WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington Capitals hockey is officially returning to Capital One Arena, as the team will open its preseason against the Buffalo Sabres in a Sunday matinee.
There won’t be too many NHLers in the lineup in this first game, as it’s a starting point for head coach Peter Laviolette and his staff to evaluate prospects and younger players vying for a spot on the Capitals’ radar this season.
Still, there are some regulars on the roster, though it’s unclear if they’ll play or not yet. The puck drops at 2 p.m. ET at Capital One Arena.
Here is the full roster for Sunday’s tilt:
Forwards: Alexander Suzdalev, Brett Leason, Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, Nic Dowd, Haakon Hanelt, Hendrix Lapierre, Conor Sheary, Anthony Mantha, Ryan Hofer, Garrett Pilon, Joe Snively, Beck Malenstyn
Defensemen: Nick Jensen, Gabriel Carlsson, Vincent Iorio, Martin Fehervary, Dru Krebs, Erik Gustafsson, Martin Has
Goaltenders: Hunter Shepard, Zach Fucale
Among those names, there are quite a few to watch against Owen Power and Buffalo.
Lapierre is trying to show that he is NHL-ready and is attempting to win a roster spot yet again after winning one last season and earning a six-game stay before his reassignment to the QMJHL. The 20-year-old has made several strides, improving his skating and positioning while also working on his shot, stickhandling and passing. Most importantly, though, he’s added size and put on nearly 10 pounds of muscle this summer.
He hasn’t skated with Group A, the team’s NHL-ready group, yet at camp. This will be a key chance for him to get some game action in and show what he can do in these situations at the pro level.
Like Lapierre, Iorio has made major progress and has skyrocketed up the Capitals’ defensive depth chart. He is coming off a good year in Brnadon that saw him dish a career-high 44 points in 60 games while taking on top-pairing minutes. He expects to start the year with the Hershey Bears as he transitions to the pros, and like Lapierre, this will be his chance to showcase his ability and improvement on defense. Look for him to use his strength and physicality to his advantage while also putting his puck-moving ability and mobility on display.
Suzdalev, one of the Capitals’ 2022 third-round selections, could make his preseason debut on Sunday. The 18-year-old has gotten a lot of attention for his quick hands and creativity on the ice and could be one of the steals of the draft. Watch for him to make crafty plays and generate a lot of offense, while also utilizing his passing ability and wicked shot.
Due to injury and other complications, Hanelt didn’t get to take part in camp too much last season or play in the preseason. Since returning from shoulder surgery that interrupted his first QMJHL season, Hanelt has been on a tear. He put up strong numbers in limited time in the Q and also came back to D.C. for a strong development and rookie camp. After that, Hanelt laced ’em up for Germany at the World Juniors and scored a goal while helping his country reach the quarterfinals. Look for him to try and stand out and continue his strong comeback while preparing for a full and healthy season.
Another defenseman and 2021 selection, Krebs could also make his preseason debut. It was a tough season for him in Medicine Hat, as the Tigers finished with just eight wins. However, he still packs a lot of potential, and has impressed the organization with his skating and puck-moving ability. Krebs also earned an offer to retain his rights last season. A strong preseason debut would add a lot to his resume.
Shepard put up strong numbers in the ECHL and AHL with the South Carolina Stingrays and the Bears. He also got time up on the Capitals taxi squad. An undrafted free agent, Shepard has made himself quite a presence between the pipes. He can come up with big saves, track the puck well and keep his teams in games. Shepard should get to play in his first preseason game and split time with Fucale on Sunday. There, he will get the opportunity to show he can make waves in the organization. It’s vital for the young netminder, as the team has plenty of depth now in net.
Honorable mentions: Beck Malenstyn, Aliaksei Protas, Gabriel Carlsson, Erik Gustafsson, Martin Has