The Washington Capitals ran train through the entire league last season finishing with an absurd 120 points. Like every other season in the Alex Ovechkin era, they fell short in the playoffs, although this time they weren’t a prohibitive favorite despite their regular season dominance. They played extremely well only to fall short to their rival in Pittsburgh. They remain as loaded as before with the hope that some young guys on the roster find another gear. The Caps are full of fantasy superstars and others who carry plenty of value. Let’s take a look at what they’re working with:
In his second season as the full time starter, Braden Holtby played just as well as in 2014-15, posting a 2.20 GAA and .922 sv%. Since the rest of the Capitals roster improved around him, Holtby won an absurd 48 games in 66 starts to win the Vezina trophy while boosting him into the #2 goalie in fantasy. I ranked Holtby as the #12 player overall and the #1 goalie for this coming season. While we can’t count on 48 wins again, he certainly can come close. My guess is that Holtby starts more than 66 games this season (last year’s total) and closer to the 73 from 2 years ago because the Capitals won’t have as easy of a time clinching the top seed as last year. Holtby is the perfect combo of high ceiling and high floor. I mention in my rankings that I doubt I’ll have Holtby on any of my teams because I don’t like to take goalies that high but if I am, it will be Holtby at the wheel if he’s still available.
Philipp Grubauer remains Holtby’s backup. Grubauer was strong in his 22 games (16 starts) last season with a 2.32 GAA and .918 save percentage. Stream him every time Grubauer gets a start playing behind that incredible lineup.
On a per-game basis, John Carlson almost exactly repeated his 2014-15 season. The problem was that Carlson missed 26 games with various injuries, including a broken ankle / foot. He also struggled when he first came back from being out. That said, I have no concern about it hurting Carlson going forward. Prior to last season, Carlson played every game for 5 straight seasons, which is how many full seasons he’s played in the league. I expect him to finish with 55-60 points, many of which come on the power play. He’s a bottom end #1 fantasy defensemen that will be in my top 100 overall.
Outside of Carlson, there are two guys who could be worth rostering but have questions around them. Matt Niskanen registered 32 points in his second season with the Caps. The problem is that half of his points came on the power play, the vast majority of which were when Carlson was injured or just came back. As mentioned above, we can’t count on Carlson getting injured again so I’m only drafting Niskanen in deeper leagues where hits and blocks are categories.
The player I’m more intrigued with is Dmitry Orlov. Orlov’s opportunities were limited but he showed plenty of signs that he could be an impact offensive defenseman. At this point, he should play with Carlson in the top 4 instead of being stuck on the bottom pair. I wouldn’t quite draft him in 12’ers since he’ll only get PP2 time, which is extremely limited on the Caps, but he’s very close and is a player to watch in the early going. If somehow Carlson did get hurt again, my guess is that Orlov and not Niskanen fills the role this year; then he’s a must own in all leagues.
I’m on record saying that Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer in the history of the NHL and I stand by it. His overall numbers took a very slight step back last season with 50 goals, 21 assists and 398 shots. The main reason was that he went from 34 PPP in 2014-15 to 24 last season; that 10 point dropoff is exactly how many points he lost last season (in 2 less games). The return of Carlson should help get that number back up. With 50+ PIM for the second straight year and a +21 rating, you worry about getting assists later and take him first overall. He’s so far ahead of the pack in SOG and is the clear favorite to lead the league in goals that it’s too much to pass up.
I was higher on Evgeny Kuznetsov than most going into last season but even I didn’t come close to predict his massive breakout. Kuznetsov finished with 20 goals, 57 assists, +27 and jumped 66 shots to 193, a good enough number. There’s a chance he could even improve if he gets the 5th spot on the first power play unit, which he should. I have him ranked 20th overall but I may slide him down a couple spots just because the guys directly below him are a little safer. Nonetheless, Kuznetsov is going to be a force in real life and fantasy for years to come.
Nicklas Backstrom did what he usually does; put up 50 assists, half of which were on the power play, with decent goals and plus-minus. The problem is that his shot rate has plummeted to the point where scoring 20 goals will be nearly impossible to repeat. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but dropping to 10-15 goals is quite a detriment to his value. I have him ranked 50th overall but I admit I could select him earlier in certain scenarios. For example, if I did end up with Ovechkin and another big shot guy on my roster after the first couple rounds, then you’d be able to counter Backstrom’s lack of shots and would love him for his assists and special teams points.
T.J. Oshie‘s first season in Washington was solid across the board. While his points actually took a step back from his time in St. Louis, Oshie did set a career high with 26 goals and 17 power play points. He’s a virtual lock to be +10 or better due to his great possession numbers and I expect a boost in points having a full season with the Caps finished up. Oshie will be right around 100th overall.
Marcus Johansson has been the poster child of fringe fantasy player in 12 man leagues. He’s been between 44 and 47 points three straight seasons but with poor PIM and a terrible shot rate. Johansson has been on the first power play unit for years but my guess is that comes to an end this year with Kuznetsov replacing him. For that reason, I wouldn’t draft him in 12’ers but would look to stream him.
The one forward with a chance to breakout on the Capitals is Andre Burakovsky. He finished last season with 17+21 in 79 games but with a poor shot rate and only 4 PPP. On the other hand, he averaged only 13 minutes per game which should certainly increase. The biggest key is that Burakovsky takes a big jump in shots like Kuznetsov did last season. If he does that, then he has a shot to crack 50 points and be a hold in RCL leagues. He’s someone that is worth taking a flier on in the last pick of your draft. If he goes undrafted, I’d look to stream him early knowing that he could turn out to be a hold.
While Justin Williams had a strong season in his first year as a Cap, I can’t see him repeating 22+30. He looks to be on the third line at this point, his power play time is limited and his shooting percentage was higher than his norm. I would definitely stream him but odds are someone drafts him for last year’s numbers; I’d rather it not be me.
Lars Eller is the biggest acquisition from the offseason. He has offensive potential but we haven’t seen it yet; leave him on the waiver wire outside of the deepest of leagues.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
1) Madison Bowey
2) Jakub Vrana
3) Ilya Samsonov
4) Lucas Johansen
5) Vitek Vanecek (pool is really thin after the first 4 guys. Vanecek is high upside but also has Holtby, Samsonov and Grubauer blocking him)
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back on Monday starting up the Western Conference with one of my favorite teams to target players from this year, the Winnipeg Jets. My goal is to have 51-75 in my rankings up on Tuesday with the top 100 finished on Friday. As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below. Have a great weekend, take care!