Wednesday, May 7, 2008

State of the Capitals: Forwards

Top Performer: Alexander Ovechkin. He's going to win the league MVP, so naturally he was the Caps' best forward this year.

Underachiever: Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann was impressive enough in camp to win a spot across from Alex Ovechkin on the top line, but wound up only 10 goals and 30 points this year, and was scratched for several games in the playoffs.

Biggest Surprise: Brooks Laich. When Laich was acquired for Peter Bondra, he was pitched as a versatile depth forward with the potential to contribute more if everything came together. Given his attitude and work ethic, it isn't surprising Laich turned into a solid contributer. What is surprising is that he managed to do so at 24.

Underrated: Eric Fehr. Fehr's a player who's hard to evaluate objectively, with his career already marked by significant injury woes and the stigma of being selected one pick before Ryan Getzlaf on him. Fehr was able to bring an important presence to the Capitals though, using his big frame to crash the net and create havoc in the opponent's end. He won't ever be Getzlaf, but once Fehr gets his hands back and finishes filling out his frame, he'll be a very solid forward.

One to watch: Eric Fehr. I think Fehr, more than any other Capitals forward, is poised for a breakout year in 2008-09.

Under Contract for 2008-09: Nicklas Backstrom, Donald Brashear, Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Quintin Laing, Michael Nylander, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, David Steckel.
Restricted Free Agents: Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich

Unrestricted Free Agents: Matt Bradley, Matt Cooke, Sergei Fedorov

Depth Charts

Left Wing
(1) Alexander Ovechkin
(2) Alexander Semin
(3) Chris Bourque
(4) Donald Brashear
(5) Quintin Laing

(1) Nicklas Backstrom
(2) Michael Nylander
(3) Brooks Laich
(4) Boyd Gordon
(5) David Steckel
(6) Kyle Wilson
(7) Mathieu Perreault

Right Wing
(1) Viktor Kozlov
(2) Chris Clark
(3) Eric Fehr
(4) Tomas Fleischmann
(5) Andrew Gordon
(6) Ben Clymer
(7) Francois Bouchard

The Good: The Capitals are one player with breakout season away from having a very impressive first two lines with Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kozlov, Nylander and Semin all being legitimate top six players at the NHL level. Fortunately, the Capitals now have enough forward depth that at least one of Eric Fehr, Books Laich, Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann should be to pull top six duty next season. The Capitals depth also shows in two other, oft underrated areas: defense and versatility. Boyd Gordon, Chris Clark, David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Quintin Laing are all good defensive forwards, even if none are Selke-worthy; in terms of versatility, Capitals have at least six forwards who spent significant time in the NHL who are capable of playing center and nearly all the Caps' forwards can play more than one position. The key player here is Brooks Laich who is capable of providing a solid defensive presence and the ability to chip in on offense from any of the three forward positions.

The Bad: While the Capitals have a number of good defensive forwards, the checkers could stand to chip in more on offense (Steckel, Gordon and Laing had a combined 13 goals, including several empty netters, in a combined 173 games). Other than Ovechkin, none of the Capitals top five forwards play a very physical game.

2008-09 Outlook: With five of their top six spots filled, a versatile forward corps and plenty of high-potential players in the mix, the Capitals' outlook for next season is excellent. The potential of having Chris Clark, Alexander Semin and Michael Nylander for the entire season and the continued development of Backstrom, Fehr and Fleischmann, means the Capitals have a legitimate shot at leading the league in scoring in 2008-09 (if you think that's crazy, consider that the Capitals averaged 3.13 goals per game under Boudreau, a rate that would have them tied for second in the league this season). In terms of defense, the Capitals should look to add one or two more players, someone who can agitate opponents, someone who can play a physical game and back it up by dropping the gloves and someone who can kill penalties. These roles could be filled by re-signing Matt Cooke and Matt Bradley. If they chose to leave Washington there will be other options in the free agent market - I personally favor Adam Hall and Aaron Asham; if the Capitals want to avoid bidding on free agents, Chris Bourque is likely ready to step in to a grinder role. Given that the team only has this one need at the forward position, McPhee should not have too much difficulty filling it.
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