games. Pay attention to whether or not he has put on some weight over the summer, he was listed at just 164 pounds last fall, which is a little light for an NHL rearguard.

 

Madison Bowey

The slick skating 22 year old recorded 17 goals and 60 points in 58 games in his final junior campaign. He followed that up with 19 points in as many playoff games and six points in five Memorial Cup contests.

In his first AHL season, he recorded 29 points in 70 games, and in his second AHL campaign, he scored at a 33-point pace, recording 14 points in 34 games. If he can put it all together at training camp, he might play himself into a full-time gig with Washington.

 

Connor Hobbs

Hobbs was an offensive beast last season in the WHL. He scored an incredible 31 goals and 85 points in 67 games, leading all defenseman in scoring. He also has a bit of an edge to his game, earning 92 penalty minutes. Hobbs finished second to Seattle’s Ethan Bear in playoff scoring amongst WHL defensemen. He will likely need some seasoning and the Caps already have the offensive side covered on the back end with Carlson, Orlov and Niskanen. What they need, first and foremost, is a reliable defensive presence.