- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2017

In his final media availability last season, Alex Ovechkin vowed to reporters he would improve over the summer.

The Capitals star is approaching his 32nd birthday and general manager Brian MacLellan expressed the need for him to get better.

Training camp opens Friday, and Ovechkin’s development will be one of the many storylines to keep an eye on. The Capitals made major tweaks this offseason while retaining their core.

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Here’s what to watch for as the Capitals gear up for another season.

Slimmed-down Ovechkin?

Ovechkin, who celebrates his birthday Sunday, first got back to the District in late August, practicing with his teammates at the team’s facility in Arlington. Evgeny Kuznetsov noted Ovechkin appeared to have lost weight — but if he has, he isn’t saying.

Reporters might get a better idea of what Ovechkin has worked on specifically on Friday, when the veteran is expected to address the media.

The Capitals star is coming off a season where he played a career-low 18:22 minutes per game and only scored 33 goals.

Scoring production

In many ways, the Capitals’ summer moves revealed where they think their future scoring production will come from. They re-signed Kuznetsov to a eight-year, $62.4 million deal and forward T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 million contract.

Still, the Capitals lost Justin Williams in free agency and traded away Marcus Johansson to clear to salary cap space, meaning Washington will need to replace the production of a pair who combined for 106 points (48 goals, 58 assists) last year.

The Capitals expect forward Andre Burakovsky to take a significant leap forward. The 22-year-old signed a two-year, $6 million extension in the summer after scoring 12 goals last year.

“I wanted to sign with the Caps, there was nothing else for me,” Burakovsky said. “I’m glad I did.”

Keep an eye on Burakovsky’s improvement in camp.

Fourth line forwards

Outside the top lines, there are a couple of major openings on the Capitals’ bottom six. A third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly and Tom Wilson appears to be intact, but that leaves two spots open next to Jay Beagle on the fourth line.

Look for the Capitals’ young prospects to try and take an advantage of the opportunity, namely Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana.

Washington also took flyers on Devante Smith-Pelly and Tyler Graovac, two younger players who haven’t panned out in the NHL, as possible other options for the spots. Former Calgary Flames forward Alex Chiasson will also try to make the roster after being given a professional tryout.

Defensive pairings

The Capitals’ defensive pairings currently look like this: Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. John Carlson and to be determined. Brooks Orpik and to be announced.

In other words, Washington needs to figure out who “to be determined” and who “to be announced” are. And fast. Chemistry is crucial for defensive pairings and coach Barry Trotz will give the slate of the Capitals’ young defensemen chances to step up. 2016 first-round pick Lucas Johansen is an intriguing option, but he might not be ready.

Meanwhile, prospect Christian Djoos is trying to add weight to be strong enough to play on the NHL level. Aaron Ness and Madison Bowey are also candidates to slot next to either Carlson and Orpik.

The Capitals lost defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency, while the Vegas Golden Knights took Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft.

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