- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2017

Capitals coach Barry Trotz has a problem.

While the final decision isn’t ultimately his call, the number of forwards competing for three open roster spots has made the evaluation process tough on Trotz. The Capitals have played four preseason games and the competition is still tight.

“The quality is so condensed,” Trotz said. “The truth of the matter is we’re getting to the point where we have to make some decisions.”

The Capitals have been hosting scrimmages, but the preseason games are where players get the best chance to make a case for a roster spot.

Take forward Tyler Graovac. The 24-year-old was acquired in June from the Minnesota Wild in a move seen largely as an attempt by the Capitals to add another eligible forward in the expansion draft, allowing them to protect Lars Eller. But Graovac has stood out. He won nine of his 11 face-offs in Friday’s 4-0 exhibition loss to the St. Louis Blues.

In a game where Trotz criticized his team for a lack of effort, Graovac brought energy and looked like he belonged.

Graovac, who was playing slow-pitch baseball when he found out he was traded, said it didn’t matter if he was traded solely for the expansion draft.

“Washington wanted me for a reason,” said Graovac, who has bounced between the NHL and the American Hockey League over the last three seasons. “I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, look we’ve got this kid. He can do a couple of things here for us.’ That’s all I’m trying to do. Prove people wrong and do the best I can.”

The next night, it was Alex Chiasson’s turn to make an impression. The Capitals lost 4-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and Chiasson scored Washington’s only goal. Trotz previously praised Chiasson’s net-presence and the forward scored right in front of goaltender Cam Ward on a power play.

In Chiasson’s case, he has to make the Capitals’ roster to earn a contract. After playing with the Calgary Flames last year, Chiasson agreed to a professional tryout (PTO).

Chiasson was surprised when the Flames didn’t extend a qualifying offer, but he’s focused on the Capitals now. He spent Saturday on the first line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.

“For me, everyday I have to prove I belong,” Chiasson said. “I’ve got to earn a spot on the team, so I try to focus more on my play than the actual results, but it was nice to get one there on the power play.”

Added Trotz: “If we can get pucks through and we can find some of those loose change, he’s going to have a full bank account.”

There are three spots, realistically, for the Capitals: two new players on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and an open spot on second or third line, depending on if Trotz views Tom Wilson as a top six player.

Besides Chiasson and Graovac, two players with a handful of NHL experience, there are also younger prospects like Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker. Each has played extensively in the preseason, with Vrana seeing time with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov as well.

Walker, who is trying to become the NHL’s first Australian-born player, scored in the Capitals’ first preseason game and has the speed desired for the modern game.

The Capitals might have more flexibility with the younger players considering they can be sent down to the AHL, but at some point, they have to show they can belong.

Washington cut its roster to 36 players Sunday, sending down 16 players to Hershey.

Elsewhere, Devante Smith-Pelly is another candidate for the Capitals. Smith-Pelly is only 25 and when the Capitals signed him, general manager Brian MacLellan referred to him as a project. Whether the Capitals chose to rebuild him in the minors or the majors needs to be clear, though he’s stuck around, for now.

Trotz said he has tweaked the format of training camp because of the competition.

“The decisions we make will be based on what is right for right now and who deserves it,” Trotz said.

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