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Capitals could mix and match at third-line center

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

It appears to be by design that the Washington Capitals don't, at this point, have a defined No. 3 center going into this season.

Instead of slotting someone into the role to play behind top two centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said coach Barry Trotz could, at least at the start of the season, decide on his third center based on opponent and strategy for that particular game.

For example, if the Capitals want to use more of a traditional checking line, he would likely choose from Brooks Laich or Jay Beagle to be the No. 3 center. The one who isn't could center the fourth line, or move to the wing.

Beagle had 20 points in 62 games last season. Laich had 20 points in 66 games.

Andre Burakovsky
Andre Burakovsky
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 65 | +/-: 12
If the Capitals want to boost their offense for the game, the third center could be Andre Burakovsky or potentially even Marcus Johansson, depending on which player doesn't crack the top-six forward group.

The Capitals' top-six is expected to consist of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and either Johansson or Burakovsky.

Burakovsky had 22 points in 53 games as a rookie last season. Johansson had 20 goals and 47 points last season playing on the wing.

"These guys should all be capable of handling it, it's just a matter of which way we want to go, how we want to set our lineup up," MacLellan said. "We have different players that could fulfill both those roles. I think it gives the coaches an opportunity to try different combinations. It'll be on their strategy on how we want to match up against other teams."

Johansson, who signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract last week, has been more of a wing in his five seasons with the Capitals, but he has played sparingly at center. MacLellan said he prefers Johansson as a wing, but he has been effective in the rare times he's played center.

MacLellan thinks Burakovsky could be a No. 2 center with continued development, but for now that job appears to be Kuznetsov's to lose.

"To me, [Burakovsky] can play any position -- he's just that good," MacLellan said.

Here are four potential ways the Capitals' forward lines could look on opening night, provided everyone is healthy:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Marcus Johansson - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Michael Latta/Stanislav Galiev

In this lineup, Williams is the veteran leader on the second line and the Capitals still have some offense on the third line with a responsible center in Beagle. Wilson is a wild card because if he can get to the net on a more consistent basis he could be the Capitals' version of Milan Lucic.

- or -

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Marcus Johansson - Brooks Laich - Tom Wilson

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Michael Latta/Stanislav Galiev

This lineup flip-flops Laich and Beagle from the previous lineup. There are no other changes.

- or -

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Andre Burakovsky - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Jay Beagle - Michael Latta/Stanislav Galiev

This balances out the Capitals' three best offensive centers in a traditional sense while keeping Johansson in the top six, where he has been for the majority of his time in Washington. Chimera's speed and Wilson's physicality would be nice complements to Burakovsky. Laich and Beagle have played well together in the past.

- or -

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Jay Beagle - Michael Latta/Stanislav Galiev

This is unlikely because Johansson should be on the wing, not in the middle, but it's an option for Trotz if he wants to use it.

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