Capitals shuffle defense as NHL foes beef up before trade deadline

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The same is true for Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and others whose names have been bandied about in trade talks.

The Caps made a couple of minor league deals Tuesday, reacquiring enforcer Joel Rechlicz from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for forward Matt Clackson and getting tough guy Dane Byers from the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Garrett Stafford.

Those moves will affect the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, but the Caps’ signing of University of Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt could make a difference for the NHL team right away. Schmidt was a highly sought-after college free agent and will practice with the Caps on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s utilized by Washington in an NHL lineup from the get-go,” analyst Corey Pronman wrote for Hockey Prospectus. “If you don’t count [Dmitry] Orlov as a prospect anymore, Schmidt instantly becomes the top young defense prospect in the Capitals organization.”

What the Caps’ defense will look like Thursday against the New York Islanders is still unclear, after Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were sent to Hershey. Counting Schmidt and the injured Tom Poti, Washington still has nine defensemen available, but those guys aren’t letting that worry them.

“I think as a player when you start thinking about numbers and start thinking about that stuff it takes your focus away from the game,” Steve Oleksy said. “It’s part of our job to be ready and to play to our full potential game in and game out. I think when you start looking at that stuff, I think it’s tough to do.”

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