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Capitals expect competitive training camp with new acquisitions

Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan expects a competitive training camp in September. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan anticipates several position battles will unfold when Washington starts training camp in September.

“It’s going to be a competitive situation,” MacLellan told reporters Wednesday on a video conference call. “You’re going to have a lot of good players vying for ice time playing in the lineup, so I think it’s a good situation for everybody.”

To offset significant injuries to winger Tom Wilson and center Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals bolstered their forward corps by signing Dylan Strome and trading for Connor Brown.

Finding Strome’s ideal place in the lineup appears to be a preseason priority. Washington will be without Backstrom, who underwent left hip resurfacing surgery in June, for a significant part of the season. Strome, 25, could take over on the top line or serve as the center on the second line. He also can play wing.

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“He’s a flexible player,” MacLellan said. “He plays left wing. He plays center. He’s a good power-play player. Got a real, real high offensive IQ. Can play with good players. … I think he adds a lot of flexibility to our lineup. I think the coaches can try different things, different matchups, different combinations of players.”

Brown, 28, is in line to be the first- or second-line right wing to replace Wilson, who had surgery for a torn ACL in May. Wilson is expected to return sometime in December, and MacLellan said he is on schedule.

Brown also will be a major asset to the penalty kill, on which Washington can take advantage of his speed.

Connor McMichael, 21, remains one of Washington’s biggest question marks. MacLellan said the Capitals are not “guaranteeing young guys spots in the lineup.” The Capitals re-signed Brett Leason, 23, to a two-year deal last month. And Aliaksei Protas, 21, also was expected to get a shot to stick in the NHL following a solid rookie year.

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“I think Connor is going to come in and he’s going to be better than he was last year,” MacLellan said. “It’s going to be: ‘How do we best develop him? How do we do what’s best for our lineup?’ The coaches will balance that out, whether we play him at center, whether we play him at wing, whether we play him higher in the lineup or lower in the lineup. I think he’ll get a shot at all of it.”

MacLellan said he prefers McMichael at center — echoing what Coach Peter Laviolette said at the end of the season — but that would complicate Washington’s line combinations. The Capitals have at least five players who could be a viable center: Strome, McMichael, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd. It appears at least one will have to be traded or moved to wing.

MacLellan said he is happy with Washington’s moves, which include acquiring Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren to fill the Capitals’ needs in net, plus Erik Gustafsson to help with depth on the blue line.

The Capitals signed defenseman Gabriel Carlsson to a one-year, $750,000 contract Wednesday. (It is a two-way deal, meaning he will make less money if he is in the American Hockey League.) Carlsson, 25, had two goals and seven assists in 38 games last season with Columbus.

Washington also re-signed forward Marcus Johansson to a one-year, $1.1 million contract last week.

“He’s a versatile player,” MacLellan said of Johansson. “I thought he played well for us. I thought he was good defensively. Brought a little offense. … With the uncertainly [surrounding] Carl Hagelin [following his eye injury], we thought we needed one more veteran guy that we could use. He’s a versatile guy. Everybody is familiar with him. The coaches liked him. They liked what he did last year. So we decided to bring him back.”

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