Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caps Players You Need To Know & 2010-2011 Season Predictions

Well, hockey fans, the NHL season is finally here. Tonight marks the start of the NHL 2010 preseason, while the Capitals play their first preseason game tomorrow night in Columbus. Their regular season starts October 8th in Atlanta. Since all of that is so close, and training camp is coming to an end, here's a quick guide to those players who I think will be either on the opening night roster or see major time with the team this season....

Who You Need To Know
A list of players who you need to know and recognize, with some quick info as well.

Karl Alzner, Defenseman, #27
2010-2011 will look to be a big year for 2007 1st round draft pick (5th overall), as he looks to finally crack the Caps roster full time. With the departure of Joe Corvo, Shaone Morrissonn, and Milan Jurcina, that looks like it will definitely be the case. While Alzner has only played 51 games at the NHL level (30 in 08/09 and 21 last season), he has played top minutes in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, often paired with John Carlson. When the pairing played for the Caps in their Game 7 loss versus Montreal last spring, Boudreau and GMGM praised the duo's performance and said they're ready for the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom, Center, #19
The super Swede needs no introduction, and after signing a 10-year contract with the Caps following his 101 point (33g, 68a, 4th most points in the NHL) breakout season, Backstrom looks to continue his development into an elite NHL centre. Quite possibly the most irreplaceable player on the team, Backstrom will continue to play with Oveckin on one of the top forward lines in the NHL.

Matt Bradley, Right Wing, #10
Entering his 6th year with the Caps (and last on his current contract), Bradley will be playing a grinder role on the 4th line once again. Looking to fight less with the acquisition of DJ King this offseason, I hope that Bradley instead continues his clutch goal scoring. 10 goals last season (a career high).... 5 game winners. Impressive.

John Carlson, Defenseman, #74
The Real American Hero, John Carlson looks to play his first full NHL season this year. A year and a half ago, Carlson was playing with the London Knights in the OHL; since then, he's played with Karl Alzner on the Hershey Bears' top defensive pairing, scored the Gold-medal winning goal in OT for the US World Junior team against Canada at the 2010 WJC (hence the "Real American Hero" nickname), scored the game-tying goal for the Caps in Game 2 of the playoffs, and scored the Calder Cup winning goal for the Hershey Bears. As Bruce Boudreau put it, "Glory follows him."

Jason Chimera, Left Wing, #25
A speedy left winger acquired by the Caps last December, Chimera will be starting his first full season with the Caps. Chimera has been playing on a line with Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr during training camp, and the group has been excellent. Look for this to possibly be the Caps 3rd line on opening night, depending on how the preseason goes.

John Erskine, Defenseman, #4
John Erskine is a big, physical defenseman who will likely compete with Tyler Sloan for the 6th defenseman spot on the roster. Entering his 5th season with the Caps, Erskine has played about 50 games each of the last 3 seasons. Look for that to remain the same, barring any injuries.

Eric Fehr, Right Wing, #16
A 1st round choice in 2003, drafted in front of no other that Ryan Getzlaf (yes, Canadian Olympian and top Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf), Eric Fehr has had a multitude of injuries that have kept him from having a full, healthy NHL season (he played a career high 69 games in 09/10). However, with an injury-free offseason this summer, Fehr will look to continue on his breakout season last year, which saw him score 21 goals. More interestingly, however, is how much he scored with what little playing time he got... according to my lovely Caps 2010-2011 Media Guide, only 3 NHLers scored more goals per 60 minutes of hockey than Eric Fehr: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Sidney Crosby. Impressive group. It will be interesting to see that, if Fehr gets more ice time, whether his goal total go up with it. After signing a very reasonable contract over the summer (slightly over 2 million per year for 2 years), Caps fans certainly hope so!

