With Nicklas Backstrom’s continued absence from the lineup because of a concussion, there is a noticeable lack of depth down the middle of the Capitals’ lineup.
While Washington has defensive-minded centers in Brooks Laich and Jeff Halpern, a top-unit option in Marcus Johansson, an energy boost in Mathieu Perreault and utility-man Matt Hendricks occasionally serving as a pivot, none can truly fill the void left with Backstrom out.
He was the Capitals’ best player before Rene Bourque elbowed his head, causing the concussion, and remains the team’s leading scorer despite having missed a month. Given that Backstrom has skated for only five minutes over the past 28 days and there is no sign when he might be able to begin a return, Washington must find a way to get by.
So in an effort to provide a boost and an offensive mindset at center, the Capitals recalled veteran AHLer Keith Aucoin. The 33-year-old Massachusetts native said he was a bit surprised when he got the call, but given his playmaking ability and nose for putting points on the board Aucoin could be a temporary fit.
“You never know when it’s going to happen, but you’re having a really good year down there you hope that you might have a chance to get called up,” Aucoin said. “They called me in the office [in Hershey], there were three meetings going on because we had a couple trades. It was surprising news but it was nice.”
Aucoin currently leads the AHL in scoring with 70 points (11 goals, 59 assists), which includes 38 points (6 goals, 32 assists) on the power play.
“We need more playmaking centermen,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “With Nicky out it makes a big hole so we’ve got to do it by a combination of a bunch of guys. That’s why he got called up.”
Aucoin has been having another stellar season in the AHL and recently participated in his fourth all star game. This is the seventh season he’s recorded at least 70 points and he is 13 assists shy of tying his career high for assists in a single season. The 5 foot 8, 171 pound Aucoin hasn’t been able to stick in the NHL, however, with only 75 games over the course of six seasons.
The biggest challenge for Aucoin is adjusting to a new coaching staff and the Capitals’ systems, which is no longer as similar to the Bears’ as it was under Bruce Boudreau.
“It’s a little different not knowing the coaches, even when I was with Carolina it was always the same coaching staff,” Aucoin said. “Got to learn some new systems, so that’s going to be the biggest differences and I’m sure they know what they expect of me….just go out there play my game and learn the system as quick as I can tomorrow morning and play my game.”
He could provide short-term aid to the Capitals’ search for more offense down the middle, but it’s important to keep in mind that if Aucoin were to play more than 10 games or spend 30 days with Washington he will need to pass through waivers to be returned to Hershey.
The longer Backstrom remains unavailable and isn’t able to even skate, however, the more likely it is that the Capitals may make a move to try to bolster the center position even further.