With a roster full of talented young players that led the Washington Capitals to the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and a solid farm system that saw both the Hershey Bears win the AHL's Calder Cup championship and the South Carolina Stingrays win the ECHL's Kelly Cup championship. There is no question that the organization has a lot of depth entering the 2009-10 season.
Washington returns all seven defensemen that were key contributors on the team's second straight Southeast Division championship. Plus, Karl Alzner looks to join the squad in a full-time role this year after getting his feet wet with 30 NHL games in his rookie season.
Brian Pothier, who returned late last season from an extented absence because of complications from a concussion, commented on the logjam at the back-end to the Washington Post last week.
"We have a lot of d-men. I think it's great to have the depth. But obviously there are going to be some disappointed people come training camp," said Pothier. "But that's the juggling act [management and the coaching staff] has to do to keep everyone happy. I don't envy their position."
Many experts also believe that John Carlson, the Capitals first-round pick in 2008, also has a good chance at cracking the roster. After finishing his junior season where he put up 76 points in 59 with the London Knights, the 19-year-old Carlson joined the Hershey Bears for their playoff run and gained some valuable professional experience.
"You notice him out here right away," Bruce Boudreau said during Capitals development camp last month. "With his size and his strength, he's got the physical stature of an NHL player."
That's nine defensemen battling for six starting spots, with the possibility of the team keeping one or two extra on the team. They also have players like Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, and Bryan Helmer who most likely won't have the opportunity to make the team out of camp, but would provide good depth in the event of multiple injuries, something they excelled at last season.
That's a lot of defensemen to choose from for the upcoming season. If Alzner does prove that's he's ready to be a full-time player, Washington may need to make a move involving one of their more established players such as Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, or Jeff Schultz in order to make room for him.
Ten forwards from last season's team return, in addition to Michael Nylander whose status is yet to be determined. The two veteran losses, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, were replaced by free agents Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison. That means the club's four lines are pretty much set heading into the season with 13 forwards currently on the roster. That doesn't leave much room for players such as Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux, or Quintin Laing who are all looking to make the jump to the NHL.
One question mark will be the health of Eric Fehr. He had surgery on both of his shoulders in May and if he is not ready to go, that would leave one forward position in the nightly lineup open until he returns.
Fehr told the Washington Post, "I would say it's probably 60-40 that I won't be ready. I don't think I'm behind schedule. I actually think I'm right on schedule, if not a little ahead."
The depth continues at the goaltending position as well. Semyon Varlamov returns as the most likely candidate to become the club's number one netminder, based on his performance in the playoffs. Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth will battle for the backup job, with Theodore holding the advantage due to the fact that the Capitals would like one of their goalies to have some veteran experience. Neuvirth would then get the chance to continue to develop and play everyday in Hershey, while waiting for the next available opportunity to open up.
Assuming Nylander remains with the Capitals, they will be right up against the salary cap and most likely won't be able to afford to keep the maximum number of 23 players on the roster. If they keep 22, you would ideally like to have one extra forward and one extra defenseman.
The battle during training camp for those last two spots will be intense, and there could be a player you've seen as a regular here over the past few seasons forced out due to some young players commanding a spot in the lineup. It should make for an exciting training camp as the Capitals determine how their roster will take shape for the 2009-10 season.
For more on the Washington Capitals, Hershey Bears, and the NHL follow Allen Pope on Twitter at http://twitter.com/allenpope
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