Tomas Fleischmann, Center/Left Wing, #14
The Caps have big plans for Tomas Fleischmann this upcoming season, as he will likely start out playing as their second-line center (flanked by Alex Semin and Brooks Laich on the wings). The 2C is a crucial position for any NHL team, and GMGM as well as Boudreau have put a lot of faith in Flash. While it will be his job to loose, the red-haired Czech (acquired in a 2004 trade involving Robert Lang) will have both Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson waiting for their shot at 2C. After having career-highs in almost every category last season (same as most of the Caps), Flash will look to continue his development.

Boyd Gordon, Center/Right Wing, #15
Despite being only 26 (turning 27 in October), Boyd Gordon is the longest tenured Caps player, having been with the team since the 2003-2004 season. Drafted only a handful of picks after Alex Semin, Gordo is a 4th liner for the Caps. Injuries and being scratched resulted in him playing only 36 games last season, but Gordo looks to put that behind and claim the fourth line center position as his own, from the likes of Dave Steckel and numerous Hershey forwards.

Mike Green, Defenseman, #52
Love him or hate him, Mike Green is a crucial part of the Caps' team. The PP quarterback and top defenseman, Mike Green is easily the best offensive defenseman there is today (Caps Media Guide Fun Fact: Mike Green's 76 points would have led 20 NHL clubs in scoring), Green has often been criticized for his defensive play. Despite having good defensive statistics as well last season, Green still was a runner up for the Norris trophy this season, loosing to Duncan Keith after loosing to Zdeno Chara last season. Green looks to prove his is an elite NHL defenseman on both ends of the ice this season, as well as keep his game together in the playoffs. With the addition of players like John Carlson, Green hopefully won't be quite as crucial for this team, allowing him to rest a bit more, as opposed to playing almost half an hour some nights, as he did last season.

Marcus Johansson, Center, #90
MoJo was drafted in the first round (24th overall) of the 2009 NHL draft, and has been playing in the Swedish Elite League since then. However, he has made the jump to North America this offseason, signing an entry level contract with the Caps. Johansson has been praised by the management for his vision and skating abilities, and will look to be a contender for the 2nd and 3rd line center positions and the season progresses. While he may not claim either position this year, Johansson will be a big part of the Caps' future down the middle.

DJ King, Left Wing, #17
DJ King was acquired in a trade this offseason to provide grit for the Caps forwards. Primarily a fighter, King will probably be scratched most nights, but will provide a element to the Caps roster that has been lacking since 2008-2009.

Mike Knuble, Right Wing, #22
Mike Knuble, the most veteran player on the Caps roster and, to my knowledge, the only one with a Stanley Cup ring, will have his 2nd season with the team. Knuble scores most of his goals of rebounds less than a foot or two from the net, and, even as his age increases (he's already 38), his effectiveness will likely remain consistent. With 29 goals in 69 games last season, Knuble will look to break the 30 goal mark for the 3rd time in his career this season.

Brooks Laich, Center/Left Wing, #21
Brooks Laich, fan favorite and tire-changer extraordinaire, will enter his 6th season with the Capitals. Though he is listed as a center, Laich will play most of his time on the 2nd line at the wing. A grinder, Laich has increased his goals and points total each and every season, with 59 last year. Laich will hopefully sign a contract extension some time this season, as his current contract is set to expire.

Michal Neuvirth, Goaltender, #30
Neuvy has played the last 2 seasons primarily in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, leading them to consecutive Calder Cup championships. With nothing left to prove in the AHL, Neuvirth will play with Varlamov as a goaltending tandem this season, in what will likely be a season-long battle to determine the playoff starting goalie. While Varly is the more athletic of the two, Neuvirth has better positioning. Drafted mere picks away from each other in 2006, neither has a clear advantage over the other, and their fight for supremacy in net should not only be interesting to watch, but beneficial for the team as well.

Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing, #8
Capitan, leading scorer, and Russian Machine.... last season, with 50 goals, 59 assists, 109 points, and a Ted Lindsay award for best player as voted by his peers, was a "mediocre" season for Ovechkin. Only the 4th player ever to score 50 goals in 4 of his first 5 seasons (Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux being the other 4), as well as the 6th player to have 4 100 point seasons in their first 5 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuck, Peter Stastny, and Crosby being the others), it's scary to think Ovechkin will only get better. After coming in 2nd in league scoring despite missing 10 games, Ovechkin will likely once again dominate league scoring. Caps fans expect nothing less. Also, since becoming captain, the Capitals had a ridiculous record in the second half of the regular season, with 30 wins and around 11 losses. Should that continue (warning: it probably won't), the Caps might have an even better season this year that last year (regular season wise).... and last year they scored 121 points. It's stunning that I can even suggest a 60 win season for the Caps, but who knows.... it's definitely possible.

Mathieu Perreault, Center, #85
Standing only 5'10" and weighing only 182 pounds, Mathieu Perreault is not a large player. However, he is a speedy little center who hopes to use his skills to his advantage as he competes for a 2nd/3rd line center position this season. Based on his performance with Fehr and Chimera in training camp, it's entirely likely that he will be on the opening night roster... quite an accomplishment for a 6th round draft pick.

Tom Poti, Defenseman, #3
The other veteran on this team, along with Knuble, Poti has just signed a 2 year contract extension that will keep him in DC until the end of the 2012-2013 season. Poti once was a premier offensive defenseman, but now is more of an all-round player. He'll get time on the 2nd or 3rd defensive pairing this season, and will continue to provide a needed veteran presence on the blueline.

Jeff Schultz, Defenseman, #55
Mr. Nasty is not a flash player. He is not super offensive. He is not super physical. What he is, however, is a solid defenseman, and one who signed a 4 year contract this offseason. Schultz will likely continue to be paired with Mike Green, allowing Green to remain offensive while Schultz takes care of things in the back end. Schultz had a 55 +/- rating last season, good for #1 in the NHL.

Alexander Semin, Right Wing/Left Wing, #28
Semin is a maddening player, as he has the skill set to lead the NHL in goal scoring but not the consistency. What he is, however, is a perfect secondary offensive weapon for the Caps. He doesn't do many interviews, and he doesn't speak English (publicly, at least), but he can put the puck in the net; to the tune of 40 goals in 73 games. After breaking the 40 goal line for the first time last season, Sasha will look to continue improving and remaining consistent, so that he remains in this team's long-term plans.

Tyler Sloan, Defenseman, #89
Tyler Sloan will compete with Erskine for the 6th defenseman spot. An undrafted free agent signing who appeared destined for a career in the AHL and ECHL, Sloan has played 66 games in the NHL so far (all for the Caps). While he isn't an every night player, Sloan is adequate until GMGM hopefully finds another defenseman.

David Steckel, Center, #39
Steckel will be in year 2 of his 3 year contract, and will continue to play on the fourth line in a grinder role for the Caps. Steckel is a faceoff specialist, but is not know for scoring. Not much else to say really.

Semyon Varlamov, Goaltender, #1
The Russian sensation for the Caps in net during the 2009 playoffs, Varlamov was off to a great start last season before getting injured (and only ending up playing 26 games). Varlamov, after changing the spelling of his first name during the 2009 offseason, has switched his number to #1 this offseason. Though he has played with this number before, it could also be a hint to Neuvirth showing, literally and perhaps figuratively, who the number 1 really is in DC. Varlamov will compete with Neuvy in a battle for the 1 goalie spot, and it should be quite interesting to watch.

Quick Musings of a Caps Fan Predictions
 - Ovechkin will score 50+ goals this season.
 - Backstrom will once again have 100+ points.
 - Semyon Varlamov will have 30 wins, and Neuvirth will come close.
 - Fleischmann, Johansson, and Perreault will all get time at the 2nd line center position.
 - Eric Fehr will get more playing time and ramp up his goal scoring even more.
 - Carlson will be a contender for the Calder trophy (Rookie of the Year).
 - The Caps will win the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference.
 - Mike Green will finally win a Norris trophy.
 - GMGM will make some move at the trade deadline.

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