The Washington Capitals are closing in on their final roster, which will be announced on Tuesday. In the meantime, the team made some moves that appear to indicate the direction the team is heading in. Washington designated Nicklas Backstrom as an injured non-roster player and assigned forwards Beck Malenstyn and Connor McMichael to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
Per the CBA, injured non-roster players do not count against the 23-man roster. However, they still count against the salary cap. So, Backstrom’s $9.2 million deal AAV is still on the books. Right now, Washington has 22 players remaining on the roster, including Hendrix Lapierre. By assigning Michal Kempny to Hershey, the Capitals were able to make some room, but still have a lot to figure out. With the current roster, they have just about $107K remaining in cap space.
The moves may seem a bit surprising. McMichael was a favorite to win a roster spot with Washington this season. He transitioned seamlessly to the AHL level and led all Hershey skaters with 27 points in 33 games last year. The 20-year-old also trained alongside Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos with Gary Roberts Performance this offseason and added to his strength. He appeared to fit in well and was taking reps on the first-line wing in place of an injured Alex Ovechkin (day-to-day, lower-body) over the last two practices.
Lapierre has certainly earned an extended look and after a tremendous camp. He’s been vocal on the ice and taking in as much information as he can, while also working to fine-tune certain aspects of his game. Meanwhile, he’s showcased a high hockey IQ, smooth-skating, quick hands and strong playmaking heading into the year. Through four exhibition games, he dished five helpers and was one of the top forwards through the preseason.
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.”
Of course, nothing’s set in stone yet, and these could very well be transactions made in the meantime to navigate the cap as the team is expected to make more moves and announce the final roster tomorrow. It does appear though that Lapierre will be in for his NHL debut as the third-line center between T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary.
Lapierre can play up to nine games at the NHL level before burning a year of his ELC. If things do stay the way they do, this could indicate a trial run for No. 29 and see McMichael return if Lapierre does return to the QMJHL. This would also potentially indicate that Backstrom will not have to miss 10-plus games to open the season since that would qualify him for the LTIR.
Malenstyn, meanwhile, has been skating as an extra forward. He had a strong showing through the preseason as well, leading all Capitals skaters with 17 hits and not shying away from his hard-hitting game. The 6-3, 200-pound winger missed the entirety of last season and a chance to crack Washington’s 2020-21 roster after suffering a torn Achilles weeks before training camp. He made quite the case as an extra forward, a utility player and a call-up that can kill penalties and add some size and physicality to the lineup.
READ MORE ON WHN: After Tough Achilles Injury, Malenstyn ‘Prepared To Tackle Any Obstacle’ For Capitals
Here’s where the team stands right now:
Forwards: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha, Lars Eller, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Hendrix Lapierre, T.J. Oshie, Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway
Defense: Martin Fehervary, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Justin Schultz, Matt Irwin
Goaltenders: Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov
If Ovechkin is ready to play on Wednesday, this could very well be the roster we see for Game 1. Head coach Peter Laviolette said the team hopes to see Ovechkin suit up for the opener vs. New York, but he’s still considered day-to-day. He has not practiced the last two days.
The Capitals has an optional skate on Tuesday and will hold a morning skate before taking on the Rangers to kick off the campaign. Regardless of the next moves, Laviolette is happy with his group’s options.
“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,” Laviolette said, adding, “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.”