The Washington Capitals dismissed five more players from training camp Monday afternoon, sending the quintet of first-year professionals to their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., where preseason practices began that same morning.
By sending down forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber, defensemen Tyler Lewington and Christian Djoos, and goaltender Vitek Vanecek, the Capitals trimmed their preseason roster to 36, almost enough for two full squads to scrimmage each other in practice. All are expected to log their first full professional seasons in 2015-16, whether in the AHL or with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
Essentially, these were space-clearing moves meant to send prospects to their future homes as soon as reasonably possible.
“It’s time to get them settled in,” Trotz said. “They’ll play and get settled in and get the environment and get accustomed to everything there. They weren’t particularly hard [cuts], but they’re all very positive, because from what we asked them to do at development camp or last year until now, they’ve made great strides. As they continue to keep making progress, then you’re happy.”
Of those five, four should compete for starting spots with the Bears under Coach Troy Mann this season. After arriving stateside from Sweden late last spring, Vrana quickly slid into a top-six role for Hershey, notching five assists in three regular-season games and six more points during the playoffs. Djoos also made one appearance, recording an assist in his brief minor-league appetizer. Lewington would have come too, but needed surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered during his junior season with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I think they all need seasoning,” Trotz said. “There’s nothing wrong with playing lots. The American Hockey League is a tremendous league. I don’t think we’re over-baking them, we just don’t have spot for them right now. But I believe I’d rather have over-baked than under-baked. Most organizations will tell you that too. Our philosophy is that we’re going to develop our players.”
Vanecek, meanwhile, will eventually land in South Carolina, where he and veteran Mark Dekanich are expected to split time for Washington’s ECHL affiliate. A native of the Czech Republic along with Vrana, Vanecek showed progress over two starts during the team’s recent rookie tournament in Florida, all while learning a new language and adjusting to life in North America.
“I thought Vanecek has made great strides, on and off the ice,” Trotz said. “Off the ice, he’s really learned a lot from [goaltending coach Mitch Korn] and is starting to translate, becoming routine for him. Obviously the learning English is a real big part of understanding and getting more knowledge, so he’s done a really good job.
With 22 forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders now left in Washington, Trotz has plenty more decisions left to make. Other prospects like defenseman Madison Bowey and forward Chandler Stephenson remain around, both “further along in some aspects of their game” than the five reassigned Monday, as do AHL veterans like defenseman Aaron Ness and forwards Carter Camper, Paul Carey and Sean Collins. All, Trotz said, remain in the mix for depth jobs.
>> The projected lineup for Monday’s exhibition against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center is below. Goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Justin Peters — competing for the backup job behind Braden Holtby — will split time, with Grubauer starting and Peters arriving in relief, the opposite of their previous appearance in Boston.
“Keeping it equal,” Trotz said.
Brooks Laich—Andre Burakovsky—Tom Wilson
Chris Bourque—Derek Roy—Jay Beagle
Sean Collins—Chris Camper—Stanislav Galiev
Liam O’Brien—Zach Sill—Paul Carey
Karl Alzner—Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov—Nate Schmidt
Andrew Ness—Madison Bowey