As the hockey wasteland that is August approaches, starved fans are scrounging for any morsels of information they can sink their teeth into.
Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz provided plenty of tasty tidbits in an interview with NHL.com's Dan Rosen on Tuesday, offering a window into his thought process regarding how Washington's lineup may look come October.
As has become customary in these parts, the position of second-line center is once again vacant following the departure of Mikhail Grabovski, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the New York Islanders earlier this month. With roughly $1.1 million in available salary-cap space, the in-house options are really the only options.
General manager Brian MacLellan previously offered Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Laich as potential replacements. Trotz recently told CBC's Elliotte Friedman that "the third linemate with Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom probably depends on who becomes the second-line [center]."
For the past two seasons, that third linemate has primarily been Johansson, who spent 56.2 percent and 54.2 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time with Ovechkin and Backstrom last season, respectively. (In 2012-13, Johansson spent roughly 72 percent of his ice time with the Capitals' superstars.)
Yet Trotz envisions starting the 23-year-old at center. With Johansson, Kuznetsov and potentially 2013 first-round pick Andre Burakovsky (whose "outstanding" performance at center -- a position he was largely unfamiliar with -- during this month's development camp impressed the higher-ups), Trotz is hopeful that Washington will boast formidable center depth.
"I'm going to let them play it out," Trotz told Rosen. "We're going to try to get the best three up the middle in terms of the people who are really good at distributing the puck and making things happen from the middle of the ice....I'm going to let them play through the camp, but my vision is that Johansson will play in the middle and Kuznetsov or Burakovsky will play in the middle and one will have to move to the wall. In today's game, the more options you have the better off you are.
"The center-ice position is where I'm going to focus a lot of attention. I think we're going to be a lot deeper through the middle of the ice then I even expected."
On the wings, Trotz foresees a more prominent role for Tom Wilson, who was utilized exclusively in a fourth-line role as a rookie. The bruising Wilson is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a fractured left fibula, but Trotz expects him to be ready for the start of training camp in September.
"When I first talked to [MacLellan], when we both got hired, one of the things I said is based on watching him play and seeing where he is, he needs to move up the lineup," Trotz said of Wilson. "He's got a lot of the qualities of a Milan Lucic-type player, a power forward, physical, but he has the ability to get around the ice and the ability with the hands to do something. I can see him moving up the ladder....Down the road I think he's going to be a top-six forward. I think he's a guy that's going to move up really quickly."
The shuffling of the center depth chart will also push Eric Fehr, who mostly centered the third line last season, back to his natural wing position.
Fehr is an intriguing option to join the first line. He has had success playing opposite Ovechkin, though in a limited capacity. Since 2010 (excluding a one-year stint with the Winnipeg Jets in 2011-12), Fehr and Ovechkin have played 174:29 of 5-on-5 time together while controlling 56 percent of shot attempts.
Regardless of how Trotz ultimately constructs his lineup, he has several options to toy with when the Capitals reconvene for training camp in roughly six weeks.
"Through Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer -- one of them might have to play on the top line -- Kuznetsov, Johansson, Burakovsky, Fehr, I think we can probably establish a pretty good second line," he said. "If we can do that the depth of the third line will be very good too."
In the mean time, Trotz's thoughts have left the rest of us playing what he has been known to call "fantasy hockey," a welcome distraction from the midsummer doldrums.
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