With Boyd returning, it’s decision time for Caps
— One mission consumed forward Travis Boyd all summer: He wanted to make the Washington Capitals’ roster out of training camp and be in the opening-night lineup.
He’d more than paid his dues with three successful seasons in the American Hockey League. He’d even had a chance to play at the start of the previous postseason, when center Jay Beagle was injured, but was sidelined by a virus that left him on the outside looking in as Washington rolled to a franchise-first Stanley Cup.
Then just as Boyd was contending to be the Capitals’ fourth-line center this preseason, he injured his left foot blocking a shot and landed on long-term injured reserve.
Healthy his entire AHL career, Boyd had hit a streak of bad luck.
“Obviously, no one ever wants to get hurt, and just timing-wise for me, it was pretty bad timing, given my situation, and really tough,” he said.
Boyd is eligible to come off injured reserve ahead of Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, but timing could again work against him. Even if he is healthy, the Capitals would have to make a corresponding move to clear a roster spot to activate him. With forward Tom Wilson suspended for 10 more games — pending an appeal — for an illegal check to the head, Washington is already carrying an extra forward, not including Boyd. Any player currently on the NHL roster — except for Jakub Vrana, who’s skating on the top line — would have to be exposed to waivers to be reassigned to the AHL.
While the Capitals can put of f activating Boyd for a short while,
they’re nearing a decision for who they want to keep around and, in the bigger picture, how they want their fourth line to look. Washington likely will choose between waiving for ward Dmitrij Jaskin, who the team picked up on waivers just before the season, and Aussie Nathan Walker, who was swiped on waivers from the Capitals a year ago when Edmonton claimed him. The Capitals later reclaimed Walker when the Oilers placed him on waivers. The Capitals would be at risk at losing either to another team. Walker has appeared in three games while Jaskin has played in seven; they each have tallied one assist.
When asked about Jaskin’s production, coach Todd Reirden said “there’s still more there” and pointed to Jaskin’s team-best 59 shot-attempt percentage, meaning Washington is taking the majority of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice.
“For me, it’s still very early in the process with him, so we need to continue to push the envelope with him and see where it can take us, because you watch in practice and he does a lot of great things with the puck,” Reirden said. “I haven’t been able to completely see that translate into a game yet. Also, it’s early to expect immediate returns. We’ll continue to evaluate him and see how he makes our lineup the best it can be.”
Through 10 games, the Capitals’ production has been top heavy and bolstered by the team’s league-best power play; six forwards have more than four evenstrength points, and all but one (Brett Connolly) are currently playing in the top-six for ward corps. Before the season started, General Manager Brian MacLellan said he thought the fourth line in particular could have more skill and speed than in seasons past.
While center Nic Dowd is considered the better defensive forward with his specialty on faceoffs and the penalty kill, Reirden acknowledged that Boyd could have more offensive upside. But he would now also have to push Dowd out of the lineup, and Dowd hasn’t done anything to deserve that.
“We didn’t forget about how [Boyd’s] training camp went and the things he’s been able to,” Reirden said. “Our team, we can continue to improve and get better in some areas. I think we’ve gotten a little bit more secondary scoring here in the last few games, but we’re still looking to add to that, and that’s an important component of any successful team in this league, being able to have four lines that can score. He’s a guy that’s earned that opportunity, and we’ve got to put him in the right situation to succeed when he gets that chance. ...
“Depth-wise for us, he’s a guy that scored quite a bit in the American League and is a guy we’ve committed to for two years. We think a lot of him. It’s an injur y that derails him, but I thought he came to camp in shape and ready to go.”
Boyd felt the same, but as he sat at his dressing room stall Tuesday afternoon, he lamented missing a month of game action that can’t be replicated in practices. It felt like an opportunity missed. He might have to wait to get it again.
“I felt like I had a chance to be here and play game one,” he said. “And then I got hurt. There’s nothing you can do about it now. ...
“Hopefully, if I’m given a chance, then hopefully I can pick up where I left off.”
Capitals center Travis Boyd in action against the Lightning during a game last season.