Jonas Siegenthaler was so close a year ago — already told he would have a spot in the Washington Capitals’ opening-night lineup and already envisioning that grand entrance at Capital One Arena. But then forward Tom Wilson was slapped with a 20-game suspension just before the season-opening puck drop, and Siegenthaler was a casualty of the team’s last-minute roster reshuffling, sent down to the American Hockey League.

He eventually made it back to the big club, making his NHL debut in November, the first of 26 games he played as a rookie. And even as that experience gives Siegenthaler a significant edge to crack the Capitals’ blue line from the start this time, he’s motivated by what he missed out on last season.

“I haven’t had the chance to walk on the red carpet on opening night,” Siegenthaler said. “That’s pretty special, and that’s for sure one of my goals. I want to walk on the red carpet, and, yeah, I’ll do everything to be on the carpet.”

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Siegenthaler lined up beside veteran Radko Gudas in Washington’s third preseason game on Saturday night, a 3-2 Capitals win over the Carolina Hurricanes that included two goals by forward prospect Brian Pinho. Siegenthaler skated more than 20 minutes and was on the ice for both of the team’s even-strength goals.

After the departures of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in the offseason, Washington is using these exhibitions to experiment with what its defensive duos will look like; either Nick Jensen or Gudas is expected to replace Niskanen in the top four, with the other taking the right side of the third pairing. The left side of it will come down to a competition between Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos; while Djoos is believed to have more offensive upside, Siegenthaler’s strengths more closely align with what Washington is missing without Niskanen and Orpik.

“Being hard around our net,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “You start to remove a little bit of the bite that we have from our lineup without Brooks, and Nisky played with an edge as well, so we have to fill that void.”

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The Capitals will get a lot of that from Gudas, whom the team acquired for sending Niskanen to Philadelphia. But Siegenthaler also has the physical frame (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) to be able to hold his own and clear space in front of Washington’s net while still possessing skill with his skating and his first pass exiting the defensive zone. The 6-foot, 180-pound Djoos is undersized, relative not only to Siegenthaler but most NHL blue-liners, and while his offensive instincts used to make up for that, he struggled coming back from compartment syndrome in his thigh in the second half of last season. After he played in the Capitals’ first three playoff games, he was replaced by Siegenthaler for the final four.

“Siegenthaler has progressed well,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said on the first day of training camp. “I think he’s going to be a good player in this league, and he should come in at a higher level this year than he did last year, and I thought he finished up well. Djoos, we’re looking for a rebound season. I think the injury set him back, so it’s important for him to have a good camp and a good start to the year.”

Reirden was underwhelmed with Siegenthaler’s play in the Capitals’ first exhibition, but he said he doesn’t “put as much value into game one as game two.” And while Siegenthaler’s position on the team is more secure this preseason, he learned last year how quickly his situation can change.

“It’s a new season, and everybody starts on zero,” Siegenthaler said. “Even though I played in the playoffs last year, it doesn’t make a difference. You’ve still got to show up in practice and have a good practice every day and have good games. You’ve got to earn it.”

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