Taylor Chorney was nearing his 28th birthday this spring, a veteran defenseman still without a one-way contract in his career, until several injuries on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blue line opened a window. For the final five games of his seventh professional season, then five more during a first-round loss to the New York Rangers, Chorney treated his appearances like an audition. Across the Metropolitan Division, busy with their own Eastern Conference quarterfinals series, the Washington Capitals took notice.

“When you’re a player that’s been on the bubble a little bit, there’s a tipping point where you say this is where I am … not lose the dream, but you probably do a little bit,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “And he didn’t. The tipping point happened at a very key moment, and now I think he goes, ‘I can play here. I played in the playoffs, I didn’t feel out of place.’”

And so Chorney, an unrestricted free agent, found himself signing a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Capitals, and taking with it the expectation of an NHL spot. Other depth defensemen candidates such as Ryan Stanton will challenge Chorney during training camp, Trotz said, but the former second-round pick did his research. He threw out a few texts to friends around the league, made a few phone calls, accumulated enough knowledge to believe Washington was the best fit.

“It’s all new,” Chorney said last week. “I would’ve been excited if I would have got league minimum. To get even a little bit more than that is pretty cool. For me, it’s a fresh start. I’ve never been in this situation where the expectation is I’m going to be on the team, I’m going to be here to contribute.

“Obviously nothing’s set in stone. You’ve got to go out there and earn it, but at the same time, it’s a fresh start for me to be in that spot. Who knows what’s going to happen. I think I’ve put in some good work this summer. I’m more excited about the opportunity more than anything.”

Chorney averaged 16 minutes, 35 seconds per playoff game for the Penguins, recognizing that the rare opportunity for a skater such as him. Before Pittsburgh promoted him from Wikes-Barre/Scranton in March, he had made just 63 career NHL starts, compared with 62 AHL appearances in the 2014-15 regular season alone. He didn’t register any points against the Rangers, but between their pro scouts working the series and coaches watching from home, the Capitals believed he deserved a one-way deal.

“I don’t think anyone’s really given him that really good shot to prove himself,” said forward T.J. Oshie, who was in St. Louis when Chorney played two games there in 2011-12. “He didn’t get it in St. Louis, where I think he could’ve excelled there. Hopefully he can get a shot here and finally show everyone that he can play in the NHL.”

Once Chorney returned from a mid-June trip to Italy with his wife, essentially a mind-clearing mission before July 1, he began researching different destinations, double-checking depth charts for possible fits. Bringing aboard Stanton added one more competitor to the Capitals’ projected blue-line battle, and Chorney’s salary is low enough that he wouldn’t count against the cap if reassigned to Hershey, but for now – finally projected to make the opening-night roster for the first time in his career – that is not the plan.

“Honestly it’s a lot of new feelings,” Chorney said. “You see it all the time. Nothing’s guaranteed in hockey. There’s guys that have long-term deals, that if you have a stretch where you’re not playing well, you could be out of the league. For a guy like me, you’re on a one-year deal, yeah you have a one-way contract, but at the same time you have to go out and earn it. There’s no guarantees, no for-sures with this kind of stuff. You have to just go out there and show them that you’re going to make good on the investment they’re making.”