Slimmed-down Ovechkin worth watch­ing in camp

Cap­i­tals made tweaks to of­fense while keep­ing core

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

In his fi­nal me­dia avail­abil­ity last sea­son, Alex Ovechkin vowed to re­porters he would im­prove over the sum­mer.

The Cap­i­tals star is ap­proach­ing his 32nd birth­day and gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan ex­pressed the need for him to get bet­ter.

Train­ing camp opens Fri­day, and Ovechkin’s de­vel­op­ment will be one of the many sto­ry­lines to keep an eye on. The Cap­i­tals made ma­jor tweaks this off­sea­son while re­tain­ing their core.

Here’s what to watch for as the Cap­i­tals gear up for an­other sea­son.

Slimmed-down Ovechkin?

Ovechkin, who cel­e­brates his birth­day Sun­day, first got back to the District in late Au­gust, prac­tic­ing with his team­mates at the team’s fa­cil­ity in Ar­ling­ton. Evgeny Kuznetsov noted Ovechkin ap­peared to have lost weight — but if he has, he isn’t say­ing.

Re­porters might get a bet­ter idea of what Ovechkin has worked on specif­i­cally on Fri­day, when the vet­eran is ex­pected to ad­dress the me­dia. The Cap­i­tals star is com­ing off a sea­son where he played a ca­reer-low 18:22 per game and only scored 33 goals.

Scor­ing pro­duc­tion

In many ways, the Cap­i­tals’ sum­mer moves re­vealed where they think their fu­ture scor­ing pro­duc­tion will come from. They re-signed Kuznetsov to a eight-year, $62.4 mil­lion deal and for­ward T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 mil­lion con­tract.

Still, the Cap­i­tals lost Justin Wil­liams in free agency and traded away Marcus Jo­hans­son to clear to salary cap space, mean­ing Wash­ing­ton will need to re­place the pro­duc­tion of a pair who com­bined for 106 points (48 goals, 58 as­sists) last year.

The Cap­i­tals ex­pect for­ward An­dre Bu­rakovsky to take a sig­nif­i­cant leap for­ward. The 22-year-old signed a two-year,

$6 mil­lion ex­ten­sion in the sum­mer af­ter scor­ing 12 goals last year.

“I wanted to sign with the Caps, there was noth­ing else for me,” Bu­rakovsky said. “I’m glad I did.”

Keep an eye on Bu­rakovsky’s im­prove­ment in camp.

Fourth line for­wards

Out­side the top lines, there are a cou­ple of ma­jor open­ings on the Cap­i­tals’ bot­tom six. A third line of Lars Eller, Brett Con­nolly and Tom Wil­son ap­pears to be in­tact, but that leaves two spots open next to Jay Bea­gle on the fourth line.

Look for the Cap­i­tals’ young prospects to try and take an ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity, namely Nathan Walker, Chan­dler Stephen­son and Jakub Vrana. Wash­ing­ton also took fly­ers on De­vante Smith-Pelly and Tyler Grao­vac, two younger play­ers who haven’t panned out in the NHL, as pos­si­ble other op­tions for the spots. For­mer Cal­gary Flames for­ward Alex Chi­as­son will also try to make the ros­ter af­ter be­ing given a pro­fes­sional try­out.

De­fen­sive pair­ings

The Cap­i­tals’ de­fen­sive pair­ings cur­rently look like this: Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niska­nen. John Carl­son and to be de­ter­mined. Brooks Or­pik and to be an­nounced.

In other words, Wash­ing­ton needs to fig­ure out who “to be de­ter­mined” and who “to be an­nounced” are. And fast. Chem­istry is cru­cial for de­fen­sive pair­ings and coach Barry Trotz will give the slate of the Cap­i­tals’ young de­fense­men chances to step up. 2016 first-round pick Lu­cas Jo­hansen is an in­trigu­ing op­tion, but he might not be ready.

Mean­while, prospect Chris­tian Djoos is try­ing to add weight to be strong enough to play on the NHL level. Aaron Ness and Madison Bowey are also can­di­dates to slot next to ei­ther Carl­son and Or­pik.

The Cap­i­tals lost de­fense­men Kevin Shat­tenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency, while the Ve­gas Golden Knights took Nate Sch­midt in the ex­pan­sion draft.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals winger Alex Ovechkin played a ca­reer-low 18:22 per game and only scored 33 goals last sea­son.

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