Washington Capitals: Young Guns Who Will Play Big Roles in 2012-13
During the Washington Capitals' 2011-12 season, the team was plagued by injuries to key players, which forced the Caps to accelerate the development of a handful of young prospects, in order to temporarily fill holes within the roster.
Losing stars like Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Tomas Vokoun for extended periods of time wasn't easy for the Caps to handle, but the fact that the team was ultimately able to hang onto a postseason berth, not to mention advance to the conference semifinals, demonstrated the kind of depth within the organization from top-to-bottom.
The reason the team was able to overcome these prolonged absences was the pleasantly surprising contributions from a collection of young, unproven players, including some who were seeing their first extended action at the NHL level.
Heading into next season, here are a few guys who should be expected to take on more prominent roles under newly minted head coach Adam Oates' lineup.
After a solid rookie season in 2010-11, Johansson entered last year as the Caps' ideal candidate to center the team's second line.
Unfortunately, the speedy Swede seemed overwhelmed at times, and once Backstrom went down, his lack of experience and strength on his skates showed, and George McPhee made the right decision in acquiring former All-Star Mike Ribeiro on draft day to assume that role.
However, that is not to say that Johansson, 21, is not considered a big part of the Caps' future up front, as he still managed to post a very respectable 46 points as a sophomore.
Instead of facing the pressure of playing in the middle on one of the team's top two lines, Johansson will be given the opportunity to mature as a player and will likely play on the wing with either Ribeiro or Backstrom. If he can get off to a strong start, there's no reason Johansson can't be a 50-point man this season, which would go a long way towards helping the Caps regain their status as an offensive juggernaut.
When Green went down only seven games into the 2011-12 season, his absence created an opportunity for Dmitri Orlov, the team's second-round selection from 2009. Orlov didn't disappoint, as the sublimely gifted defenseman quickly became one of the team's most dangerous offensive weapons on the blue line.
Though Orlov tallied 19 points in 60 games (his first at the NHL level), he found himself in then-head coach Dale Hunter's doghouse during the later stages of the season and playoffs, largely due to his penchant for taking poorly judged risks at inopportune times.
That being said, Orlov clearly has the skill to be a valuable two-way defenseman, and he'll be counted upon to contribute more regularly with All-Star Dennis Wideman gone.
Orlov will undoubtedly benefit from the hiring of former Capital Calle Johansson as the team's new assistant coach, and the 20-year-old should count on playing bigger minutes on a nightly basis in 2012-13.
In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Braden Holtby exceeded expectations in dramatic fashion, as the 22-year-old netminder authored one of the most memorable postseason performances by a rookie in recent memory.
First, the former fourth round pick out-dueled Tim Thomas, the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner, as the Caps upset the defending Cup champions from Boston in seven games.
If that wasn't enough, Holtby helped Washington push the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers to a seventh game in the semifinals, and in doing so, he cemented his status as the team's de facto starting goaltender heading into the 2012-13 season.
Since Olaf Kolzig's career in Washington came to an end in 2008, the Caps have had a total of four different starting goaltenders, but if Holtby can replicate the magic he displayed during the spring of 2012, the ongoing game of musical chairs in the Caps' crease could be coming to an end this season.
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