For his day with the Stanley Cup, Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey filled the bowl with his grandmother’s borscht and proudly lapped it up with a spoon. Along with his other Washington teammates, Bowey will soon have his name on the trophy. He was in every way a Cup-winning member of last season’s roster, and yet he was understandably left wanting more.
“Definitely this time around, for another run, I’d like to be a bigger contributor,” Bowey said.
Bowey was a healthy scratch for the entirety of the Capitals’ playoff run after appearing in 51 games during the regular season. Now back for his sophomore campaign, Bowey again could find himself outside of the lineup to start the season, since Washington’s top six blue-liners have returned. Coach Todd Reirden indicated Sunday that the third pairing is expected to remain Christian Djoos with Brooks Orpik, meaning Bowey would be the team’s seventh defenseman.
“It’s good to have internal competition,” Reirden said. “That’s something that was definitely discussed with Madison this summer, that he had an opportunity to come in and make a stand for the fact that he deserves to be in that situation. We’re going to put him in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he’s at. Obviously, our three pairs we had last year worked well for us, and we’re fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That’s in his hands, and he needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because, as of right now, I wouldn’t be.”
Bowey impressed in training camp a year ago, but with Washington facing a salary cap crunch, he was sent down to the American Hockey League to start the season. Then Matt Niskanen broke his thumb just five games in and, needing another right-handed shooter on defense, the Capitals recalled Bowey. He made his NHL debut and became a lineup regular until Washington acquired defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek in late February.
After Bowey signed a two-year, $2 million deal in July, his roster spot is much more secure during this training camp — the Capitals almost certainly won’t risk losing him on waivers — but his position in the lineup remains unclear. The organization is high on Djoos, the puck-moving, 24-year-old Swede who played in 63 regular season games last year along with 22 in the postseason, and Orpik is an alternate captain who turns 38 on Wednesday and has never been a healthy scratch in four seasons with Washington.
“It’s important for Bowey to have a good camp, I think,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said earlier this month. “He needs to establish what he’s going to be as a player for us. I expect a competitive training camp to see who plays on the third pair this year. I know Brooks is going to be competitive; he’s going to want to show that, what he did in the playoffs, he’s going to carry it over into the first part of the year. He’s not going to let anybody take his job, and I expect that. And I expect Bowey to push to get in the lineup every night and make it hard on the coaches to make a decision.”
Bowey made his preseason debut in Washington’s game at Carolina on Friday, and Reirden mentioned that the 23-year-old got off to “a slow start” in training camp because of an injury. In their conversations over the summer, Reirden told Bowey that “he’s got to continue to take the next step in terms of eliminating big mistakes.”
“As he becomes more dependable in that area, any coach feels more confident putting that player on the ice,” Reirden said. “That’s what he’s going to have to continue to grow and learn, the importance of defending first and making sure there are clean breakouts and clean exits. Then he gets to do some of the things that I think differentiates him from others — his ability to shoot the puck and create offensively and be able to join the attack with his skating.”
While his teammates were exhausted at the end of their long playoff run, Bowey was eager to get back on the ice. He soaked up the Capitals’ improved defensive structure during the postseason by watching from afar, and after taking just two weeks off, he started working with a skills coach in his hometown of Winnipeg. Motivation was easy to find.
“Obviously, I have a Cup under my belt, but that’s not where I want to stop,” he said. “After you don’t get to play, you see how hard the guys work, and you almost feel a little bad that you can’t be out there. … We’re lucky enough to have everyone back and have a great defensive corps. The way it looks right now is whoever is playing the best at that time will play.”
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