- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Washington Capitals placed goaltender Pheonix Copley on waivers Wednesday, hours before the puck dropped on the NHL regular season, which means 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov will be their backup goalie to start the year.

Samsonov is the most highly touted prospect in the Capitals’ minor league system. A first-round draft pick in 2015, the Russian played in his home country until last year, when he joined the Capitals’ AHL affiliate in Hershey.

Samsonov is considered the goalie of the future in Washington. Braden Holtby is beginning the final year of his contract, and it may make more sense for the Capitals to move on if they deem Samsonov is ready.

The Capitals’ plans at this position weren’t clear until the waiver announcement. Other options included starting the season with three goalies on the 23-man roster, if they could make them all fit, or returning Samsonov to the Hershey Bears with the intention of giving him some NHL games later in the season.

Copley will join Hershey if he clears waivers, but there’s no reason he couldn’t come back up to Washington later this year if Samsonov struggles or if someone is injured. He had a serviceable season as the No. 2 goalie in 2018-19, going 16-7-3 in 27 games (24 starts) with a .905 save percentage.

Copley signed a three-year, $3.3 million extension in the middle of last season.

The Capitals open the season Wednesday night at the St. Louis Blues, who will be raising their first Stanley Cup banner.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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