CBS Sports’ depth chart for the Washington Capitals currently has Brooks Laich listed as the third-line center with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on his left and right wings, respectively. Whenever Caps fans see Laich on NHL ice again, he may not be playing center.
During the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Caps traded with the Dallas Stars to acquire Mike Ribeiro. This was a great move by the Caps because it brought in a legitimate second-line center. Not to knock Laich, but he simply isn’t capable of scoring like Ribeiro is.
So with the addition of Ribeiro, Laich now finds himself on the third line. That’s wrong. He could add depth to the team by being the third-line center, but Laich is most valuable as a top-six forward.
Caps fans should consider the possibility of seeing Laich play winger.
Laich is one of the hardest-working players on the Caps’ roster and, without a doubt, the most versatile. He’s been known to fill in the gaps on the defensive line when necessary.
When the team’s defensive core was depleted in mid-November of last season, Washington Post writer Carrera discussed Laich picking up the slack:
Laich has always served a utility role for Coach Bruce Boudreau, playing any and all three of the forward positions at a moment’s notice and occasionally stepping in for a few shifts on defense when the situation called for it. Given Washington’s depleted defensive core, it appears that time has come.
The adjustment wouldn’t be a big one. As a center, Laich’s positioning often seems like that of a winger. Granted, he tends to shy away from that habit in his own zone and defends as a center.
Take into account the relative ease from transitioning from one forward position to another, as well as Laich's work ethic, and he shouldn’t have a problem adjusting. After all, he adjusted to defense just fine and he has more experience as a winger than he does defenseman.
It has yet to be seen if Laich has reached his offensive zenith. He scored a career-high 59 points in the 2009-10 season but has declined since then. However, at the age of 29, he still has plenty of time to rally back and break the 60-point barrier.
So, while he has value as a depth center, there are other centers on the roster that would fit that role.
Mathieu Perreault comes to mind. In 64 games this past season, Perreault scored 30 points. At the ripe age of 24, Perreault is capable of so much more.
He’s demonstrated an incredible amount of growth over the past few seasons. Playing a whole year as a depth center on the third line would benefit him greatly.
Jay Beagle is another solid contender. Beagle showed that he can be an excellent grinding center during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
He’s great at establishing a presence out front and crashing the net for rebounds. That’s paid off for him in the past in the form of small sums of goals.
Laich won’t be missed on the third line if he moves up to the second as a winger. The line of Wojtek Wolski-Mike Ribeiro-Brooks Laich has the potential to be among the NHL’s most potent second lines.
Assuming that Ribeiro can perform at the same level he has in the past few seasons and Wolski can come into his own after being passed around the league like a hot potato, the line could be a difference-maker for the Caps.
Having Laich on the right wing would make the line more complete. Beyond his offensive contributions, he also has the capacity as a two-way forward to complete the line defensively. Playing on a line with two very offensively-minded players, Laich could be invaluable when it comes to picking up the defensive slack.
Laich has been a great center. The Capitals are in the midst of a transition brought on by some great offseason acquisitions and the hiring of Adam Oates as head coach.
When the work stoppage ends and the Capitals take the ice once again, Laich may find himself on the right wing. Until then, Laich can be found playing for the Koten Flyers of the Swiss National League A.