The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defenseman Christian Djoos arrives in Washington ready to compete for role with Capitals

Christian Djoos, left, says he’s up four pounds from the start of training camp a year ago, which is less than he’d hoped. (Christopher Dolan/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)

With a mandate to bulk up this summer, 23-year-old defenseman Christian Djoos took his offseason seriously and got to work. “You’ve just got to eat everything almost,” he said. “Not the bad stuff, but you’ve got to eat all of the time. So, I’m just trying to do that every day.”

The result of his efforts? Djoos said he’s now 168 pounds and 6-foot-tall “ish.” At the start of training camp a year ago, he was listed as 164 pounds.

“Oh, really?” he said when told his summer gains amounted to just four pounds.

Djoos is considered a favorite to win one of the Washington Capitals’ two openings on the blue line after two impressive years in the American Hockey League. In 66 games last season, he scored 13 goals and 45 assists, which tied for the most among defenseman. The one strike against him is concern over how his thin frame will hold up through a grueling NHL season against bigger competition.

But while others struggle to lose weight, Djoos has the opposite problem. As Hershey Bears Coach Troy Mann said earlier this summer, “You can feed him as much as you want, but at end of the day, if the weight’s not going on, the weight’s not going on.”

Instead, Djoos has learned to adjust his style of play to better hide his so-called weakness. He’s a quick, smooth skater, and his vision on the ice keeps him from being in vulnerable positions and getting hit too often while also efficiently moving the puck up the ice. He’s proven to be durable with the Bears, registering at least 62 games in each of the past two years. After Washington lost a speedy one-man breakout in defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was selected in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, Djoos seems to be the natural replacement.

“They want to see me keep playing the same game as I did in Hershey,” Djoos said. “Move the puck good and good first pass and still do what we’re going to do in the defensive zone, too. So, I’ve just got to do the same things and step up a little bit, be a little bit better.”

The Capitals’ blue line also will be without Karl Alzner, who played in every game for eight straight years, and Kevin Shattenkirk, added to the roster at the trade deadline last season. Taylor Chorney has spent most of the past two seasons as Washington’s extra defenseman, and he figures to compete for one of the top six spots. With salary cap space limited, the Capitals will look to their prospects to complete the seven-man defense corps, and that group includes Djoos, Madison Bowey, Lucas Johansen, Tyler Lewington and Connor Hobbs. In large part because of Washington’s extraordinary health on the blue line, those five players have yet to play in a single NHL game. Aaron Ness, who’s played in 39 NHL games in his career, also is a candidate to make the team.

“It’s a good chance for us,” Djoos said. “We’ve just got to make the best of it and try to take the chance. This year, it’s a bigger chance for us to play than last year for us, so we’re happy with that.”

Djoos has two weeks until the start of training camp, and he joined other Capitals at the team’s practice facility in Arlington for a first time on Friday. When he’s off the ice, he’ll still be trying to get himself in the right shape to make the team.

“I’ve just got to keep eating, keep eating and work out,” Djoos said. “Then one day, maybe I’ll just explode and gain some pounds.”

More on the Capitals:

After being traded this summer, Marcus Johansson making transition from Caps to Devils

CSN Mid-Atlantic opts not to renew Caps reporter Jill Sorenson’s contract

Caps rank first, Redskins rank last in fan experience survey of D.C. teams