Washington Capitals Roster: 2015-2016 Defensemen Preview


Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals blue line significantly improved last season. They’ll be relied on to perform a variety of roles in 2015-2016.

The Washington Capitals used to never be known for their defensemen. They’re a team that in recent years have been known more for their offense than their defense. Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan made it a point to change that over the summer of 2014. They signed Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to long-term contracts, ensuring that their defensive issues from 2013-2014 would never again rear their ugly heads. 

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Orpik was signed to stabilize the Washington Capitals blue line and give them the veteran leader that they never had. Before the Caps signed Orpik, the Caps oldest regular defenseman (depending on your definition of “regular”) was either 28-year-old Mike Green or 34-year-old John Erskine. Their inexperience showed in 2013-2014. Trotz and MacLellan signed Orpik to help change that.

SEE ALSO: Examining The Caps First Pairing

Orpik immediately emerged as a leader for the Capitals. He was immediately put in an alternate captain role and mentored many of the Washington Capitals younger defensemen. Orpik was very solid while paired with John Carlson on the first line. His defensive presence allowed Carlson to be more active on offense. He put up roughly average possession numbers at even strength.

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The team had better possession numbers without him on the ice. However, considering his zone start percentage and the high quality of competition that he faced, Orpik’s possession numbers were better than expected. He’ll look to continue to eat up tough minutes while leading the Washington Capitals penalty kill.

John Carlson flourished under Barry Trotz’s system that encourages defensemen to be aggressive. He set career highs in goals (12), assists (43), and points (55). He added six points in 14 playoff games. 35 of those points came at either five on five (33) or four on four (2). Four of his points came with the opposing goaltender pulled. 16 of his points came on the power play.

Carlson will see a rise in his power play points, as he’s been handed the keys to the Washington Capitals power play after the departure of Mike Green. Carlson struggled to adjust to the power play last season, as he struggled to get the timing of the passes down. That’s something that Carlson worked on extensively this summer.

"“I know that situation (with Green and Ovechkin) was great, but I’ve got to go out there and make  sure I’m doing whatever I can. We have a lot of great shooters and great puck movers so I don’t take anything for granted.” – CSN Mid-Atlantic"

Carlson will also be expected to have over 40 points once again. 55 is probably pushing it because he had an abnormally high individual point percentage (percentage of on-ice goals scored in which Carlson got a point). With an improved offense and increased power play time, he could overcome that. Even if Carlson doesn’t get 55 points again, he’s still an excellent defenseman.

RELATED: Where Does Carlson Rank Among Eastern Conference Defensemen?

It used to be that you couldn’t talk about Karl Alzner without talking about Carlson. This time around, it’s impossible to talk about Alzner without talking about Matt Niskanen. Alzner had exceptional chemistry with Niskanen as they formed a very solid second pairing for the Caps last season.

Alzner and Niskanen were arguably the Washington Capitals most reliable and consistent defensive pairing last season. While they didn’t get on the scoreboard as much as the first pairing, they were efficient at shutting down their opposition. They were asked to do a lot of work on special teams. They will likely do the same this season.

Niskanen sees time on both the power play and penalty kill. Alzner spends a lot of time on the penalty kill. They are both versatile defensemen who at times get paired with Carlson if the Washington Capitals are leading (or trailing).

SEE ALSO: Second Pairing Projections

Last season, the third pairing did a phenomenal job thanks to Mike Green. The Washington Capitals chose not to re-sign him. While he won’t be overly difficult to replace thanks to his third pairing role, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to replace his production. Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt will attempt to fill the huge shoes that Green left.

Orlov missed all of last season due to a broken wrist and the complications that followed it. Orlov had a lot of success with Adam Oates as his head coach. Barry Trotz should help Orlov improve his production because Trotz likes to take advantage of defensemen who can move the puck. That’s something that Oates never did.

Schmidt will have a starting spot for the second time in his young career. He earned one with the Washington Capitals to start last season. He quickly lost it to Jack Hillen in December. He was sent to Hershey for a conditioning stint to prepare him to get back in the Caps lineup. He injured his collarbone during that conditioning stint. That effectively ended his season.

The Capitals have some insurance in case Schmidt and Orlov don’t cut it or injuries occur. Taylor Chorney (another former Penguins defenseman) will be their seventh defenseman. They’re taking a bit of a risk on him, but the Capitals coaching staff is very optimistic about Chorney.

The Capitals also have depth with the Hershey Bears. They have Aaron Ness, Connor Carrick, and Ryan Stanton. All three of those gentlemen could be call up options if the Caps need an extra defenseman.

Next: Goaltending Preview

Next: Top 10 Defensemen In Franchise History

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