The Capitals have long touted the strength of their prospect pipeline for defensemen, and with Washington weathering long-term injuries to both Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos this season, Siegenthaler has gotten regular NHL playing time sooner than expected. Though it all may have seemed temporary at first, he might be here to stay.
“It’s early to say that, but I’ve been impressed with how he’s played,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said this month. “He’s handled things. He’s been protected a little bit, but more and more he’s getting exposed to better players, and he’s handling it and playing well. He’s got size, skating, defends well; puck movement’s been good. It’s pretty impressive what he’s done so far.”
During the seven games that both Orpik and Djoos were out of the lineup, Washington’s third pair was Siegenthaler alongside second-year right-shot Madison Bowey. But since Orpik returned on Dec. 31, Siegenthaler has played in 10 games — most of which were on his off side because he and Orpik both shoot left — while Bowey has appeared in just five, including in Toronto on Wednesday, when Orpik was given the night off. Bowey has 61 more games of experience than Siegenthaler, but the latter appears to have leapfrogged the former on the depth chart.
“He’s consistently, game after game, shown us the same style of play, same poise, dependability,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “And he’s a young player. We just want to put him in situations where he can keep getting better. He’s strung together a number of, in our rating system, average to above-average games without any real hiccups, so we continue to put him out there.”
Something Siegenthaler has going for him is his cool demeanor, a personality that seems better suited for a surfboard that an ice sheet. “I don’t like to get stressed out and stuff, so, yeah, I’m a pretty laid-back guy," he said with a chuckle. Even when he might be nervous on the inside, all his teammates and coaches see is someone who’s not the least bit panicked defending a rush with superstar forwards skating at him. As Orpik put it, “I don’t know, maybe he’s fooling me, but as long as you fool everybody, then you’re good.”
Though MacLellan has acquired defensive depth before every trade deadline for the past four seasons, Siegenthaler’s emergence is part of the reason MacLellan has said he might break the trend this year. Asked if he could trust Siegenthaler in a playoff situation, MacLellan said: “I’m pretty comfortable saying he can handle it, up to a certain degree. If you’re going to expose him against top-end players in Game 7, I don’t know. His personality is one that, he doesn’t get flustered. He handles things. If he makes a mistake, he comes back out like, ‘I’m not going to do that again.’ ”
As at ease as Siegenthaler may look at times, he tries to keep himself on his toes. “I don’t think it’s good if you feel too comfortable, so I’ll just try to be a little in the middle," he said.
Though the team has given him the go-ahead to move out of his hotel room and get a more permanent place, Siegenthaler could still be re-assigned to the American Hockey League if the team runs into salary cap or roster constraints. He’s the only Washington player still waivers-exempt — meaning another team wouldn’t be able to swipe him if the Capitals sent him down — so with Djoos nearing a return after left thigh surgery for compartment syndrome last month, relegating Siegenthaler could be the easiest way to clear room for him to be activated off injured reserve, though the team could choose to trade or waive another player.
Siegenthaler won’t dazzle offensively — he’s tallied four assists and has yet to score his first goal — and Reirden laughed that the one time he got the puck on a three-on-two rush, he went to his backhand, perhaps uncertain of what to do in that situation. Orpik praised his patience with the puck, though he added it’s not to Djoos’s level. But while none of Siegenthaler’s traits blows anyone away, his consistency has won the organization over. He’s finished with a minus rating in just two games this season, and Reirden has increased his penalty-killing workload since the start of January. He’s rarely on the ice against the opposition’s top forwards, but among Washington’s regular defensemen, he’s allowed the fewest even-strength high danger chances against per 60 minutes (8.22), according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I think it can definitely work to your advantage being that relaxed," Orpik said. "Everybody’s different, and for him, I think it works. ... A lot of times with younger defensemen, when they come in, their approach is to not make mistakes and get rid of the puck right away. He has that good ability to slow things down.”
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