Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today, the series continues with the 2016-17 St. Louis Blues.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 Washington Capitals
The 2015-16 season was an exciting season for anyone who considers themselves a Washington Capitals fan. The Capitals won the Eastern Conference, and the Metropolitan Division, by a solid 16 points. The fans also got to watch Braden Holtby stand on his head all season, racking up a 48-9-7 record in 66 starts in the regular season. And on top of those, they saw Alex Ovechkin go for another 50-goal season in which he netted his 525th goal, good for 33rd all-time. And with another few years left in the tank, the Capitals organisation and fans will likely see him continue to move up that list.
Another name the Capitals fans were happy to see added to the roster in the past off-season (before 2015-16 season) was that of T.J. Oshie. In his first season with Washington, Oshie had 26 goals and 51 points, a very solid season to help shore up the depth of the forward lines. Expect to see more of the same from Oshie this season, as he’ll likely play a pivotal role in the undeniable success that this organisation is about to experience yet again.
This off-season hasn’t brought much to be overly excited about, in regards to new names for the upcoming season. In all fairness, the roster currently at the organization’s disposal is a very strong one, and needed little to no upgrades. There was no trades like last summers for Oshie, and likely won’t be anytime soon for the Capitals.
This off-season has consisted mainly of contract extensions, a few minor free agency signings, and the NHL Entry Draft. The contract extensions include the likes of left wing Marcus Johansson and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The free agent signings bring a bit more to talk about, with the Capitals signing goalie Joe Cannata, defenseman Darren Dietz, left wing Christian Thomas, right wing Brett Connolly, and center Brad Malone.
Likely what should’ve brought the most excitement to the fans was the NHL Entry Draft, where the Capitals made some very solid selections. The Capitals used the 28th overall selection on Kelowna Rockets defenseman Lucas Johansen, younger brother of Ryan Johansen. Johansen is an exciting prospect for the future of the Capitals blue line, and getting him at the spot they did is a great choice for the organization.
Along with Johansen, the Capitals used their next choice on another WHL prospect in Garrett Pilon, the center for Kamloops. They then used their fourth round choice on another promising forward in Damien Riat, currently plying his trade in Switzerland with Geneve Servette. The later round choices are all solid ones as well, but are all long-term projects in the opinion of many draft experts, as Riat likely is as well.
Despite the fact that it’s been a relatively quiet off-season for the Capitals, there’s no need to worry, as maintenance is the key for future success in the nations capital. The Capitals have kept what was one of the strongest all-around squads in all of the league last year intact, which should make for some great hockey come next month.
Alexander Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Brad Malone, Stanislev Galiev
If there’s one thing about the Capitals forward lines that’s utterly undeniable, it’s that they’re a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. The combination of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Oshie was utterly impressive, with Oshie being the lowest in point totals last season at 51. And the fact that the second line of Burakovsky, Backstrom, and Johansson saw a combined 154 points, with 54 goals, is reason for optimism as well.
The bottom two lines are extremely solid, in comparison to the rest of the league’s bottom six forwards, for scoring as well. Justin Williams had himself a 52 point season, which is a great scoring output for someone not on the top two lines. As for the additions of Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, they might not be the most prolific scorers of all time, but they bring some great depth to the Washington forward lines.
When you take into account that the only team that scored more goals last season than the Capitals was the Dallas Stars, and then you look at the added depth in the forward lines, you’ll have every reason to believe that the trend is on an upswing. Scoring over three goals per game is an impressive feat over the length of the season, and not a single person should be surprised if the Capitals repeat that feat once again in the 2016-17 season.
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Nate Scmidt
It’s not a common occurrence that you find a team in this day and age with such balance between the offense and defense, but it seems as if though the Capitals have found just that. The Capitals finished in the same spot defensively as they did offensively, finishing second to only the Anaheim Ducks. The solid play on the blue line, added to the stellar play in between the pipes from Holtby, makes for a mixture for a serious cup contender.
Another thing to take into account when talking about the stellar play of the blue liners last season was that the leading scorer is likely a second pairing defenseman for them. In just 56 games last season, Carlson had eight goals and 39 points to his name, a phenomenal output from a blue liner. The top pairing of Niskanen and Alzner aren’t slacks when it comes to scoring either, with 32 and 21 points respectively. These numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but are an added benefit to an already potent offense.
With Schmidt and Orpik anchoring the third pairing of the defense, the depth is yet another thing that Washington can boast about, and the man behind them is likely thankful for. Neither Schmidt nor Orpik will add much offensively, with 16 and 10 points respectively, but are solid defenseman that will do their job just fine on the third pairing.
