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A Closer Look At Capitals Latest Cuts, Who’s Left & Who’s Under Pressure

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Washington Capitals Aliaksei Protas

ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals made another round of cuts on Sunday with the Hershey Bears training camp kicking off on Monday morning and sent quite a few names and roster hopefuls down to prepare for the AHL season.

On Sunday, Washington cut eight players, sending Hendrix Lapierre and Vincent Iorio to Hershey and placing Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon, Bobby Nardella, Gabriel Carlsson, Dylan McIlrath and Zach Fucale on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Bears.

There are now 21 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies. However, the roster includes injured players Nicklas Backstrom, Carl Hagelin, Tom Wilson and Clay Stevenson. Taking that into account, there are technically 28 skaters remaining.

Here are a few takeaways from Sunday’s cuts and what we know so far going into the final stretch with the season starting on Oct. 12 and just two preseason games left.

Aliaksei Protas Is Closing In On A Spot

Although there aren’t a lot of vacancies on the Capitals roster, that hasn’t stopped Aliaksei Protas from making noise. As a result, No. 59 is a frontrunner for a roster spot.

The 6-6, 235-pound forward put on several pounds of muscle and also worked on his skating over the offseason. Through camp, he has stood out, using his size to his advantage and impressing with his improved speed and strength. The 21-year-old also has a goal in the preseason and has appeared in all four games. Protas has also gotten better with his two-way game and has shown that he can play center or wing.

‘Faster & Stronger’: After Busy Summer, Protas Has Sights Set On Capitals

With his versatility and ability, he has impressed head coach Peter Laviolette and his teammates, and in turn, he could get a jersey on opening night. He also may be putting extra pressure on Connor McMichael, who is vying for a center role but hasn’t stood out as much this camp.

Snively, AJF, Borgstrom, More Still Battling It Out At Forward

Behind Protas, Joe Snively, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Henrik Borgstrom and Kody Clark are among the forwards still in D.C. And all of them are looking for a shot at the NHL.

Snively won an extended stay and spot with Washington during the 2021-22 campaign, but wrist surgery for a nagging injury interrupted an impressive start to his NHL tenure as he posted three goals and four assists in his first 12 outings while also earning top-6 minutes. This camp has been good for Snively, who has also come up big in the exhibition games.

He still has a tough battle ahead of him, though. Jonsson-Fjallby is a proven penalty killer and utility player with speed and skill. He looked good in his NHL stint last year, and he has also impressed at camp. Borgstrom is also looking to crack the NHL roster as he hits reset on his career and looks to recapture the talent and confidence that made him a top prospect following a rough go-of-it with the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks.

RELATED: Henrik Borgstrom Opens Up About Struggles, Chance To Start Over With Capitals

It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out, especially with Protas shining and McMichael potentially under pressure.

Another interesting name still with the club is Clark. The son of 1985 first-overall pick and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wendal, Clark had 19 points in 63 games with Hershey last season. He is a versatile player who can play with energy and grit. He hasn’t gotten a preseason game yet, and it’ll be interesting to see what he brings as things come down to the wire.

Johansen Last Bear Standing In Blue Line Battle

With Iorio (loan), Nardella, Carlsson and McIlrath (waivers) Hershey-bound, Lucas Johansen looks like he could start the year up with Washington. And it’s a long time coming for the 24-year-old.

Johansen, along with Matt Irwin, could be the team’s two extra blueliners to open the season if they choose to open with eight defenders. Of course, that would mean starting with 13 forwards, and that’s still a fierce competition to keep an eye on. However, it looks like Johansen is NHL bound.

The younger brother of Nashville Predators star Ryan Johansen has been working toward the Show since he was taken in the first round in 2016. He has looked good through the camp, moving the puck efficiently, engaging in battles and making smart plays. His skating has also taken a step forward.

He impressed in his NHL debut last season and could very well be a roster player after years of development — along with a bit of adversity — with Hershey.

Lapierre & Iorio Bring Their Chemistry To Hershey

Both Lapierre and Iorio find themselves bound for Pennsylvania to open the 2022-23 campaign, and it’s a smart move for both. Lapierre and Iorio are fresh off their final years of juniors, with Lapierre dishing 51 points in 41 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Iorio putting up a career-high 44 points in 69 games.

While Lapierre’s camp didn’t go according to plan, he still showed improvement in skating, positioning and physicality. Iorio, a 6-3, 200-pound RHD, impressed and stood out with his skating, strength and booming point shot. And although both showed they have high ceilings and are top prospects, they are better off getting more ice time and responsibility with the Bears and having more time to adapt to the pro game rather than being thrown into NHL action and watching from the press box with little leeway on the main roster.

Why Capitals Sending Lapierre To Hershey Is Right Move For Both Sides

Second-Line Center Role Almost A Lock, But Nothing Guaranteed

One of the more intense battles throughout camp has been the second-line center competition. Dylan Strome, Lars Eller and McMichael are all vying for that coveted position, and so far, it’s Strome as the frontrunner, with Eller being the second and McMichael coming in third.

Strome has had an outstanding preseason. He’s winning draws, making smart decisions and putting his speed, stickhandling and playmaking skills on display. He had two goals in his debut and has shown a lot of battle and heart to open his tenure in the District. Right now, he is the front-runner for the 2C spot.

“I’m not saying that it’s locked in,” Laviolette said of the role. “But that’s what training camp is for, is to put people in positions and see how they do. I think [Strome] wants to play center. If you want to play center, you should make some noise with your game. And I thought he did.”

Eller has worked on his skating and is in the “best shape of his life.” Following a challenging 2021-22 that saw two run-ins with COVID, lengthy quarantines and inconsistency, the Dane has been working to prove he still belongs with Washington and can play a top-6 role for the Capitals with Backstrom out.

McMichael, meanwhile, added over five pounds of muscle and looks bigger, but he needs to improve in the dot and needs to generate more while making some more noise to close out camp here. After all, Protas is on the rise, and he does play that center role well, too.

Current Washington Capitals Roster

Here is the Capitals roster as of Oct. 2. The season opens on Oct. 12 against the Boston Bruins.

Forwards: Henrik Borgstrom, Connor Brown, Kody Clark, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Leason, Anthony Mantha, Connor McMichael, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Aliaksei Protas, Conor Sheary, Joe Snively, Dylan Strome

Nicklas Backstrom, Carl Hagelin and Tom Wilson are listed on the roster but remain out with injuries.

Defensemen: John Carlson, Martin Fehervary, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Irwin, Lucas Johansen, Nick Jensen, Dmitry Orlov, Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltenders: Darcy Kuemper, Charlie Lindgren

Clay Stevenson remains on the roster but is out 4-6 weeks following hand surgery.

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