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Team Reset

Capitals hope roster adjustments forge playoff run

Lars Eller, Brett Connolly could solidify Washington's bottom two lines

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Washington Capitals:

Heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Washington Capitals appeared ready to finally break through and make a postseason run. But the spring brought a familiar ending when the Capitals were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Second Round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. 

That disappointing six-game loss did not shake general manager Brian MacLellan's faith in a group that won the Presidents' Trophy and set a Capitals record with 56 wins in the regular season, but he recognized a need to strengthen the bottom six forwards and attempted to address that by trading for center Lars Eller and signing unrestricted free agent right wing Brett Connolly.

The Capitals also took care of some important internal business by re-signing restricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson to a three-year, $13.75 million contract on July 20. That kept intact a core he believes is capable of winning Washington's first Stanley Cup championship but is entering the second year of what he labeled as a two-year window.

Here is what the Capitals look like today:

KEY ARRIVALS: Lars Eller, C: Seeking to upgrade at third-line center after Mike Richards struggled during the playoffs, the Capitals acquired Eller, 27, from the Montreal Canadiens on June 24 for a second-round pick in the 2017 and in the 2018 NHL Drafts. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound native of Rodovre, Denmark, had 13 goals and 13 assists in 79 games with the Canadiens last season. Eller will get some time on the power play and penalty kill. … Brett Connolly, RW: A prospect when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him with the sixth pick in the 2010 draft, Connolly, 24, had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) and played in an NHL career high 71 games with the Boston Bruins last season. Connolly (6-2, 193) will fit on the third or fourth line, depending on how right wing Tom Wilson (seven goals, 16 assists last season) responds to his chance to play on the third line.

Video: MTL@LAK: Eller trims the deficit to one in 3rd

KEY DEPARTURES: Jason Chimera, LW: Although Chimera was the Capitals' oldest player last season at 37, he was among their fastest and matched his NHL career high with 20 goals. That helped him get a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the New York Islanders. … Mike Richards, C: The Capitals thought Richards' experience would help when they signed him midseason, but the 31-year-old two-time Stanley Cup winner did not have a point in 12 postseason games and is an unrestricted free agent. … Michael Latta, C: Pushed out of a regular lineup spot by Richards, Latta, 25, was knocked lower on the depth chart by the trade for Eller, and the Capitals opted not to make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. That made him an unrestricted free agent and he signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings. … Mike Weber, D: Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in the 2016 draft on Feb. 23 to add depth on defense, Weber, 28, dressed for two playoff games and 10 regular-season games. He remains an unrestricted free agent.

ON THE CUSP: Jakub Vrana, LW: The 13th pick in the 2014 draft, Vrana had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games last season for Hershey of the American Hockey League. He had eight goals and six assists in 21 playoff games to help Hershey reach the Calder Cup Final. … Lucas Johansen, D: The Capitals selected Johansen, the younger brother of Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen, with the 28th pick in the 2016 draft. Lucas (18, 6-1, 176) had 49 points (10 goals, 39 assists) in 69 games last season with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. … Zachary Sanford, F: The Capitals convinced Sanford, their second-round pick (No. 61) in the 2013 draft, to forego his last two years at Boston College and turn pro. The 21-year-old had 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 41 games as a sophomore last season. … Travis Boyd, C: The Capitals' sixth-round selection (No. 177) in the 2011 draft, Boyd was Hershey's third-leading scorer with 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists) in 76 games last season and had nine points in 21 AHL playoff games. … Madison Bowey, D: Washington's second-round pick (No. 53) in the 2013 draft was Hershey's highest-scoring defenseman last season with 29 points (four goals, 25 assists) in 70 games and led its defensemen with a plus-22 rating.

WHAT THEY STILL NEED: The Capitals' questionable depth on defense was exposed during the series against the Penguins. With Brooks Orpik serving a three-game suspension for his hit on Pittsburgh's Olli Maatta, Washington coach Barry Trotz didn't show a lot of trust in Dmitry Orlov or Nate Schmidt and relied heavily on his top three defensemen: Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner (who was playing through a sports hernia). The Capitals could use another reliable defenseman capable of playing in their top four to back up Orpik, who will turn 36 on Sept. 26 and was limited to 41 games last season because of injuries.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Orpik stands up VandeVelde in the 2nd

PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: The top-six group remains solidified outside of second-line left wing, occupied last season mostly by Johansson and Andre Burakovsky, who had a stretch of 26 points in 30 games from Jan. 10-March 20, but it will be challenging to sustain that production over 82 games. This 21-year-old is a work in progress and a risk if drafted inside the first 13 rounds, but don't sleep on his potential after that. It will be tough for him to crack the first power-play unit, but that doesn't mean he won't feed off Evgeny Kuznetsov, the third-best even-strength scorer from a season ago, and score at least 50 points this season.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov -Justin Williams

Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson

Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Brett Connolly

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov- Taylor Chorney

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

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