There are also another two names that are likely to get a bit of ice time this season as well, Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness. Chorney played in 55 games last season for the Capitals in which he had a grand total of six points, but was an efficient defenseman in his own right. As for Ness, he only played in eight games last year for the Capitals, but showed he is a solid defenseman down in the AHL with the Hershey Bears where he had six goals and 27 points in 62 games for the Bears.
The goalie situation is yet another point of security in Washington, a recurring point when looking at the players they have at their disposal. Holtby had an absolutely phenomenal season in which he had a 48-9-7 regular season record, a 2.20 GAA, and a .922 SV%, all great numbers in comparison to starters league-wide. His 48 wins were also good for tying the now 10 year old record set by all-time great Martin Brodeur in the 2006-07 season (in 12 less games played for Holtby), with almost identical numbers to what Holtby had last season.
The man with the relatively cushy job of backing up one of the best in the NHL is that of Philipp Grubauer. In a small simple size of just 16 starts last season Grubauer had an 8-9-1 record, a 2.32 GAA, and a .918 SV%. These are relatively pedestrian numbers from an outside perspective, but he’s shown he can get the job done as a back-up to Holtby, and he even got himself a playoff win last year as well.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Holtby will have another great season, but he may be hard-pressed to have a season like 2015-16, in terms of statistics. As for Grubauer, he’ll probably get around a similar amount of starts, and likely have a very slight improvement in his performances in the back-up role. Yet another reason why the Capitals are many experts pick to win the Stanley Cup.
Players To Watch
This one will likely come off to many as a “well duh” choice in players to watch, but it’s for a good reason. Holtby is coming off the back of one of the best seasons in NHL history for a goalie, and many are wondering whether or not he can replicate, or even improve, the numbers he had last year. The disappointing exit in the playoffs last year will likely serve as fuel to the fire to get things going again this year and it will make for a fun season to see if Holtby can do what many thought he would in 2015-16 and break the record for most single-season wins.
The former 13th overall draft pick for the St. Louis Blues, and former player for the Montreal Canadiens, hasn’t seemed to be able to live up to the hype he had coming into the draft back in 2007. In his six seasons with the Canadiens he only had one season worth bragging about back in 2012-13 in which he had eight goals and 30 points in 46 games. Aside from that blip on the radar, he hasn’t been able to top that point total in seasons of 77 or 79 games. Bringing Eller into the mix in Washington might just be what he needs to revitalize his scoring touch with a much improved supporting cast in Washington than what he had in Montreal. But was Eller just a single-season flash in the pan? The Capitals will be hoping to bring back the Eller of 2012-13.
Players On The Rise
For much of the same reason as stated above, the 27-year old center will be looking to bring back his scoring touch he seemed to shortly find in the 2012-13 season. Due to the fact that Eller is out of the garbage fire better known as the Montreal Canadiens organization, and surrounded by a much more potent offense, look for him to have a solid season on the third line for the Capitals.
Ovechkin makes this list for a much different reason than that of Eller, which is fairly obvious for the fact that he has already achieved superstar status and is most definitely going to be in the Hall of Fame when he chooses to hang up his skates. The reason that Ovechkin is a “player on the rise” is solely in relation to where his name currently lies on the all-time goals list. Ovechkin currently sits 33rd on the list with his 525 career goals, but is only eight back from 32nd-placed Frank Mahovlich. If Ovechkin were to have another 50-goal season this would push him all the way up to 21st on the list, and this isn’t an unrealistic point to look at for the Russian. Look for Ovechkin to, barring any unforeseen circumstances, push his way into the top 25 all-time.
Players On The Decline
There doesn’t seem to be any major contributors currently looking to make the NHL roster for the Capitals that fits this description. All of the lower end players for the Capitals are role players, and they know this and perform their respective roles admirably. For this reason, there really isn’t any players that need to be categorized as “declining”
2016-17 Season Prediction
The least of the worries for the Capitals would be making the playoffs, as with this roster it is almost a shoe-in that they will. The main worry is whether or not they will carry what is likely to be another strong season and push forward to challenge for the Stanley Cup and avoid another disappointing early round upset.
As for the Metropolitan Division, they will almost certainly be in the mix for winning it again this season, and will likely do just that. And seeing as the Metropolitan is a stronger division than the Atlantic Division at this point in time, they’ll likely finish atop the Eastern Conference for the second season running.
Final Prediction: The Capitals will win the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference with relative ease, giving them an easy first-round opponent in the playoffs. The Capitals will win the Eastern Conference and head to the Stanley Cup on the back of stellar play from the likes of Holtby, Ovechkin, and solid team-play. In the end, the Washington Capitals will win the Stanley Cup for their first time ever.