Washington Capitals training camp kicks off with the first on-ice sessions on Thursday. The team released its official roster on Tuesday, which features 30 forwards, 18 defensemen and six goaltenders.
Connor McMichael, who will surely be vying for a roster spot, will also be attending. Other names to watch include 2020 first-rounder Hendrix Lapierre.
Here are four burning questions heading into their main camp.
Can McMichael Crack The Washington Capitals Roster?
Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not McMichael will make the opening night roster. He certainly has made quite the case; he led Hershey in scoring last season in his rookie AHL campaign, seamlessly adjusting to the speed of the pros after a strong performance with the OHL’s London Knights. Not only that, he had an impressive offseason.
The 2019 first-round pick trained with Gary Roberts Performance over the summer, working alongside pros like Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos. He also said he put on about six pounds in the offseason.
McMichael added that his exit meetings with the front office last year touched on him gaining more confidence, which is something he also worked on.
“I keep getting stronger and stronger each year. That’s just one thing like I’ve touched on before that I got to keep getting better at,” McMichael said. “I think that’s my main thing to make the next jump. I think my overall game is really good.”
The only issues: vacancies on the opening night roster, and cap space. Washington has just $668,739 left in space, and Connor McMichael has a hit of $863,334. However, Matt Irwin’s $700k contract is currently counting against the cap. Even with that off the books, Martin Fehervary’s likely jump to the NHL will still put the Capitals in a difficult position.
Still, the Capitals do need a 13th forward, and McMichael’s the perfect candidate. He looked stronger and faster at rookie camp. It’ll take maneuvering to make it work, but he’s going to make some noise.
What Will We See From Evgeny Kuznetsov?
Kuznetsov faces several questions heading into this season. The 29-year-old is coming off an inconsistent year that saw him test positive for COVID-19 twice, put up career-low numbers and run into off-ice issues. He was the subject of trade talks in the offseason, but Brian MacLellan walked back on that following the 2021 NHL Draft.
“He’s a good player, we like the player. We’ve never said we’re trading Kuznetsov. I said we’re open to discussions on most of our players for the trade market,” MacLellan said. “If it comes up, it comes up, and if it doesn’t make sense, same as always. It’s never been we’re moving Kuznetsov as it’s been portrayed in a few places, but that’s not exactly the case.”
That being said, Kuznetsov will have to still prove that he can be a reliable member of the Capitals core. He said in his exit interview that he wants to stay in D.C. and perform to his full potential. Training camp will be key as he looks to rebound and start off on the right foot.
“Like I said, this is the life and I have never been in this situation. So I can learn from this and move forward and focus on the future,” Kuznetsov said. “The longer I am going to sit and cry about what was wrong that didn’t go my way, I am stuck in the situation so I have to turn the page and I have to train hard and be ready for next year.”
Kuznetsov has a cap hit of $7.8 million over the next four seasons, and if the Jack Eichel trade talks die down, teams could potentially turn to No. 92, as speculated by The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir.
Who Wins The No. 1 Goalie Spot?
MacLellan and the Capitals are trusting Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek with the crease for another season. It may seem like the starting spot is Samsonov’s to lose, especially with him signing a “prove yourself” bridge deal over the offseason.
“He has to earn it… I think that’s up to him,” MacLellan said of the Russian. “He has the potential to be a No.1. and I think he has to show it.”
Still, don’t count out Vanecek to win the starting job. The Czech netminder was selected by Seattle in the expansion draft, but re-acquired by Washington when the Kraken inked Philipp Grubauer. He’s coming off a strong freshman year where he led all rookie goaltenders in wins while ranking in the top 10 in save percentage and GAA. His performance, as well as Samsonov’s struggles with COVID-19, earned him the No. 1 job, and he’ll be looking to keep it.
Training camp will be a test for both to not only compete for the main job in net, but to also prove they can carry the workload and be the Caps’ goalies of the future.
Who Will Put Themselves On The Washington Capitals Radar?
Keep an eye on Beck Malenstyn. he was a dark horse for a roster spot last season, but was sidelined with a torn Achilles for the entirety of 2020-21. He’ll be looking to rebound with a strong showing while looking to stay on Washington’s radar.
Aliaksei Protas said he also wants to make a run for a roster spot, and that the plan is to play in AHL with the Bears if he doesn’t make the jump. Still, the 6-foot-6 center could make quite the impression, especially after coming off a strong rookie camp.
Lapierre also had an impressive showing as a leader and more confident player at camp, displaying impressive playmaking and shooting. He’ll look to make his mark before returning to the QMJHL to play his first season with Acadie-Bathurst. He was dealt his trade from Chicoutimi.
2021 draft picks Vinnie Iorio, Dru Krebs and Haakon Hanelt will also make their Capitals camp debuts. Look for them to make a strong first impression.