As the instructional portion of Washington Capitals developmental camp blurs into three straight days of intrasquad scrimmages, Coach Barry Trotz has already begun preparations for training camp, two months down the road.
“It’s pretty well done,” he said Wednesday, “but we want to go through it and talk it through. Numbers create how you’re going to have training camp.”
By that, Trotz means determining exactly how many of the prospects at the practice facility this week will be invited back this September, how to divide those players and where to play them during preseason games. In Nashville last season, the Predators opened training camp with 60 players; the Capitals had 70.
“If we decide to go into, say, a three-group training camp, then we’ll need some numbers. If we go into a smaller-group training camp, then we do that,” Trotz said. “We also have a lot more games than I’m probably used to where I come from. That will impact how we make our cuts, who’s going to play the games.”
With eight preseason games from Sept. 21 to Oct. 5, Trotz said he expects the veterans to log five games, if healthy. Before developmental camp breaks on Saturday, the Capitals expect to have a sketch of pairings and lineups outlined, available to tweak if necessary based on injury, like the fractured left fibula suffered recently by Tom Wilson.
After 17 seasons in Nashville, Trotz came to Washington faced with an entire organization to learn, one playing in the opposite conference as the Predators, in a few busy months. On one side, stocking training camp with as many bodies as possible would allow Trotz to immerse himself among those relevant for the upcoming season. But a smaller, more intimate roster could help him get to know the Capitals faster.
“I want to develop a sort of player profile on each guy so we can give players direction,” he said. You don’t just want to say a player has to get faster. Well, what does that mean? That’s pretty general. I think I want to give you a plan for how you need to get faster and be very specific on that.”
According to CapGeek, the organization has 44 players under contract , six shy of the 50-man limit, leaving plenty of room for unsigned picks, players on AHL-only contracts, tryout agreements or free agent deals to come, should Trotz head that route. Last season, seven players currently at developmental camp participated in training camp with the Capitals: Andre Burakovsky, Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey, Chandler Stephenson, Michal Cajkovsky, Garrett Haar and Tyler Lewington. Burakovsky, the fast-rising forward who spent last season with the OHL’s Erie Otters, holds the best chance out of rookie campers to crack the Capitals’ roster this season, though a host of others – such as Walker, Stephenson and Riley Barber, among others — should find themselves in consideration for spots in Hershey.
“If they don’t make the hockey club for instance, being in Hershey and playing huge minutes in important situations, I’ve never known a player not to get better,” Trotz said, speaking specifically about defensemen, though the sentiment can be applied more broadly as well. “That’s the worst-case scenario that happens to those players. That’s not a bad worst-case to be in a great organization with Hershey and the facilities they have.”