Christian Djoos is going unnoticed in all the right ways. Flying under the radar in an impressive rookie year, the 23-year-old Swede has consistently provided steady performances for the Washington Capitals since his insertion to the third defensive pairing in Game 3 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The defenseman replaced Jakub Jerabek in the lineup for the same game in which there was a change in goal, with Braden Holtby replacing Philipp Grubauer. The moves coincided with Washington’s first win of the postseason and the turning point in their march to the Stanley Cup finals.
“We were down 0-2 and I was just trying to help the team to win,” Djoos said. “I mean, it is never fun to not be playing, but that is how it is and every time I play, I’m playing. I’m just showing up to the rink every day and trying to do my best and be ready to play whenever they tell me to play.”
Since the first round, the Capitals held steady with their defensive pairings, with Djoos skating alongside veteran Brooks Orpik. Djoos has been a key reason — not for any flashy plays or game-winning goals, but for his dependable skating — the team finds itself one win away from its first Stanley Cup.
“He’s really mature, I think, as a player,” Capitals center and fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom said. “We knew he was good last year in Hershey [in the American Hockey League], but he’s been taking another step this year. He’s still a young player, so him on this big stage, it’s great to see.”
An undersized seventh-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft, Djoos had a standout season in the AHL last year. He recorded 13 goals and 45 assists with two game-winning tallies. This season with the Caps, he tallied 14:02 of average ice time in 63 games and had three goals and 11 assists.
During this playoff run, Djoos’s name has really only popped up after practices and morning skates, where he has been at the center of the stretch circle recently. And because the Capitals are on a winning streak and the team has its own superstitions, they have let him continue to handle those responsibilities.
But his contributions during games are not lost on his teammates or his coach.
“He’s very intelligent — recognizes time and space and all those things that I think all the really good players that have that hockey IQ, they just have that ability to slow the game down in their head and make better decisions,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said.
Djoos said any criticism of him being undersized — he stands at 6-feet and weighs 169 pounds — has stuck with him, but he works at his specific workout plan with trainers every day. Fellow defenseman John Carlson said he doesn’t see the size difference playing a major factor in Djoos’s game.
“He is a smart enough player that he can get out of certain situations that maybe you would need a little more size to not have to work through those things, but he is smart enough,” Carlson said. “He sees the game better than probably almost anyone in here in my opinion. And he is strong on his skates. I think you see a lot of big guys trying to go after him and you know he doesn’t really give much ground to them.”
Orpik said Djoos has gotten “better and better” as the year has gone on, showing multiple glimpses of how talented he is despite his inexperience. Orpik praised Djoos’s ability as well as his patience with the puck, noting that this kind of maturity and talent level doesn’t come often in young defensemen.
“I think with younger guys you really want to be conscious of their confidence and you got to play to get experience, obviously, but especially with the defensemen, you try to be as patient as you can with them,” Orpik said. “A lot of the younger guys you can lose your confidence and stuff.”
Djoos said this Stanley Cup finals run in his first season in the league has been a great experience, and he’s glad to play with a mix of both younger and veteran players, which aids in his development.
“Obviously every game it gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “It’s about keep the emotions under control and just to keep playing,”
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