Here are five things to watch as training camp unfolds.
What is the status of Nicklas Backstrom?
Nicklas Backstrom, 33, has not participated in the team’s latest informal workouts ahead of training camp. General Manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the postseason Backstrom had a nagging injury late in the year that “got worse and he struggled to be at 100 percent.” A report from Swedish outlet Aftonbladet said Backstrom had a hip issue, which prevented him from going to the 2021 IIHF World Championship.
At the time, it was unclear whether Backstrom needed surgery. However, in late July, MacLellan said only one player in the organization had offseason surgery — John Carlson, who needed a minor knee procedure.
Backstrom, who is entering his 15th NHL season, underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip in 2015 and missed the first three games of the 2015-16 season.
The team has yet to announce anything official on Backstrom’s status for training camp, though he was on the official roster released this week. Backstrom led the team offensively in the first half of Washington’s 2020-21 campaign before a late-season decline. He recorded only one point, an assist, in the Capitals’ first-round playoff series against Boston.
How does Michal Kempny look?
Michal Kempny is coming off multiple injuries over the past two years. He had surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon in October 2020, and his rehab timeline was six to eight months. He was able to get back on the ice in April and practice with his teammates for the first time since his injury.
He previously tore his hamstring in March 2019, an injury that kept him out for 6½ months.
Kempny, 31, has not played in an NHL game since Aug. 14, 2020.
Kempny is expected to be a full-go for training camp. He is entering the final year of his four-year, $10 million deal. If Kempny is back up to speed, he could be an option on the left side of any defensive pairing. However, that could push top prospect Martin Fehervary — a player who Capitals management has continued to express needs a full-time NHL role — out of the lineup.
How will Ilya Samsonov handle his third NHL season?
Ilya Samsonov had an inconsistent 2020-21 campaign that included two stints on the league’s coronavirus protocols list. His inability to solidify a place as the team’s No. 1 goaltender led to the emergence of then-rookie Vitek Vanecek.
Samsonov will enter training camp as the team’s No. 1 goalie for the second consecutive season, but after an up-and down year, his position doesn’t seem to be a lock. He was a restricted free agent in the offseason and signed a one-year, $2 million contract.
Samsonov was 13-4-1 with a 2.69 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in 19 games (18 starts) last season. He was 0-3 with a 2.99 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in three playoff games. There are only three goaltenders at Capitals’ training camp with previous NHL experience: Samsonov, Vanecek and Pheonix Copley. Zach Fucale, who has yet to make his debut, also will be at training camp.
Where does Connor McMichael fit into all of this?
Connor McMichael is not expected to crack the team’s opening lineup if its 12 veteran forwards are all healthy, but the Capitals’ 2019 first-round draft pick has the potential to see playing time as a call-up. The center made his NHL debut in January.
“Certainly, he’s a very confident player. He’s very good with the puck,” Hershey Bears Coach Scott Allen said. “. . . I’m excited to see what he’s able to do. He’s one of those guys that playing with even better players, he gets even better also.”
McMichael, 20, gained six pounds this offseason and trained with multiple NHL players, including Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid.
“I feel like I worked on my lower-body strength,” McMichael said at Capitals’ rookie camp this past week. “I was able to protect the puck a lot more. Hopefully able to make the next jump. That’s one of the biggest things I need to work on is protecting the puck against bigger and stronger guys.”
What will Anthony Mantha’s impact be?
Mantha joined the Capitals from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline last season and made an immediate splash — but he (along with the rest of the team) couldn’t produce during the postseason. The 6-foot-5, 234-pound forward known for his scoring abilities spent most of his time on the Capitals’ second line.
Mantha, 27, is expected to continue in his top-six role this season with the hopes of an uptick in scoring again. He finished with 15 goals in 56 games last year between his time in Detroit and Washington. He scored 16 goals in 43 games in 2019-20 and had 20-plus goal-scoring years in the previous two years.
He is signed through the 2023-24 season.
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