The Washington Capitals have had the NHL’s best regular-season record over the last two seasons particularly because of the amount of talent on all four lines.
The Capitals didn’t have to rely just on stars. There were nights where coach Barry Trotz could play Alex Ovechkin less because Washington was already one or two goals ahead.
So when Trotz was discussing this year’s squad Friday, he raised a few eyebrows after saying he believed the Capitals’ depth was increased over previous years — even with the loss of talented players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason.
Trotz’s main point: Washington is in a better position to sustain injuries because of the development from the Capitals’ younger prospects. In training camp, which started Friday, there are open spots at forward and on the blue line.
“I actually feel like we’re deeper because we’re more experienced,” Trotz said. “They’ve had more seasoning. It’s probably more of the Detroit [Red Wings] model that was very successful for a long time.”
Trotz said the Capitals have been fortunate because of the lack of injuries. According to ManGamesLost.com, the Capitals were last in games missed due to injury last season with only 49. In 2016, Washington was third-to-last with 127 games lost.
Still, the Capitals were in a position where they wanted to evaluate some of their younger players last season, such as forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber. Trotz admitted he had to communicate to other players he wasn’t angry when cutting their playing time. He just wanted to see “what we have down on the farm.”
Without many call-ups, the Capitals’ farm system got time to develop in the minors and allowed players to take on bigger roles.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement for those guys,” Trotz said. “Basically what we told the players in the first meeting is that there is an opportunity here, which maybe there hasn’t been in the past. Sort of take a look around and sort of size up your competition.”
Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, a 2015 second-round pick, jokingly said he observed the younger players around him as his enemies. Siegenthaler is competing for a spot next to either John Carlson or Brooks Orpik.
He lost 24 pounds in the offseason to help better his chances of making it to the NHL. The Swiss-born Siegenthaler, whose mother is from Thailand, cut down on his mother’s Thai food and switched to quinoa, salads and vegetables.
“You try to be better than them,” Siegenthaler said of his fellow defensemen. “It doesn’t always work out, but at least you tried.”
There is time for the Capitals to evaluate which players will emerge. Washington’s first preseason game is on Monday against the New Jersey Devils, and Trotz said the games will weigh heavily into a player’s evaluation.
The Capitals want to see their prospects push to outperform and outcompete one another.
“This year, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t know the exact guys to look out for. I’m excited like everyone else to see how the young guys do.”
“Those guys are sort of nipping at a spot here,” Trotz said.