The Capitals play their final exhibition game Sunday against St. Louis, so the situation could still be fluid, but I’ll take an early stab at projecting the opening-night roster. We already know that Boyd won’t be ready for the start of the season, meaning the fourth-line center job will go to Nic Dowd. Washington is replacing a faceoff and penalty-killing specialist in Jay Beagle, who signed with Vancouver this summer, and Dowd has impressed in both areas. He’s hopeful his offensive production will rebound to what it was two years ago, when he had six goals and 16 assists with Los Angeles.
The Capitals reassigned forward Shane Gersich to the American Hockey League, and wingers Riley Barber and Liam O’Brien were waived. Assuming they clear, they’ll also be sent down to Hershey. Those players are better suited playing regularly in the AHL than sitting in the press box as extras because the Capitals don’t have any lineup spots available for forwards.
It’s unclear if Kempny will be ready for opening night; he hasn’t practiced the past two days, but Coach Todd Reirden said Friday that he’s “progressing.” The timeline for coming back from a concussion varies from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. Washington has nine defensemen left on the roster, including Aaron Ness and Jonas Siegenthaler, and Reirden has been especially impressed with Siegenthaler’s camp. If the Capitals have a healthy blue line, it makes more sense for Siegenthaler to continue developing in the AHL, but Kempny’s injury might create room for him to at least start the season here.
“Everyone looked in the summer at our situation, and we had seven returning defensemen,” Reirden said. “It just goes to show that so much can change in this game. So quickly things can develop, or go south in that same respect, for certain players and opportunities. Every year, there’s someone who steps up, and he’s been that guy for us.”
Jayson Megna’s speed and versatility — he can play center or wing — might give him the edge over Australian Nathan Walker to make the opening-night roster. Assuming Kempny doesn’t play Wednesday and Boyd starts the season on injured reserve to free up an additional roster spot, here’s a projection that fits under the NHL salary cap (thanks to CapFriendly.com):
In Saturday’s practice — Kempny still was not out there — Christian Djoos skated on the left side of John Carlson with Madison Bowey on the right side of Brooks Orpik. I think that’s the most likely combination for opening night if Kempny doesn’t play, but Siegenthaler impressed beside Carlson in Friday’s game, which would leave Djoos on the third pairing with Orpik. How Sunday’s preseason game goes might determine a lot.
If the Capitals intend on keeping Siegenthaler around until Kempny’s healthy — and I think that’s their plan — then there’s certainly some pressure on Bowey to not lose his place in the pecking order. He played in 51 games last season, and he’s in the first year of a new one-way, two-year deal worth $2 million. Washington would have to expose him to waivers to send him down to the AHL, and the team definitely won’t do that. That gives him some added security over Siegenthaler, who is still waivers-exempt.
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