For the last 14 years (12 with The Hockey News) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
This year, due to Dobber’s battle with cancer, he recruited Cam Robinson (of Frozen Pool Forensics fame) to pinch hit. The 15th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – This past offseason saw a great deal of talent depart from the US capital and not a whole lot replacing it. The Caps lost three of their top six defenders from last season’s playoff run and are left to fill those holes internally as they signed only forwards – and only one of which projects to maybe make the team. Shattenkirk will be replaced by John Carlson on the top man-advantage unit and that will help the 27-year-old defender regain a similar level of fantasy interest that he possessed in 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns. Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams departure via free agency and the trade route have opened top six roles for young players and it sure appears that Andre Burakovsky and Jakob Vrana will be the beneficiaries of those holes. Both players offer high-level ceilings but will come with hiccups – especially by the freshman, Vrana.
Ready for full-time – Jakub Vrana was a sexy pick to break camp with the club last fall after a terrific, near-point-per-game rookie AHL regular season and a solid playoff run. The former 13th overall selection from 2014 had something of a disappointing showing and was sent back down where he faced some challenges hitting the scoresheet with similar regularity. The talented winger spent his year bouncing up and down between Washington and Hershey piling up 36 points in 49 AHL contests and adding three goals and six points in 21 NHL games. His season ended on a sour note as he went pointless in Hershey’s seven-game defeat at the hands of Providence in the first round of the American league playoffs. Vrana has been suiting up next to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov through training camp and if he can manage to stick with that duo, he has nice fantasy upside as early as this season. Read more on Vrana here.
Christian Djoos isn’t a household name outside of Washington, but the slight blue liner is going to buck that trend in a hurry. A seventh-round selection back in 2012, Djoos has been steadily improving through several seasons in the SHL and the past two campaigns in the American league. Last year, the 6’0, 170-pound defender rocketed up the depth chart on the back of 58 points in 66 contests for Hershey – good for the third most points by an AHL defenseman. He’s mobile, creative, boasts terrific playmaking and quarterbacking skills, and has a nice shot when he decides to use it – which isn’t enough. Djoos should have a spot on the roster this year and will push for time on the second power play unit. What could hold him back from ever truly pushing for big numbers is that Ovechkin lives on the left point on PP1 and that spot won’t be opening for some time. Even still, Djoos is an under the radar option for rookie performers this season. Read more on Djoos here.
Madison Bowey has been biding his time in the American league the past two seasons without getting a sniff of NHL ice. 2016-17 was a challenging one for the former second round selection as lacerated ankle tendons limited him to just 34 contests and he failed to improve on his point-per-game output. That said though, Bowey brings a strong two-way game to the ice and has shown in the past he’s capable of handling himself in physical situations. With just Matt Niskanen and John Carlson ahead of him on the right side, Bowey should be in a favourable position to stick with the club despite the tough prior campaign. Read more on Bowey here.
Fantasy Outlook – Despite another disappointing playoff result and an exodus of talent during the offseason, the Caps remain a deep fantasy mine. Nicklas Backstrom was at his best in 2016-17, recording 86 points in 82 games – the highest output he’s seen since his career-high 101 back in 2009-10. While it’s unlikely he replicates such a lofty number, he’s as safe a bet as any to reach a 70-point floor. Alex Ovechkin witnessed his shot volume, goal, and point totals all fall last season and in an effort to ignite the Russian superstar, Barry Trotz will split him and Backstrom and give Kuznetsov the chance to play with the league’s top shooter. Ovechkin may not be an annual 50-goal threat anymore at age 32, but Kuznetsov should see a bump and betting against Ovi likely isn’t a great idea. Andre Burakovsky has been itching to break out for a little while now, and should see further statistical improvements this season. Top power play minutes will elude him though, so temper expectations once again. Braden Holtby remains a tier one net minder and while it’s difficult for goalies to remain dominant for long stretches, he’s another safe bet for at least 35 wins and a handful of shutouts. The back-end production hinges on John Carlson’s bounce-back and as he enters his prime aged years, that should be a worthwhile gamble. All in all, the Caps possess highly productive veterans, young intriguing wingers, a top-flight goaltender and a great coach. Draft without hesitation.
Fantasy Grade: A- (Last year: A)
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