Thursday marks Day 1 of Washington Capitals training camp, with the team hitting the ice for the first formal skates of the 2023-24 season.
Looking to rebound after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, there’s no lack of storylines headed into the preseason. Here’s a few to keep an eye on in the run up to Oct. 13’s regular season opener.
Nicklas Backstrom’s Status
For the first time in a while, it was a normal summer for Nicklas Backstrom.
The franchise’s assist leader has been hampered by lingering hip problems for much of the past two seasons. After being limited to only 47 games in 2021-22, Backstrom underwent hip-resurfacing surgery last June — a procedure that, when done on an active NHL player, has mixed results.
Still, Backstrom became only the second active player to return to the ice after the surgery, ultimately playing in 39 games last season.
Entering his 17th NHL season, however, time is not on the side of the 35-year-old Backstrom. And it’s logical to question how much of an impact the hip issue has had on his game.
The Blue Line’s Arrangement
In a way, new defensive assistant coach Mitch Love is walking into an easy situation.
Led by veteran John Carlson, the Capitals defensive corps appears set. The lone question mark appears to be the battle between youth versus experience as Alex Alexeyev and Joel Edmundson compete for a spot on the left side.
Edmundson, acquired via trade, brings eight years of NHL experience to the left side of the blue line, where he’ll serve in a mentorship role for a host of 23-year-olds: Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary and Rasmus Sandin. Fehervary and Sandin appear to be solidified in on the top two pairings, leaving Alexeyev — the least experienced of the bunch — in a battle with Edmundson, who was an alternate captain with the Montreal Canadiens last season.
At 30-years old, however, Edmundson has battled a lingering back injury in recent years.
On the right side, Carlson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Nick Jensen are under contract through 2026, making it all but a guarantee that top defensive prospect Vincent Iorio returns to Hershey — despite a strong season in the AHL a year ago.
Connor McMichael’s Fit
But on a roster with little turnover from last season, the big question remains where he fits.
McMichael saw considerable action with the Capitals during the 2021-22 season, playing in 68 games under former head coach Peter Laviolette. However, much of his NHL ice time over the past two seasons came on the wing and away from his natural center position — if he got any at all.
McMichael returned to the middle with the Hershey Bears last season, where he tallied 39 points in 57 games en route to winning the Calder Cup.
Now, there’s a new bench boss in Washington, and Spencer Carbery has seemingly conveyed a willingness to provide opportunities to younger players. But it’s tough to say what opportunities are out there.
The Capitals return all four centers from last season — Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dylan Strome and Nic Dowd — which would require McMichael to go out and wrestle a spot away from somebody if that’s where Carbery sees him fitting. There appears to be an opportunity available on the wing after Conor Sheary left in free agency, but there’s already a deep field of contenders for that spot.