Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, for the first time in his brief NHL career, defenseman Cameron Schilling played a second game in one season. His prior stints with the Washington Capitals had combined to last less than a half-hour of ice time, across one-night stints in 2012-13 and 2013-14. But now, as the Capitals continue evaluating their options at sixth defenseman, Schilling has benefited from the organization’s desire to, as Coach Barry Trotz said, “get a read right before the trade deadline.”
“Played quite well, actually,” Trotz said of Schilling. “I thought he was poised. He wasn’t as nervous the second time around. First time around, I think he was a little nervous…I think Cam’s probably one of those guys, he needs to play and feel comfortable before he really shows you what he can do. I was really happy. He skates really well. I think he had a real solid game for us.”
Indeed, the Capitals only held a small NHL sample of the 26-year-old left-handed shot, far more limited than what they have learned about their other choices. Veteran Jack Hillen has skated beside Mike Green on the third pairing ever since Nate Schmidt suffered a fractured shoulder blade while serving a minor-league conditioning stint. Steve Oleksy, who recently made his season debut on the team’s California trip, has logged 62 career NHL games. Even Connor Carrick, who hasn’t been recalled by Washington, still appeared in 34 games during his rookie season last year.
According to Trotz, the Capitals plan to keep Schilling around “through the end of the week,” then reassess with the trade deadline lurking in less than one week.
“I think any time you get put in the lineup, you want to see what you can do and what you can bring to the team,” Schilling said. “I think every time I’m going to go out there, I’m just going to try to play my game and show them what I’ve got. Hopefully it’s what they want.”
Schilling practiced with Green on Tuesday afternoon and the Capitals were “considering maybe” starting him against Pittsburgh for Wednesday’s critical Metropolitan Division matchup at Verizon Center.
“I’m going to talk to the coaches again,” Trotz said. “We may do that. We’ve got to get a read right before the trade deadline, if we do anything, we want to at least have a read. Steve-O, Schmitty, Connor Carrick, we know them. We don’t know Schilling as well. We want to get a little bit of a read on him. Hopefully this week we can get a little bit of a read.”
So, to summarize, the Capitals are trying to get a read on their sixth defenseman spot with the trade buzz ramping up and general manager Brian MacLellan “working the phones pretty hard,” Trotz said, several times mentioning left-handedness as a desired attribute to pair with Green. Oleksy and Carrick are both right-handed shots, for instance; Schmidt, Hillen and Schilling are lefties.
“Obviously this week will be a lot of ideas thrown out, names we didn’t think will be out there might be out there because teams are trying to do something bigger or something like that,” Trotz said. “It always gets really quiet, then it’s like fantasy hockey for three days.”
Asked for his read on Washington’s situation up front, Trotz replied, “I like our forwards,” before pivoting to the balance he’s tried to strike all season, between developing four youngsters – Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Michael Latta and Evgeny Kuznetsov – and pushing toward the playoffs.
“I think we’ve got a good group of 14,” Trotz said. “The biggest challenge I’ve had is we’re trying to win and we’re trying to develop four young forwards. Most teams are developing a couple, maybe one or two. We’re trying to develop four.
“I think there’s some guys on our roster, like the young guys, we don’t know what they can do in the playoffs. They might be terrific in the playoffs. They might not be able to handle it, they might be ramped up, I don’t know. But we feel that they’re going to be a big part of the future, so either way, we feel pretty comfortable that we have players who can move up in those situations.”