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WHN Mailbag: Will Capitals Make Another Move; Plans For McMichael, Vanecek

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Will Washington Capitals prospect Connor McMichael make the NHL jump in 2021-22?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since NHL free agency kicked off. For the Washington Capitals, they’ve been relatively quiet, though they did take care of all their outstanding RFAs and re-signed captain Alex Ovechkin. Meanwhile, several teams are still making the most of the market with the regular season right around the corner (oh, how time flies).

That being said, let’s open up the latest Washington Hockey Now Mailbag, which touches on the next step for the Capitals, the Seattle Kraken’s offseason and more.

The Washington Capitals have depth (defensively). Do you see them moving to get picks and cap space? (@samb999)

Washington does have a plethora of blueliners and very little cap space to work with. Following the Ilya Samsonov bridge deal, there’s about $668,740 remaining in space, which isn’t enough to bring on a 13th forward, which Washington would need. The Brenden Dillon trade allowed for the Capitals to take care of their outstanding free agents and also gave them a couple of picks back (which then, of course, helped in the re-acquisition of Vitek Vanecek).

I think the decision for a move will come at training camp. As we’ve seen last season, the Capitals aren’t immune from the injury bug, and COVID-19 is still around. There is a need for a 13th forward, and taking that into account, the team would have to create space for that to be the case. There’s still a lot of time left, and the trade market presents intriguing opportunities at the most random times, so I’m going to answer this with a “yeah, we’ll see.”

Do you think Connor McMichael will get NHL time next year? (@mrcapitals17)

I 100 percent think that McMichael will play with the big club next year — it’s just a matter of whether that’s in a part-time or full-time role. I’m going to go with the former. While he did have a standout AHL rookie campaign, leading the AHL’s Hershey Bears with 27 points in 33 games, McMichael is still young and developing, and there’s no need to rush him. In fact, Brian MacLellan even said that he wants to make sure that isn’t the case.

There’s still the likes of Shane Gersich, Brian Pinho, Beck Malenstyn and more who can make a run for that 13th forward spot. McMichael will have to earn it, and if he does, the 2019 first-rounder will be a full-time NHL player faster than we think. Training camp always has surprises, and it’ll be interesting to see who makes the jump. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster, I expect him to be the first call-up.

Is Ron Francis Screwing Up In Seattle? (@usvaldo)

This intrigues me. The Kraken are playing a very cap-friendly game, and I think that they brought in quite a few strong pieces, especially with the Philipp Grubauer signing. However, as we saw with the Vitek Vanecek deal, Seattle perhaps could’ve gotten a lot more key pieces, but passed on a lot of opportunities to do so.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that the Kraken are following a plan. Whether or not it’s working… we’ll have to wait and see when the puck drops. But, Grubauer and Chris Driedger are a dangerous tandem in net, Mark Giordano’s leading a decent blue line and they have a decent forward group with Yanni Gourde, Jordan Eberle, Marcus Johansson and more. So no, I don’t think Francis is screwing up by any means. It’s the first year, it’s the best time for a new team to take a gamble and see where the chips fall.

What’s the latest on Zdeno Chara? (@dennywold)

The latest on the Capitals front is that Brian MacLellan said that he would check in with Chara to see where he’s at in regards to returning to the NHL for one more season. The 40-year-old was a solid addition to the Washington defense last season and a great leader and locker room presence.

Right now, though, Chara’s taking the time to consider his future. The former Bruins captain’s agent, Matt Keator, told The Athletic‘s Pierre Lebrun that “Z is in Slovakia spending time with family. He is working out hard and leaving all of his options open. There is no rush on anything with him.”

Given the Capitals’ depth and cap situation, I personally don’t see him returning to D.C. next season.

How much playing time do you expect Vitek Vanecek to get in net this year for the Washington Capitals? (@mohandas701)

I think that’s up to Vanecek and even more so, Ilya Samsonov. The Russian netminder just signed a one-year bridge deal, and the pressure’s on him now to prove that he is capable of being a full-time starter. General manager Brian MacLellan also has a lot of faith in Vitek Vanecek, even bringing him back from Seattle to work again with Samsonov in 2021-22.

It’ll be a fierce competition as both are set to become RFAs in the offseason and prove that they can be a No. 1 at the NHL level. Last season was a strange scenario where COVID-19, injuries and odd circumstances led to a bit of a carousel with Vanecek winning most of the starts, but I expect that to change this season and for one of them to emerge as the starter.

Want to be featured? Follow @sammisilber and @WSHHockeyNow on Twitter and submit questions with the hashtag #WHNMailbag.

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