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Power Ranking Washington Capitals' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season

Ryan DavenportContributor IJuly 22, 2014

Power Ranking Washington Capitals' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With the hiring of longtime Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals are sure to play a more defensive brand of hockey in 2014-15.

    Gone are the days of the high-flying Caps teams during the peak of Bruce Boudreau's tenure in D.C., but hopefully, Trotz's more conservative style will yield better results come postseason time.

    Nonetheless, the Capitals boast a nice mix of skill, speed and toughness up front, and despite the departures of Dustin Penner and Mikhail Grabovski, there's a lot to like about Washington's group of forwards.

    There are a pair of superstars, a handful of grinders with scoring potential and a few speedy youngsters, and it looks like there will be stiff competition for a top-six role at training camp in early September.

    Heading into the final few months before the Capitals begin play under Trotz, here's a look at the team's best six forwards.

6. Joel Ward

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    After the best season of his six years as a full-time NHL player, Joel Ward edges out Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera to grab the sixth spot on this list.

    Now entering the final season on the four-year deal he signed in 2011, the 33-year-old will no doubt be motivated to earn a contract extension with the Caps, though he'll have a difficult time bettering his numbers from 2013-14.

    As a vital member of Washington's third line, Ward posted 24 goals and 49 points, earning an invitation to suit up for Canada at the 2014 World Hockey Championships.

    Ward earned his first shot at regular NHL duty under Trotz in Nashville, and while he's best suited for a bottom-six role, he saw significant power-play time with the Predators, so 20 goals isn't outside the realm of possibility.

5. Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    This ranking may seem a bit high for a player who has just nine NHL points to his name, albeit in 17 games, but Evgeny Kuznetsov has all of the tools to be a first-liner by the end of 2014-15.

    Long viewed as one of the best players not skating in the NHL, Kuznetsov made his long-awaited debut following the end of the 2013-14 KHL season, and though he wasn't dominant, his potential was obvious.

    In limited minutes, Kuznetsov authored a three-assist performance and put home a couple of clutch shootout markers, but above all else, he demonstrated the talent and confidence on the puck that's had Washington drooling at the opportunity to bring him to North America.

    That being said, it's clear that the two-time KHL All-Star will require time to adjust to the more physical style of play that the NHL presents, but totals of 25 goals and 50-55 points seem realistic for a player of his skill level.

    Kuznetsov will surely see a lot of time on the power play, and even if he fails to earn the No. 2 spot down the middle, one has to assume there's no way he'll be outside of the top six by the All-Star break.

4. Marcus Johansson

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    As Japers' Rink points out, Marcus Johansson spent the vast majority of his time skating alongside Washington's pair of superstar forwards in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, so the young Swede should have been more productive than he was in 2013-14. 

    Regardless, Johansson, who has scored at an 82-game pace of at least 44 points or better in each of his last three seasons, possesses top-flight speed and skill with the puck, and when skating with confidence, he's shown he can be a quality member of the top line.

    But with just 14 goals in his last 114 regular-season games, Johansson's certainly capable of doing more, and with a stern voice behind the bench in Trotz, he'll be on a shorter leash going forward.

    There's no questioning the former first-rounder's abilities, but for Johansson to develop into the consistent 50-point scorer he's got the potential to be, he has to learn to adapt when games get more physical.

3. Troy Brouwer

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    When Alex Ovechkin goes through his cold streaks, the Caps turn to former Chicago Blackhawk Troy Brouwer to pick up some of the slack offensively.

    After a mediocre first season in Washington that saw him pot 18 goals and 37 points, Brouwer found his groove during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, tallying 19 goals (good for 16th place among all NHL players), and 33 points in just 47 games.

    And despite his team's lack of success in 2013-14, Brouwer once again had a career year with 43 points, and buried 25 goals for the first time in his career, to finish second among all Caps forwards in that department.

    Going forward, the 28-year-old's going to be counted on to provide valuable secondary scoring, but make no mistake: Brouwer, who has led the Caps twice during his three seasons in D.C. in hits, brings much more than offense to the table.

    He's consistently among the league leaders in hits, and with his combination of speed, tenacity and touch around the net, Brouwer's a lock for top-six duty under Trotz.

2. Nicklas Backstrom

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    Don Smith/Getty Images

    Now entering his eighth season as a Capital, Nicklas Backstrom is the team's unquestioned No. 1 setup man up front, and his ability to create offense plays a big role in determining Washington's fortunes.

    In 2013-14, Backstrom was once again among the game's most productive playmakers, as he finished third in the league with 61 assists and led all players with 38 helpers and 44 power-play points.

    He could still afford to use his deceptively accurate shot more frequently (his 196 shots in 2013-14 were his lowest full-season total since 2008-09), but when Backstrom's playing with confidence, he makes the Caps a much more dangerous team in all situations.

    Of course, as with Ovechkin, Backstrom's disastrous plus-minus rating of minus-20 is a major area of concern, but with Trotz in charge, one has to assume he'll bounce back in this regard.

    Overall, Backstrom remains an elite offensive catalyst, but after another season of middling numbers on draws, Washington will be better off if he can improve, particularly during special-teams situations.

1. Alex Ovechkin

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    As much as there's a case to be made for Backstrom being Washington's most important forward, Ovechkin's unique game-breaking abilities make him a clear choice for No. 1 on this list.

    A three-time league MVP and two-time reigning Rocket Richard award winner as the league's top sniper, Ovechkin is without a doubt the game's most dangerous scorer when playing with purpose, and despite his defensive struggles in 2013-14, he's still an elite talent.

    He was a career-worst minus-35 last season, yet somehow still managed to score 51 goals and 79 points in 78 games, so for Trotz, it's clear that finding a balance with his star player will be among his top priorities going forward. 

    Ovechkin can afford to play a more responsible defensive game without giving up too much offensively, because he'll find the twine with the man advantage anyways. In fact, since the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, Ovechkin has scored 82 goals in 126 regular-season games—with 40 coming on the power play. 

    As such, even if he's held to a much higher standard defensively, 40 goals and 75-80 points should be expected of the Russian superstar, because he's certainly capable of it.

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