Predicting Washington Capitals' Best Player at Each Position in 5 Years
Of those seven, five have deals of at least four seasons or more, so from an outsider's perspective, one has to think that Washington's management has faith in the long-term prospects of this group consisting of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.
Aside from them, Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner have three years remaining on their contracts, and one has to assume that Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer and Tom Wilson are in the team's future plans as well.
So, with that in mind, here are predictions for which current roster players will be Washington's best at each position five years down the line.
Right Defense: John Carlson
It's hard to argue against Matt Niskanen earning the nod here, given that the 27-year-old just received a seven-year deal from Washington, but 2014 U.S. Olympic selection John Carlson edges him out for a couple of reasons.
First, Carlson is three years younger than Niskanen, and given how much the former NHL All-Rookie Team member has progressed during his first four full seasons in D.C., his ceiling is the highest of any Capitals rearguard.
He matched a career high with 37 points in 2013-14 (while splitting power-play time with Mike Green) but led Washington in ice time for the first time, which is indicative of how valuable he is to the blue line.
With Niskanen and Brooks Orpik now in the fold, Carlson won't be under as much pressure to play 24 minutes per night, but as his power-play time grows, so too will his reputation as one of the game's elite defensemen.
At 6'3", Carlson has the frame to play the body when needed but has the shot and mobility of an offensive blueliner. With the addition of two reliable veterans, he'll likely have more freedom to join the rush.
Left Defense: Karl Alzner
Perhaps not surprisingly, my pick to occupy the top spot on Washington's depth chart in five years is Karl Alzner, who has grown alongside Carlson to form the team's most consistent pairing.
Sure, former Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympian Brooks Orpik will provide competition, but with Orpik already 33, does anyone really think he'll be more effective in five years than Alzner, who will only be 30?
Alzner is a quality stay-at-home rearguard who likely still doesn't get the praise he deserves league-wide. Rxpect his plus-minus (a combined minus-13 over the last two seasons) to improve under defensive mastermind Barry Trotz in 2014-15.
Center: Nicklas Backstrom
As if there was any doubt here.
Nicklas Backstrom has been billed as Washington's franchise center since being taken No. 4 overall at the 2006 NHL draft, and seven seasons in, the slick Swede has lived up to expectations.
A point-per-game player four times already in his career, Backstrom racks up assists better than almost anyone in the game, which is why he's finished among the top three in the NHL in helpers on three occasions.
There's room for improvement in areas of his game, such as scoring, as the 26-year-old pivot registered a paltry 9.2 shooting percentage and finished well off his career best in shots on goal. For a player with a deceptively quick and accurate release, one has to imagine that he's capable of duplicating the 33-goal performance he recorded in 2009-10.
An intelligent catalyst with the puck, Backstrom is the engine that runs Washington's offense, and as much as the Caps need Ovechkin to find the twine in order to win games, that requires deft passing from Backstrom more often than not.
Left Wing: Andre Burakovsky
This is a tricky one, because Evgeny Kuznetsov is officially listed as a center, which nullifies him from contention even if he may end up skating alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on the left side.
Nonetheless, the most promising left winger in the system is 2013 first-rounder Andre Burakovsky, who has quickly become one of the most hyped prospects in the game.
Though he fell to No. 23 in his class, Burakovsky dominated during his first season in North America, piling up 41 goals and 87 points in 57 contests for Erie of the OHL.
A sniper with confidence on the puck, the son of former NHL player Robert Burakovsky was a force at the 2014 World Junior Championships for silver medal-winning Sweden, notching seven points in seven games.
He may have outgrown the OHL, but even if he begins his career in Washington this season, he'll be eased into regular duty, just as Tom Wilson was in 2013-14.
Right Wing: Alex Ovechkin
Despite his inability to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington, Ovechkin is firmly established as one of the sport's elite and most electrifying players, and that won't change by the time 2018-19 rolls around.
Sure, there are the rumors discussed by some, such as The Hockey News' Lyle Richardson, about Ovechkin following fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk back to the KHL, but assuming he doesn't, the three-time MVP will continue to rank among the league's most dangerous scorers.
With Trotz behind the bench, Ovechkin's plus-minus will almost certainly bounce back in a big way, and though he may be closer to a 40-goal man than he has been over the past two seasons, the Caps will benefit from it.
He's a human highlight reel yet a rather polarizing figure in the hockey world. At the very least, Ovechkin is a lock to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame once his career comes to an end.
Goaltender: Braden Holtby
This isn't the easiest of choices, as the Capitals have a pair of stoppers with promise under the age of 25, but as we've seen with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in the past, that doesn't always mean one will seize the starting job in Washington.
As of now, Holtby has to be considered the heavy favorite to hold onto the No. 1 role for the considerable future, even if Philipp Grubauer looked like the real deal during his brief cameo in 2013-14.
For a closer look at their recent bodies of work, here's a look at Holtby's regular-season stats over the last two seasons:
And here are those of Grubauer over the same period:
Despite the lack of experience on the part of Grubauer, the young German had superior statistics during his 17-game stint with the Caps in 2013-14. However, his AHL numbers pale in comparison to those of Holtby in 2012-13, and his ECHL performances were even less impressive.
And though the 22-year-old's .925 save percentage and 2.38 GAA with Washington opened some eyes, there is one major factor working in Holtby's favor—postseason play.
It's somewhat of a small sample size, but during Holtby's 21 playoff outings he is only be 10-11, but as a rookie, he almost single-handedly knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in 2011-12. He has sparkling career postseason numbers to the tune of a .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA.
Unless Grubauer suddenly becomes the second coming of fellow German and Caps legend Olaf Kolzig, Holtby will get every chance to become the long-term answer in goal. With a defensively sound coach in place, he has a great opportunity to prove he's worthy of a lengthy contract extension.