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Capitals' biggest battle at second-line center

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Arguably the most intriguing internal competition in the Washington Capitals training camp will be on display Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia: Marcus Johansson vs. Evgeny Kuznetsov for second-line center.

"They're going head-to-head in my mind [Monday]," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said before boarding the bus for Philadelphia.

Johansson and Kuznetsov are among four players who are vying for the No. 2 center position to start the season. The other two are Brooks Laich and Andre Burakovsky, neither of whom will be in the lineup against the Flyers.

Kuznetsov is No. 3 on the NHL.com Top 60 prospect ranking and got one first-place vote. Burakovsky is No. 14.

Burakovsky scored the only goal in Washington's 1-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday at Verizon Center, but he's the longshot of the group to be the No. 2 center because he didn't start playing center until Washington's development camp in July and because he's a 19-year-old who has yet to play  professional game in North America.

Trotz has said that Burakovsky will have to make the team as the No. 2 center if he's going to make it at all. If not, it's likely that he starts the season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

Unless there's a drastic change, Johansson, Kuznetsov and Laich will be on the Capitals roster Oct. 9, when they open the regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center. One of them could be the No. 2 center, but Trotz said it's likely all three will play on one of Washington's top-three forward lines.

"I've got to establish who is going to be the second-line centerman and there is still going to be two guys left for one spot in my mind," Trotz said. "Because of the way they play and their skill set I don't think they're fourth-line players, so in my mind I'm looking at one of those guys I'll have to move over to the wing."

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