November 13, 2019

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Center

Unlike the wings, the center position is having down-to-the-wire battles. With Nicklas Backstrom out for an expected 4-10 games, the position is still taking shape even as the regular season starts. Although Andre Burakovsky is slated to be the second line center at the beginning of the season, the rest of the lines are still being shifted around.  With one of the most respected centers in the game, one very hot up-and-comer, an overpaid veteran, and Jay Beagle, this is a highly-staffed position that will take a few weeks to be completely set.

Who’s In/Who’s Out

In: Zach Sill
Out: None
Depth Chart: Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kusnetsov, Jay Beagle, Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, Zach Sill
On the farm: Chandler Stephenson

Nicklas Backstrom (27, 6′ 1”, 205, shoots left. 82 games, 18-60-78, +5, 40 PIMs, 33PPP)

Nicklas Backstrom skates in the 2011 Winter Classic. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom will start the season in street clothes but that is not expected to stop him from having one of his best years ever. Playing the majority of his games last year with hip discomfort, Backstrom had arthroscopic surgery in May to address the issue. Expected back Nov. 1 at the latest, Backstrom is ready for another stellar season.

Finishing last year in the top fifty players in points, assists, and goals, Backstrom’s two-way play will once again be a force of nature for the Caps. With chatter of finally recognizing him for the All-Star game and, even Selke potential, Backstrom’s fantastic play will help everyone on the ice. With Barry Trotz putting full faith in his center, this may be the year of Nicky.

Expected to start as the top line center once again, Backstrom will benefit from finally having a permanent right wing in T.J Oshie. With the three-headed attack capability, the top line may be at its strongest since Alexander Semin was in a Caps uniform and Backstrom had an over 100-point season. Sniper on his left, a highly capable (and highly touted) set up man on his right, the top line should be a force to be reckoned with.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (23, 6′ 2”, 192, shoots left. 80 games, 11-26-37, +8, 10 PIMs, 13 PPP)

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Evgeny Kuznetsov ended the playoffs with a bang and he is hoping to grow even more in his third year in the NHL. The young Russian came across the Atlantic just two years ago to much hype and has begun to live up to it and more. Finishing with five goals and two assists in the ’14-’15 playoffs, Kuznetsov may finally be finding his place on the Caps.

Starting the year centering the top line and then moving to the second line when Backstrom is healthy, Kuznetsov will be seeing solid top-6 minutes for the first time and all indications are that he is more than up for the challenge. For the first time in years, Kuznetsov will provide a consistency at second line center that has not been seen in Washington. Expected to play alongside Justin Williams and Marcus Johanssen, Kuznetsov will have some veteran staples on either side to guide him along.

Jay Beagle (29, 6′ 3”, 210, shoots right. 62 games, 10-10-20, +6, 20 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Jay Beagle - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jay Beagle is coming off a career high in goals, assists, points and average ice time.  He will be relied on heavily in the face off circle after winning 57.3 percent of his draws. He will also see in increase in his penalty kill time where he proved reliable last year alongside one of the best units in the NHL.  The utility men of all utility men, Beagle was named third line center by Trotz during camp, giving him a defined role for the first time in years.

Michael Latta (24, 6’0″, 210, shoots right. 53 games, 0-6-6, +4, 68 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Latta did not get a lot of ice time last year (averaging just 8:22 in the games he played), but he showed some promise as a developing center option for the Caps. While always involved physically Latta, will need to show some offensive skill this year to be considered a permanent part of the line up. Most likely competing directly with Brooks Laich for fourth line minutes, this may be the year Latta will need to prove himself to Trotz and the team.

Brooks Laich (32, 6′ 2”, 197, shoots right. 66 games, 7-13-20, -2, 24 PIMs, 1 PPP)

Brooks Laich - Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

In his tenth full season with the Caps, what has not already been said about Brooks Laich? Due $9 million over the next two seasons, there have been calls for his buy-out more than once. However, Laich has been a crucial element on the penalty kill the last couple years, and when the Caps lost Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer this summer, Laich’s importance to the team might have increased. Hoping to stay healthy and hopefully out of the “buy him out” crowd’s spotlight, Laich may be a silently valuable asset splitting between the third and fourth lines.

Zach Sill (27, 6’0″. 202, shoots left. 63 games, 1-3-4, -5, 84 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Zach Sill was acquired in the offseason as a free agent. He spent his previous year splitting his time between the Pittsburgh Penguins and their AHL squad. Known as a fighter (including one in January of last year with Tom Wilson), Sill is expected to provide the enforcer role if necessary this year when he gets time on the ice.

About Jacqueline Martin

Jacqueline Martin is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page. She grew up in Northern Virginia and has developed a deep love for all things sports and all things DC. While attending American University she worked for the athletics department and followed the Men’s NCAA Basketball team to their first ever apperance in the tourney. She is an aspiring journalist whose ideal day job is running a large DC sports bar that favored only DC teams. If she is not in her office you may find her at Kettler attempting to skate backwards. You can follow her on twitter @JacqueMMartin.

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