The Washington Capitals moved one step closer to finalizing their opening night roster, assigning forward Garrett Pilon and goaltender Zach Fucale to the AHL’s Hershey Bears, pending waivers.
The Capitals roster now sits at 24, including 15 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. Hendrix Lapierre, Beck Malenstyn and Connor McMichael are still up with the big club. Teams must submit their final rosters of no more than 23 skaters and be cap compliant by 5 p.m. Monday. And right now, Washington is in decent shape.
Michal Kempny cleared waivers and is headed to Hershey, opening up some cap space and offering flexibility. If Nicklas Backstrom is placed on the LTIR, Washington would be at 23 skaters and be compliant with the salary cap. This would also mean that Lapierre, Malenstyn and McMichael would make the team and start the year up in D.C. If not, there’s one more cut to be made.
McMichael was a favorite to make the NHL jump this season and appears more than ready to draw into the lineup. The 20-year-old had a strong offseason training with Gary Roberts Performance and has fit right in with the Capitals veterans. He’s skating well and showcasing his high hockey IQ and wicked shot. He also dished one goal through four exhibition games and won 51.22 percent of his face-offs.
Lapierre hit the ground running in rookie camp and dominated at main training camp, while additionally putting on a show through the preseason. The 2020 first-rounder picked up five assists through five games and continues to impress with smooth skating and quick playmaking ability. He’s also been driven and determined to learn and improve, and has worked on getting better in the face-off dot and getting more physical in puck battles.
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McMichael and Lapierre are interchanging as the Capitals’ third-line center between Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie. With Alex Ovechkin day-to-day (lower-body), McMichael got time on the top line wing alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson at Sunday’s practice. Lapierre remained as the 3C.
Ovechkin’s injury isn’t long-term or serious, so it’s possible he returns Wednesday, which would move McMichael back down to competing with Lapierre for the third-line pivot position, considering Backstrom isn’t likely to be available for the opener.
Malenstyn has also been stellar through camp. The 6-3, 200-pound forward came into camp hungry for a spot after missing the entirety of last season — and a clear-cut chance at a full-time NHL gig — after tearing his Achilles just weeks before training camp last season.
Since then, he’s been working toward a comeback and has not disappointed. He’s engaging in puck battles, skating hard, forcing turnovers, getting to the gritty areas and throwing his weight around. Malenstyn’s also generated a couple of high-danger chances, logged significant time on the penalty kill and fit in well on the fourth line. Through three preseason games, he had three shots and led all Capitals skaters with 17 hits. At practice on Sunday, he was cycling in as an extra forward.
Looking at the Capitals roster, it’s a solid group that sees Lapierre, Malenstyn and McMichael’s hard work pay off. Of course, there would have to be one more cut if Backstrom doesn’t go on the LTIR. And from the looks of the lineup and the need for depth down the middle, Malenstyn could be the odd man out.
Lapierre said his goal was to make the roster heading into camp and he thinks he made a strong case for an extended look.
“I think I did everything in my power… lots of things to work on, obviously but I feel like I played in my style, I played relatively good,” Lapierre said. “At the end, it is not my decision. But if I leave, I am happy with what I’ve done and if I make the team, I will be super happy too. So I really got no regrets.”
Washington practices again at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Monday before they have to submit their final roster.