The real work is about to begin for the Washington Capitals. With training camp in the books, the team made its final moves and set its roster for Wednesday’s opener vs. the New York Rangers.
Teams had to submit their final opening night rosters by 5 p.m on Monday, which needed to have no more than 23 skaters and had to be cap compliant. Washington made some paper moves first, designating Nicklas Backstrom as an injured non-roster player and assigning Connor McMichael and Beck Malenstyn to Hershey. Backstrom hit the ice for the first time Tuesday and is still rehabilitating a hip injury.
Nicklas Backstrom, who was placed on LTI earlier today, is skating and shooting (lightly) under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Jason Serbus. Coach Peter Laviolette said yesterday that Backstrom was progressing. #Caps pic.twitter.com/QdMXiwefCb
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) October 12, 2021
On Tuesday, the Capitals made the decision to place forward Nicklas Backstrom on the long-term injured reserve to open cap space and “recalled” McMichael and Malenstyn from Hershey. The team has 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders, including young standouts Lapierre, Malenstyn and McMichael.
“We were somewhere yesterday as a group and I’m looking around… we have a lot of young pieces in my sight,” Laviolette explained. “…There’s still a really good core here, a veteran core that has carried and made the way for this organization for a lot of years. There’s still really good players. But this year, it is a little bit different, because there is an influx of youth of 25-and-under that I feel like will be contributors this year.”
Here is Washington’s full opening night roster:
Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom (LTIR), Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha, Lars Eller, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Hendrix Lapierre, Connor McMichael, T.J. Oshie, Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, Beck Malenstyn
Defense: Martin Fehervary, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Justin Schultz, Matt Irwin
Goaltenders: Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov
The most notable addition is, of course, Lapierre. The 19-year-old was something of a long shot with McMichael a favorite to win the extra forward spot. However, he was coming off a strong 2020-21 campaign where he would have posted 100 points in a normal year and carried that momentum over to D.C.
Lapierre was a vocal leader at rookie camp and later showcased his silky mitts, high hockey IQ and impressive skating at training camp. He translated that over to game action and dazzled in the preseason with five assists through four exhibition games. There are still areas of his game that he needs to improve on, but signs point to him making his NHL debut on Wednesday.
The Quebec native said it’d been his goal to make the opening night roster and that he’s ready to make the most of his opportunity.
“I just want to make sure I’m ready each and every day,” Lapierre said, adding, “I’m really excited, really really excited. I’ve been here for a while and each and every day is really special. Coming to the rink, I feel like it’s a privilege… I really want to just prove that I can be an effective player, that I can play.”
McMichael, of course, was expected to win a roster spot and has fit right in with the NHLers. He’s coming off a strong rookie campaign with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, where he led the team in scoring with 27 points in 33 games. He got stronger over the offseason and trained with Gary Roberts Performance and has displayed speed, quickness and a wicked shot throughout camp.
Malenstyn will also make the cut for the first time in his career. The 6-3, 200-pound winger was in the running to win a spot last year, but a torn Achilles weeks before training camp sidelined him for the entire 2020-21 campaign. He came back with a vengeance though, skating hard in training camp and making the most of his opportunity this time around, playing with grit, drive and physicality.
The 23-year-old made his mark as one of Washington’s top utility players throughout the preseason. He led all skaters with 17 hits through three exhibition games and also logged a lot of time on the PK. His versatility, physicality and speed will serve Malenstyn well as he looks to secure a spot in the lineup.
READ MORE ON WHN: After Tough Achilles Injury, Malenstyn ‘Prepared To Tackle Any Obstacle’ For Capitals
Fehervary is another player who made the cut, as expected. He has been skating on the top pairing alongside Carlson, and also impressed with strength, smooth skating and impressive puck-carrying ability through camp. The Slovak defenseman beat out Michal Kempny, who is still working toward his comeback following two major surgeries and multiple left-leg injuries. Washington made the decision to cut Kempny, placing him on waivers and sending him to Hershey to continue his rehabilitation.
“This is a guy that’s had a good career and has been dealt a couple of tough injuries, and he’s missed a lot of time,” Laviolette said of Kempny. “As he comes back through our camp, we’ve got to evaluate things and put pieces in place. We really feel like it’s important that he plays and that he finds his game and gets his game back, you know, where he can become a really effective player in the NHL. Right now, if he’s not in our top six, that means he’s not playing, and I just don’t feel like that does him any good.”
Irwin will also remain on the team as an extra blueliner. The former Predators defender signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Capitals in late July. He came out swinging at camp and played solid hockey in the preseason, which in turn, led to a spot on the NHL roster.