The Washington Capitals have a pretty incredible player in Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is arguably, nay, IS the best goal scorer in the NHL. He’s a rare player, one who can shift momentum in a game with one quick shot or one glass-rattling check. However, as the Washington Capitals have learned, he can’t do it all by himself. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen, LeBron James needed Dwyane Wade, even Sidney Crosby needs Chris Kunitz. So who is Ovechkin’s Pippen?
Without a doubt, the answer to that question is Nicklas Backstrom. The Washington Capitals play their best hockey when Ovechkin and Backstrom are on the same line, dominating at even strength and on power plays. However, last season proved that even two is not enough. A line is made up of three players, and all three players have to play well together. So who should that third player be?
This would involve Ovechkin making a change to left wing, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially when one considers how many right wings the Washington Capitals currently have. Brouwer is a very likely option, mostly because of all the options, I am most comfortable with him getting first line minutes because he has already handled a second line role.
However, there is one glaring issue with Brouwer: his production is mostly limited to the power play. Considering that was a huge issue for the first line last season, putting Brouwer on the first line would probably just further encourage that bad habit. Could that change under Trotz? Certainly. However, factor in that Brouwer and Backstrom have never played together well, and Brouwer is not a very good choice for a first line role.
As Tom Wilson’s biggest fan and apologist, I would not mind seeing Wilson with Ovechkin. Remember that awesome Ovi-Backstrom- Mike Knuble line the Washington Capitals used to have? An Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson first line could be just as awesome, and perhaps even more awesome considering Wilson’s upside.
With all of that being said, I don’t want Wilson on the first line- yet. Wilson is coming off a very rough first season. I am a firm believer in the theory that people should have to earn their spot in the lineup and nothing should be handed to anyone. Start Wilson off on the third or second line and let him earn that first line spot. Give Wilson something to be hungry for. Rather than giving the lion (Wilson) his steak (a first line role) without doing anything, make him earn it.
On paper, Kuznetsov might be the best fit for the first line. With Kuznetsov, the first line would be three dynamic playmakers playing together and dominating possession. However, I don’t think that’s the case. First off, I think a more scrappy guy would be a better fit for the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin is going to shoot the puck a lot. That’s a fact that’s not changing any time soon. Someone has to be there to gobble up the juicy rebounds. Kuznetsov is a very skilled player and the Washington Capitals are expecting huge things from him, but that’s simply not the type of player that he is.
Two years ago, Brooks Laich probably would have been the obvious answer to this question. However, this is 2014, not 2012. He hasn’t been productive since the 2011-2012 season thanks to injuries. He is no longer a sure thing for the Washington Capitals, both as far as production and as far as his health.
Could Laich turn his career around with the help of Barry Trotz? Absolutely. Does Laich still have value? Certainly, especially on the third or fourth line. Should he be trusted with a top forward line role at this point? No.
Ward is possibly the most curious case of all of the options. While Ward has primarily been a bottom six forward for most of his career, he did help drive possession last season, which would be a huge help to the first line. He’s very handy around the net too. He would have a career year taking advantage of the juicy rebounds created by Ovechkin’s shots.
However, is it worth breaking up the third line to put Ward on the first line? Probably not. Jason Chimera and Ward play incredibly well together. You don’t break up a group like that. You keep them together, and you hope that your other wings can find that kind of chemistry with their teammates.
On paper, Fehr does not seem like a very good fit for the first line, as he has never been known as a scorer. However, Fehr is a creative player with the puck and is very good at getting the puck to his line mates. He’s also very gritty, and like Ward, would thrive with the Washington Capitals if given the chance to take advantage of Ovechkin’s juicy rebounds.
Fehr has played limited minutes with Ovechkin over the years, but they have a 50.9% Corsi for, which is pretty good. Fehr has played even better with Backstrom, as they have a career 54,9% Corsi for together. Yes, those are small sample sizes, but they are undeniable.
In order of what I’d prefer:
Tell me what you think in the poll and in the comments!