After we previewed the forwards yesterday, our position-by-position Washington Capitals training camp previews continue with the defensemen, a group that will experience some turnover from last season with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen no longer in the fold. The Capitals’ 2019-20 season officially begins with the first on-ice day of training camp Friday.
John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, Christian Djoos, Jonas Siegenthaler
OFFSEASON NHL ADDITIONS
Radko Gudas (acquired via trade with Philadelphia)
OFFSEASON NHL DEPARTURES
Brooks Orpik (retired), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia)
Alex Alexeyev, Martin Fehérváry, Lucas Johansen, Tyler Lewington, Colby Williams, Connor Hobbs, Tobias Geisser
1. When will Michal Kempny be fully healthy again?
Kempny, who is still recovering from the torn left hamstring he suffered in March, will not be skating with the team when training camp opens. This news comes as no surprise to the Capitals, and the 29-year-old is still on track with his recovery with no setbacks so far. Kempny has been on the ice at the Capitals’ practice facility during informal skates, and the team will continue to evaluate his progress. The Capitals are still hopeful Kempny will be able to play in the regular season opener at the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2.
“Obviously our goal is to make sure that he’s coming back when he’s 100 percent,” Coach Todd Reirden said last week. “And we won’t put him in until he is because it’s too long of a year and it’s too difficult of an injury to force him into playing prior to when he’s healthy.”
Before his injury, Kempny tallied six goals and 25 points in 71 games last season. If he isn’t ready for the season opener, that will mean finding a temporary replacement to skate on the top pair alongside John Carlson.
2. Who will be Dmitry Orlov’s partner?
With the trade of Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia in the offseason, there is a lingering question about whom Orlov will be matched with on the second pairing. It’s possible Orlov’s partner changes throughout the season as the coaching staff works to find the right fit to help Orlov return to the level he played at during the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup run. But if the Capitals have their full defensive unit healthy, Nick Jensen or Radko Gudas, whom the Capitals acquired in the Niskanen trade, could move into a top-four role.
Before Jensen was sent to the Capitals at the trade deadline last season, he showed he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. He averaged 20:48 of ice time over 60 games with the Detroit Red Wings before the trade, and he signed a four-year extension with the Capitals shortly after he was dealt. With Jensen’s skating ability, he would bring more offensive prowess to the second pairing. He had a rocky adjustment period after joining Washington, but with a full offseason under his belt and training camp ahead, Jensen could prove himself as a viable option for a top-four role.
Gudas is more of a big-hitting defenseman who plays well in his own zone and has the ability to play in a shutdown role. He is a reliable blue-liner who could help open Orlov up offensively if they are paired together. Gudas finished 10th in the NHL in hits this past season with 255, but his physical style can sometimes get him in trouble. He has been suspended four times by the Department of Player Safety since 2015. He played 17:53 per game last season and had four goals and 16 assists in 77 games.
3. How will the Capitals manage Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos?
There will be a training camp battle to fill the left spot on the third pair. Siegenthaler and Djoos are expected to fight for the role, with top prospects such as Alex Alexeyev viable options as the season goes on.
Djoos, who struggled last season and missed two months with compartment syndrome in his thigh, will return to training camp fully healthy and look to regain his spot in the lineup. He played 45 games last season, averaging 13:34 of ice time, and scored one goal and had nine assists. Djoos brings more of an offensive game, while Siegenthaler was a steadier option in the second half of the season. Siegenthaler replaced Djoos after Djoos was benched following Game 3 of the first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Siegenthaler, who spent time alongside Carlson on the top pair, skated in 26 games and averaged 14:09 of ice time with four assists.
Salary cap constraints may play a role in the battle for this spot. Djoos, who was awarded a one-year, $1.25 million contract in arbitration, is in danger of being dealt. The Capitals are more than $1.3 million over the $81.5 million salary cap after they avoided arbitration and re-signed depth forward Chandler Stephenson to a one-year, $1.05 million deal in late July. The Capitals are allowed to exceed the salary cap’s upper limit by 10 percent until final rosters are set Oct. 2.