With that in mind, here is an early projection for the Washington Capitals' 2013-14 depth chart.
This list covers the three forward positions separately, then defensemen collectively, and finally goaltenders. Five players will be projected for each forward position, with eight players on defense and three players at goalie. The reserve players represent the best prospect at each position, even if not immediately available for the NHL roster.
Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
Tom Wilson gave Caps fans a brief glimpse of the future during the playoffs.
Right wing is the strongest position for the 2013-14 Washington Capitals, hands down.
The depth chart at right wing reveals significant offensive firepower, combined with strong work ethic and toughness. Plus, the veteran savvy can now be combined with youthful exuberance:
- Alex Ovechkin: The Russian passed his right wing test with flying colors. After a slow start, Ovechkin finished his first campaign at his new position with both the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophies.
- Troy Brouwer: Had a career year in 2013. Will be interesting to see if he can maintain his production—especially on the power play—with loss of Mike Ribeiro.
- Eric Fehr: Showed flashes of considerable offensive ability in 2013. Key to Capitals' secondary scoring.
- Joel Ward: Much more productive in 2013 regular season than in 2011-12. Heart-and-soul guy is invaluable to this team.
- Tom Wilson: Power forward may earn a spot on opening night roster if he impresses at training camp, according to Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. Showed poise when making NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs—as a teenager, no less.
Nothing would put a smile on Brooks Laich's face faster than if he returned to the lineup full-time.
Just when the Capitals thought the merry-go-round at center had finally stopped, someone deposited a token and the ride started up again.
The question remains if George McPhee will look to solve this problem during the offseason, or if he will wait to see how it plays out on the ice:
- Nicklas Backstrom: Returned to his All-Star-caliber ability in 2013. Should maintain that form if paired with running mate Alex Ovechkin.
- Brooks Laich: Will be under immense pressure in 2013-14, as Caps ask him to fill Mike Ribeiro's shoes and provide much-needed leadership.
- Mathieu Perreault: Finally coming into his own. If Laich struggles with second-line role, Perreault may get another shot as a top-six forward.
- Jay Beagle: Home is on the fourth line, and that is a tremendous compliment. Excels as shutdown defender, face-off specialist and penalty killer.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov: As soon as Kuzya leaves the KHL, he will receive a hero's welcome, a Capitals sweater and a spot in the lineup. May occur as soon as March 2014, according to Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington.
Martin Erat will have his best chance to prove himself to the Capitals during a full regular season.
The Washington Capitals have some newfound stability at the top of the left wing depth chart.
Unfortunately, they have instability at the bottom:
- Marcus Johansson: Found a home as a left wing. MoJo's speed opens up the ice for Backstrom and Ovechkin on the so-called Vodka Line.
- Martin Erat: Needs to stay healthy. Will have to familiarize himself with another new centerman in Brooks Laich.
- Jason Chimera: Nowhere to go but up for this Edmonton native after an abysmal 2013 season. Does have good chemistry with Perreault and Fehr on the third line.
- Aaron Volpatti: The heir apparent to Matt Hendricks. Volpatti is a smart, hard-working hockey player who will do whatever is asked of him. This includes being defensively responsible, killing penalties and dropping the gloves.
- Stanislav Galiev: Excelled at ECHL after struggling at AHL last season. Caps' No. 5 prospect, according to Hockey's Future. Probably needs one full season in Hershey before moving to Washington.
Karl Alzner hopes to be playing for the Capitals when the season begins.
The Capitals have quietly built a solid defense that can do damage on both ends of the ice.
Plus, the Capitals have defensive depth thanks to a pair of promising youngsters:
- Karl Alzner: Team's best defender. Alzner's re-signing is vital to Washington's future.
- Mike Green: A truly dangerous weapon on the Capitals blue line who has regained his full potency. Deadly on the power play, deadly in overtime.
- John Carlson: Capitals' most complete defenseman. Has refined his defensive game while continuing to threaten on offense.
- John Erskine: Bruiser on the blue line had his best overall season in 2013. Improved his defense to match his imposing physical presence. Works well with Carlson.
- Jack Hillen: Pleasant surprise for Capitals during second half of 2013 season after suffering injury on opening night. Mobile defenseman fits perfectly into Capitals' system, which calls on defensemen to activate on a regular basis.
- Steve Oleksy: Journeyman minor leaguer was a revelation for Washington after NHL debut in March. A clone of John Erskine, only smaller and less experienced.
- Tomas Kundratek: Athletic defenseman fell victim to numbers game last season as Capitals got healthy, forcing his return to Hershey. Ready to have breakout season when given another shot with Caps.
- Dmitry Orlov: Former rising star of Capitals' farm system has seen progress slowed. Must make most of ice time in Hershey to be ready for next chance in NHL.
Michal Neuvirth should not have to split his time with Braden Holtby in 2013-14.
The Washington Capitals have three young goaltenders with plenty of potential, all of whom have NHL experience.
And yet, the Capitals goalies enter the 2013-14 season with perhaps more questions than answers:
- Michal Neuvirth: The better technical goaltender of the Caps' two regulars from 2013. Neuvirth deserves a shot at the starting job this season after Oates never gave him much of a chance last year.
- Braden Holtby: Focused and dominant one game, distracted and ordinary the next. Channels Ron Hextall—except for the Conn Smythe part, of course.
- Philipp Grubauer: The once and future king of the goalies in Washington. Grubauer impressed during his brief NHL call-up in 2013 and could one day be better than both Neuvirth and Holtby. Will have to gain experience in AHL as he waits to claim his throne for good.