Another year, another Capitals heartbreak. Once again, Washington had the most points in the NHL during the regular season only to lose to the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. I feel pretty safe in saying that last season’s Capitals was the best version of them all. They still remain one of the best teams in the league but they lost plenty of talent in the offseason and their window is starting to close. They have as much elite talent as anyone in the league but they desperately need some young players to produce to give them necessary depth. Let’s take a look at what the Capitals are working with:
Elite Talents – Alex Ovechkin took a big step back last season but remains among the league’s elite fantasy players. After three straight 50+ goal seasons, Ovechkin scored 33 goals and 36 assists playing all 82 games. His shot rate dropped but still was right around 4 per game. Add in elite power play points and 50 PIM and Ovechkin is still a first round player. He belongs in the middle part of the first round.
I was down on Nicklas Backstrom going into last season and boy was I wrong. Backstrom bounced back across the board scoring 23 goals and 63 assists. From a fantasy perspective, the most important thing was that his shot rate went back above 2 per game. Backstrom was an outstanding +17, added 35 PPP and had 38 PIM. There’s a little risk the shot rate goes back down but he’s worth considering the second turn of the draft.
The first half of 2016-17 was a disaster for Evgeny Kuznetsov. His finishing stat line of 19/40/+18/46/14/170 was decent but didn’t come close to paying off second round value, his preseason slot. That said, I’m extremely optimistic that Kuznetsov will bounce back. One, with their roster thinning, his minutes should go up. Two, his contract situation is settled and no longer hanging over his head. Most importantly, Marcus Johansson is gone. That opens up a spot on the first power play unit and it will almost certainly be filled by Kuznetsov. Johansson had 19 PPP last year and Kuznetsov is simply a better player. When I post my updated Top 50, Kuznetsov will be back in it.
Must Draft – I almost put T.J. Oshie in the elite talent category but after deliberating, he falls just short. Oshie’s second season in Washington was much better scoring 33 goals and 23 assists in 68 games. He was +28 which seems outrageous but it was his fourth consecutive season being +16 or better. The concern is his shot rate fell but his goal rate went up because he shot over 23%. That simply isn’t going to repeat itself. Could Oshie post this stat line again? Sure, if he plays all 82 games and his shot rate goes back towards 2.5 per game. He’s a very safe pick in the 60-75 range but don’t reach for him.
Streamers With Upside – I’m sure there will be multiple stretches this season where Andre Burakovsky. He will inevitably cool off and then be universally dropped. Burakovsky is very streaky but the good news is that he should be a staple on the second line now. The problem is that he gives us little penalty minutes and poor shot rate. I’d rather draft someone else but he’s a great streamer.
I’ll talk about Jakub Vrana in the prospects section but I’ll say here that if he gets the opportunity that I expect, Vrana can make an impact this year.
Must Draft – John Carlson was one of many disappointing defensemen last season. Carlson had only 37 points in 72 games with only 10 PIM. The good news is that with Kevin Shattenkirk gone, there’s a spot on the first power play unit for him again. Add in a great shot rate and I think Carlson gets back to being a #2 fantasy defenseman.
Could this finally be the year Dmitry Orlov breaks out in a big way? Orlov had 6+27 last season with 51 PIM. He also finished +30 greatly boosting his value. Orlov should finally be a mainstay on the second power play unit and he should be counted on to play more minutes. The shot rate needs to jump but I’m really liking his upside. If you get him as your #4 or 5, you eliminate any real downside but could get a guy who is a solid #3.
His defensive partner, Matt Niskanen, is the opposite of Orlov. Niskanen is incredibly safe and his upside solely comes from the chance he plays on the first power play unit. Around 40 points with decent contributions across the board seems likely. I like getting Niskanen as a #4.
GOALIES – This will be short and sweet. Braden Holtby is the best goalie in fantasy hockey. I wouldn’t consider taking a goalie in the first round until the wheel but if you don’t agree with that strategy, you should at least be taking Holtby first among goalies. He’s as good as it gets in every category. Also, stream Philipp Grubauer every time he starts.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
Ovechkin becomes a clear top 3 pick, possibly first overall again, if your league includes hits. Oshie and Niskanen also get slight boosts. In super deep leagues, Tom Wilson has some appeal for 100+ PIM, 250 hit upside. I wouldn’t touch Burakovsky in this format.
Kuznetsov gets a nice boost up the boards since he’s still only 25 years old. Oshie drops quite a bit for me because I don’t think his game is going to age well. Ovechkin gets jumped over by the second and third year beasts but he should still have plenty of value going forward. Holtby remains the #1 goalie. Orlov moves up a bit since he should be entering his prime starting this season.
Blue Chip – Jakub Vrana is the clear #1 prospect for the Capitals. The former 13th overall pick was solid in Hershey last season with 19+17 in 49 games. Sure, he didn’t do much when he was in the NHL, but he didn’t have much of a role either. With the departures of multiple wingers in Washington, Vrana should step right onto the second line with Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. Vrana is a solid skater who will work hard for the puck but for our purposes, the important thing is he has a nose for the net. If you’re looking for someone to help you this year, he’s a great bet.
There’s a chance that Ilya Samsonov is the best goaltending prospect in hockey after this season. The Russian netminder will remain in the KHL this year and while goalies are never a sure thing, Samsonov has elite upside. It seems likely that he’ll be used as a trade chip at some point unless the Capitals have so much faith in him that they move Grubauer down the line instead. He wouldn’t be the first goalie prospect I choose (that would probably be Parsons) but Samsonov should be on your radar.
Late Bloomers – I think that early in the season, Christian Djoos will solidify himself in the top 4 on the Washington blueline. Djoos, a former 7th round pick, was excellent in Hershey last season scoring 58 points in 66 games. I don’t think he’s ever going to be an incredible fantasy asset but Djoos projects fairly safely as a regular on the NHL level.
Another late round pick, Travis Boyd was also great in Hershey last year with 63 points in 76 games. I think there’s an outside shot he makes the Capitals roster to start this season. He may just be an AHL all-star who never becomes an NHL regular but Boyd has scored at every level so far. I don’t see a ton of upside but given the chance, Boyd could make an impact. Honestly, their prospect pool is pretty thin after the first three guys.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow with my preview of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I will also be recording a podcast with Reid on Wednesday that should drop on Thursday with my updated top 50 coming out on Friday. As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below. Thanks for reading, take care!