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Zach Weissbach The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, January 16, 2020





Capitals’ Mid-Season Report Card

Everyone remembers the dreaded days of receiving their school report card. It was a combination of emotions from amazement that you haven’t learned your lesson by now to fear in trying to assess how you can hide the grades from your parents. For the Washington Capitals players the story is a little different so far this season.

Sitting comfortably among the top teams in the NHL (tied with the St. Louis Blues for first overall), most of the players on Washington’s roster have excelled on their personal grading chart. However, there have been some surprises on both ends of the spectrum, so we will assess each player individually with a couple vital notes and an overall mid-season grade.

Alex Ovechkin

47 Games Played – 28 Goals – 16 Assists – 44 Points
Overall Grade: A-

For Alex “The Great 8” Ovechkin, it’s been just another walk in the park. Ranking third in the NHL in goals, Ovechkin has been his usual dominant self and is now 11th in all-time career tallies (recently surpassing Teemu Selanne). His physicality hasn’t faded (16th in the NHL for hits), he’s shooting as much as ever (leading the NHL in shots with 216) and despite the Capitals power play struggles of late he’s third in the league with 10 special teams markers.

Ovechkin is the heart and soul of the Capitals roster and when he’s going the team usually thrives. That’s been the case time and time again with 2019-20 being no exception. The only knocks against Ovechkin are his minus-13 rating and the fact we don’t get to witness his charisma at this year’s All-Star Game.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

44 Games Played – 16 Goals – 26 Assists – 42 Points
Overall Grade: B+

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Evgeny Kuznetzov aka “The Bird Man” has been one of the Caps superstars that has left something to be desired this season. Washington fans just know that he has another gear that hasn’t been utilized as much as it should be. His production is very similar to 2018-19, but his shooting rate has decreased. He’s on pace for 165 shots at the cage versus more than 185 each of the last two seasons. If Washington can revitalize their power play it should bode well for No. 92 in revving up his engine. The young Russian has the ability to produce at more than a point-per-game clip, and the Capitals will need that output to maintain their spot on the totem pole.

Tom Wilson

46 Games Played – 13 Goals – 18 Assists – 31 Points
Overall Grade: A

Tom Wilson Capitals
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals, March. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What is not to love about Tom Wilson’s game this season? He has arguably been one of the best two-way players in the game in 2019-20. He ranks fifth in the NHL in both hits (156) and penalty minutes (67), but is on pace to beat his career highs in all offensive categories. Washington was highly criticized for utilizing Wilson on the top line, as well as handing him a six-year contract. Needless to say, the experiment has paid off to this point. Wilson’s physicality creates time and space for the offensive juggernauts around him, and his production is skyrocketing because of it.

Nicklas Backstrom

39 Games Played – 9 Goals – 26 Assists – 35 Points
Overall Grade: B+

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Pay the man! The freshly signed Nicklas Backstrom will be a Capital for a while longer. Still one of the most underrated centers in the NHL (somehow), Backstrom has played his part in 2019-20, but nothing far beyond that. The Capitals power play has been abysmal of late (dropping to 12th in the league) and the team is spreading out their scoring far more than in the past. Both of those factors (along with Lars Eller’s increased presence) have taken away from Backstrom’s typical prominence, but he’s still winning more than 50% of his draws and playing a vital leadership role.

T.J. Oshie

47 Games Played – 18 Goals – 15 Assists – 33 Points
Overall Grade: B+

T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals, NHL
T.J. Oshie (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in his career, T.J. Oshie will be heading to the NHL All-Star Game! Oshie gets to join his head coach, goaltender and star defenseman at the festivities in St. Louis (where he was drafted and played seven seasons). It’s very well deserved for the talented two-way winger, as he sits third on the team in goals. The one area he needs to see some positive regression is his shots on goal (90). A shooting percentage of 20% is not likely to be maintained as the season draws on.

Jakub Vrana

47 Games Played – 20 Goals – 18 Assists – 38 Points
Overall Grade: A

Jakub Vrana Washington Capitals
Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Remember that kid who nobody expected to get incredible grades, and then somehow managed to beat the whole class? That’s Jakub Vrana this season. What a campaign he is having! Vrana is fifth in the NHL with 19 even-strength goals (only one of his tallies has been on the PP) and he’s the only player in the top 20 for goals leaders to be averaging less than 16:30 minutes of ice-time (14:51). His 2019-20 totals should obliterate career highs set last season (24 goals and 47 points), and it’s safe to say that No. 13 has become a staple in the top six for Washington. The sky is the limit for Vrana.

