The Washington Capitals took the ice bright and early for the second day of Training Camp on Friday. The first group to skate was made up almost entirely of players expected to hit the ice for the first game of the regular season.
Head coach Peter Laviolette gave us the first glimpse of what his initial lines could look like inside of that group. The main points of interest come in where the two Connors on the roster have been lined up.
First lines/pairs/goalie tandem of #Caps training camp:
Strome-McMichael-Mantha (Snively) Johansson-Eller-Oshie
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) September 23, 2022
As we reported on Thursday, Connor Brown is getting an opportunity to lock down a spot on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov while Tom Wilson is out recovering from offseason knee surgery. Brown is not new to a top-six assignment and has said in the past that he’d very comfortable with this exact scenario.
“I think it would be easy,” Brown said of playing with Ovi and Kuzy in July. “There’s two of the biggest talents in the league for a long time. I’ve been on the other side of it. Obviously, it would be amazing to play with those two guys. This team’s got lots of good players up and down the lineup so I don’t think there’s a bad spot you can fall. I think I’ll have some time up there and throughout the lineup. When it comes to playing with those guys, they’re world-class players, fun to watch, and a lot of fun to play with.”
The other natural options on the roster other than Brown for that role include TJ Oshie, Anthony Mantha, and Marcus Johansson. Laviolette said Thursday that with the injury situations of Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom things need to shake out fully in the preseason for him to be set with his top-six.
“Because of what we’re dealing with, with Tom and Nick, I’m not sure where it’s going to fit,” Laviolette said. “So, we’re going to try things in practice, we’re going to try some things in exhibition games and see where it goes and what looks good with Kuzy and Ovi. If we can find the right mix there it could be him. We’ll give him a look and we’ll see.”
But the most notable inclusion from Friday morning was Connor McMichael taking the second-line center reins with Dylan Strome flanking him to the left. Versatility is a big thing that Laviolette preaches and he prefers to have multiple players in his lineup that can play both center and wing.
“You’ll see him (McMichael) at both in Training Camp,” Laviolette said Thursday. “There’s a couple other players that are in the same situation where they can play wing or center. We’re going to put players into games and we’re going to evaluate from there.”
When asked if Dylan Strome was also in that same situation, the veteran bench boss quickly replied in the affirmative.
“He’s a guy for me that can play both positions,” Laviolette said. “I really like that even with Nick off to the side for now it could put five centermen in our lineup and I always like that because when a centerman goes down now you have someone that can naturally move around. It’s a little bit easier to replace a wing.”
Note that it also appears at the start of camp that Gabriel Carlsson and Matt Irwin could have the initial leg up on Lucas Johansen for a spot as an extra defenseman. If the Capitals only carry seven defensemen to start the year, the final roster spot could come down to a competition between those two rearguards.
Another competition to keep an eye on will be in the bottom-six left wings. Marcus Johansson, Conor Sheary, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby appear to all be vying for one of the two spots there.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB