The 2022-23 season will be an important one for the Washington Capitals. I’m not questioning whether or not the franchise can contend, but can they survive not just their schedule per se, but the bigger picture and generational shift in the roster? That said, one under-the-radar player who may have a bigger role in the NHL this season is 24-year-old Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.
Capitals Need Jonsson-Fjallby
With injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Alex Alexeyev, the first couple of months of 2022-23 are going to be difficult. But the team has the talent to withstand adversity. The Capitals had a solid free agency, but not only do their veterans need to step up, the youth will also be called upon for support.
Young skaters such as Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas will benefit from playing supporting roles on the top three lines with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. However, no player will be asked to do more than Jonsson-Fjallby, as he will likely be a vital piece on the all-important fourth line for the Capitals, as well as on the penalty kill.
Hagelin Leaves Void
Signing Connor Brown and Dylan Strome will help the top-six, and Anthony Mantha has a great opportunity to be an impact player right from opening night. McMichael and Protas will be given more chances, as well as Brett Leason and Joe Snively. One absence that has been hidden by the high-profile surgeries over the summer is that of Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin hasn’t played since Feb. 28 after he suffered a severe eye injury during practice that required two surgeries. The front office will know more about how his recovery is progressing this month. He is scheduled to make $2.75 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The 33-year-old is one of three stars on the injured reserve list to start the season – the other two being Backstrom and Wilson – while Alexeyev is on the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
Hagelin’s presence is invaluable considering how important the Capitals’ fourth line and penalty kill were the last two seasons before his injury. If he can’t play, or the team decides to part ways with him, it will leave a major void on the roster.
Fortunately, the Capitals have another speedy Swedish forward in the system. Jonsson-Fjallby skated in 23 games for the Capitals last season, registering four points (two goals, two assists). Like Hagelin, his production isn’t a priority, but rather his presence.
First of all, he’s a body for a depleted roster—or at least a viable option. He can slide into that left-wing slot on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. More importantly, he can give the penalty kill unit a youthful jolt.
Hagelin averaged 1:53 minutes a game while the team was short-handed, ranked fourth on the roster. Jonsson-Fjallby averaged 0:41 a game, so he already has experience killing penalties at the NHL level.
Yet, production is still something that needs to be considered. Hagelin recorded 14 points in 53 games last season or 0.26 points per game. Jonsson-Fjallby averaged 0.17 points a game. That number will increase with more experience, which will likely come early and often this season, and he must be ready to answer the call.
Capitals’ Bridge Year
This season the Capitals will likely be fighting for a wild-card spot as the Eastern Conference is still loaded with talented teams. It is going to be difficult, especially if they fall behind during the first part of the season while they wait for the roster to be fully healthy.
Brown and Strome will need to produce, Marcus Johansson will need to be steady, and Mantha will need to step up. The youth will be asked to carry some sort of load, but for Jonsson-Fjallby, it may be heavier. There are many questions, so this is the season for the Capitals to see what they have moving forward, and it will ultimately help them remain competitive.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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