Lars Eller

47 Games Played – 11 Goals – 15 Assists – 26 Points
Overall Grade: B+

Lars Eller Washington Capitals
Lars Eller, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Exceptional value. That’s what Lars Eller provides for the Washington forward group. Nearly a year ago, the Caps inked Eller to a five year, $17.5-million deal ($3.5 million a season) and it’s one of the best contracts they have completed in recent memory. The 30-year-old is on pace for career highs in goals and points, has a plus-four rating and is 53.49% in the faceoff circle. His skillset applies perfectly to the penalty kill, and he’s also capable of assisting with the top PP unit if a player is missing.

Carl Hagelin

36 Games Played – 1 Goal – 8 Assists – 9 Points
Overall Grade: C-

Carl Hagelin is only a single season removed from a nice 31 point campaign with 169 shots on net with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, it seems “Hag’s” age is catching up to him (32 this summer) and his style of play is losing its luster. He has managed a plus-five rating, so he’s doing his part on the defensive side of the puck (including PK time), but there needs to be more of an offensive contribution. It would also seem his confidence is suffering, as he has found the twine only once on 58 shots (1.7 shooting %).

Garnet Hathaway

44 Games Played – 6 Goals – 6 Assists – 12 Points
Overall Grade: B

Garnet Hathaway Washington Capitals
Garnet Hathaway, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Garnet Hathaway has been a fantastic free agent addition to the Capitals roster after leaving the Calgary Flames. He brings an element of physicality and grit that bolsters Washington’s depth past Tom Wilson. His 122 hits are 21st in the NHL, and trail the likes of Zack Kassian and Milan Lucic. Washington needed to find some cheap value in the offseason to solidify their roster and it seems they have found it, and more, with Hathaway ($1.5 million AAV).

Nic Dowd

34 Games Played – 5 Goals – 5 Assists – 10 Points
Overall Grade: B-

Unsung heroes. Every team needs them and Nic Dowd is that type of character. He’s just one of those players who rarely makes a defensive mistake and provides the coach with security down the middle of the lineup. A great comparative point would be Mike Richards a few years back. Dowd is tied for third on the Caps with a plus-10 rating and continues to see more ice-time as head coach Todd Reirden’s confidence grows in the journeyman. Two areas you’d like to see improvement: shots on net (only 25) and his faceoff success (49%).

Richard Panik

37 Games Played – 5 Goals – 3 Assists – 8 Points
Overall Grade: C

Richard Panik Washington Capitals
Richard Panik, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s always difficult to gauge a player’s grade when their role changed considerably in an offseason move. Richard Panik was relied upon a little more in Arizona last season, which led to a solid 33-point campaign. He also posted 22 goals and 44 points (both career highs) in 2016-17 with Chicago. It’s safe to say Washington was hoping for more offense out of the Slovak when they signed him to a four-year, $11-million contract. Not too late for him to start chipping in a bit more, but Panik needs to build off his plus-nine rating moving forward.

Brendan Leipsic

47 Games Played – 3 Goals – 7 Assists – 10 Points
Overall Grade: B-

This is Brendan Leipsic’s first full stint with an NHL club and he’s making the most of it. With limited ice-time, you aren’t going to notice No. 28 buzzing around too often, but when you watch him closely you’re likely to be impressed. He’s a gritty, physical and speedy presence on the fourth line. The 25-year-old isn’t going to pad the stat sheets, but he is a great change-of-pace player. When Washington is up he’s able to lock down the defensive zone and prevent a goal (plus-seven rating). When the Caps are down he’s on the ice hitting as many guys as he can and changing momentum.

John Carlson

47 Games Played – 13 Goals – 43 Assists – 56 Points
Overall Grade: A+

This was a tough one. The 29-year-old phenom, John Carlson, has been the story for the Capitals this year. He’s leading all NHL D-men in assists and points, while ranking 10th in the NHL for average ice-time (24:47). The likely Norris Trophy winner, Carlson has been unstoppable on both sides of the puck. His emergence as a legendary NHL D-man has been the foundation for the Capitals’ success thus far. He’s your Valedictorian of the class.

Dmitry Orlov

47 Games Played – 3 Goals – 18 Assists – 21 Points
Overall Grade: B

Dmitry Orlov doesn’t get enough credit for how talented he truly is. The 28-year-old Russian has become a constant factor in Washington’s lineup, and helps form a reliable second pairing. Orlov should easily surpass his career-best 33 points from 2016-17 and is also firing the puck at the net more than any other season. With his shot and talent level that bodes well for the Capitals. He’s gained confidence over the years and it’s apparent in his mobility, but Washington wants to see more from him on the second power-play unit to be truly satisfied with his game.

Michal Kempny

37 Games Played – 3 Goals – 13 Assists – 16 Points
Overall Grade: B+

Michal Kempny Washington Capitals
Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When you sit back and wonder how the Capitals have been so dominant this season, look to the next two D-men as reasons why. Kempny and Radko Gudas have been two huge acquisitions for the Capitals, and have done an incredible job replacing Matt Niskanen & Brooks Orpik. Kempny is a mobile rear-guard capable of jumping into the rush (evidenced by his early-season production) and creating chances. He compliments John Carlson extremely well given his versatility on the left side. Kempny has showcased a dynamic package of physicality and intelligence this season and solidified his spot on the Caps back end. He’s a great example of a guy that was missing on the Capitals roster during their playoff struggles of 2007-2016.

Radko Gudas

47 Games Played – 2 Goals – 12 Assists – 14 Points
Overall Grade: A

Radko Gudas Washington Capitals
Radko Gudas, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If you were expecting Radko Gudas to come over from Philly and put up 50-plus points, then you’ve been thoroughly disappointed, but were out to lunch. However, if you were like the rest of society and expected a strong defensive showing, you’re a reasonably happy camper. Gudas has come as advertised laying hard checks, blocking every shot he can, and ensuring the puck doesn’t go in his own net. His plus-21 rating is not only the best on the Capitals, but inside the top four D-men for the NHL. Gudas has been a difference-maker and should be a great asset for the playoff run given the style of hockey expected.

Nick Jensen

47 Games Played – 0 Goals – 2 Assists – 2 Points
Overall Grade: C+

There were a substantial amount of eyebrows raised when the Capitals dealt Madison Bowey to Detroit for the relatively unknown Nick Jensen. It’s understandable why that was the case seeing Jensen has only six goals in 257 career games. He’s not a flashy player, to say the least. Even with his lack of offense, Jensen has his value with his D-zone positioning and awareness. His minus-six rating is an eyesore given how well the Capitals have performed, but Jensen is a consistent third-pairing option.

Jonas Siegenthaler

47 Games Played – 2 Goals – 7 Assists – 9 Points
Overall Grade: B-

The duo of Jensen and Jonas Siegenthaler is likely the Capitals’ biggest weak spot. Due to the limited cap space, it may be hard to strengthen the five and six spots on the roster. That being said, Siegenthaler has performed relatively well in his first full NHL season. At only 22 years of age, he is growing by the day, and gaining experience with the NHL speed of play. His footwork and development likely need one, or two more years to be ready for a substantial workload, but he’s held his own and that’s about all the Caps can ask from the young man.

Braden Holtby

18-9-4 – 3.02 Goals Against Average – 0.899 Save Percentage
Overall Grade: B

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby (Jess Starr/ The Hockey Writers)

Simply put, we are used to a better Braden Holtby than we have seen thus far. Holtby came out of the gate absolutely miserable, and would have been given an “F” if this article was written in November. His inconsistent play is not helping his contract case, as the young up-and-comer (Ilya Samsonov) is chomping at the bit to take the reigns. “Holt-Beast” is one of the best in the game when he’s dialed in, but this year hasn’t seen enough of the “A” version yet. Fortunately, Washington has poured in some goal support and there’s extensive time to turn things around.

Ilya Samsonov

13-2-1 – 2.11 Goals Against Average – 0.925 Save Percentage
Overall Grade: A

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The future of the Capitals’ crease: Samsonov. Whether it’s this season, or later in his career, Samsonov will be the face of Washington’s goaltending. General manager Brian MacLellan couldn’t have imagined the Russian rookie playing better than this, and the netminder has made a name for himself already in his brief stint. He has been such a highlight for the team that you should expect to see him starting more down the stretch, and anticipate Holtby getting additional rest leading into the playoffs. (from ‘Does Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov deserve more playing time?,’ The Athletic, 01/02/2020) With Samsonov winning more than Holtby anyways, why not give your veteran a break?

We were able to make it through the report cards without handing out any detentions. An easier group than most, the Capitals have been superb through 47 regular-season games. Currently atop the NHL standings, we will see if the grades begin to dip heading towards the final examinations: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The post Capitals’ Mid-Season Report Card appeared first on The Hockey Writers.

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