6 storylines to watch at Washington Capitals training camp

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

With the start of training camp, both the 2018-19 season and the Caps' quest to defend the Stanley Cup have officially begun.

Despite returning almost their entire roster from last season's championship, there remain plenty of storylines to watch as training camp beings. Here are the six biggest:

Todd Reirden takes over as head coach

While the roster is largely the same, the coaching staff will be dramatically different. Gone is head coach Barry Trotz. In his place will be Todd Reirden in his first NHL coaching job.

Defending a Stanley Cup is a position that comes with its own challenges. Now add that to a coach trying to adjust to taking over as head coach. While the players may be familiar with Reirden who served under Trotz's staff, every coach has their own system and their own way of doing things.

What changes will Reirden make? What kind of a head coach will he be? How will the players respond?

The forward roster competition

The downside of bringing back most players from last season is that it does not leave many open spots for prospects or free agents to step in.

An NHL roster will consist of 13 or 14 forwards. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson all look like locks. That means that players like Travis Boyd, Nic Dowd, Sergei Shumakov, Nathan Walker, Shane Gerisch, Riley Barber, Liam O'Brien and any other player who emerges from camp are all competing for two or three open spots.

If any of those players are going to crack the NHL lineup, they are really going to have to earn it in camp.

Who will be the fourth line center?

Speaking of the forward competition, one of the few spots that is open is at fourth line center after Jay Beagle's departure for Vancouver in free agency. Center depth is vital to a team's success and few teams could match the Caps' last season with Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Eller and Beagle. While they still return the top three, the pressure will be on to find a dependable and productive replacement for Beagle.

Boyd and Dowd look to be the frontrunners and, after signing one-way contracts in the offseason, it is clear the Caps envision both players having NHL roles this season. But who will ultimately get the edge at the center spot?

How will Reirden handle the third defensive pair?

You can pretty much write in the Caps' seven defensemen in pen. Barring something completely unexpected, we know both who the seven defensemen will be and the top two defensive pairings.

Michal Kempny and John Carlson will play together on the top pair with Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the second. The question is just how the rotation will look on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey.

Both Djoos and Bowey are ready to take on bigger roles with the team, but it still seems too early to put them out as their own pair. Then again, you do not want Djoos or Bowey relegated to the seventh defenseman as sitting in the press box too long won't really help either player's development. Both need to play as much as possible, but both need to develop to a point where they can be trusted on the third pair.

Ideally, this will mean Orpik will get a lot of playing time early on and then sit out more and more games as the season goes on and Djoos and Bowey continue to grow more comfortable.

Having a dependable third pair while also getting enough playing time for those two young defenseman will be a delicate balance.

Can Pheonix Copley handle the backup goalie duties?

Philipp Grubauer had a major hand in the Caps' success last season. His strong play in net allowed Braden Holtby some much needed rest which in turn allowed him to dominate in the playoffs. If the Caps hope to make a second championship run, giving Holtby enough time off will be a must, especially with the shortened offseason.

Prospect Ilya Samsonov is now under contract and will be playing in North America, but he will need as much playing time as possible making Hershey the better option for him. That leaves Copley as the only real choice in the organization to serve as Holtby's backup.

But make no mistake, this is a gamble for Washington.

Copley has only two games of NHL experience. As backup, the Caps will need him to play somewhere around 20 games. Is he up to the task? The team is going to be watching him very carefully in camp and in the preseason.

Fighting the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover

By now, we've seen all the jokes in every preview about how the Caps will suffer both a metaphorical and literal hangover. We get it. It's really not clever anymore given that every single person has said it.

In terms of the Stanley Cup hangover, this camp will be different for every player on the roster except Orpik who already won the Cup once before. There is a confidence that comes with going all the way, but there can also be complacency in feeling like a championship and fatigue from the long run and short offseason. Washington's offseason began in mid-June while everyone else finished in April or May.

It is going to be interesting to see what the energy level and the compete level is at camp. It's hard to get up for the preseason when three months ago you were playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

Will the Caps show some early fatigue? How will Reirden approach camp and the preseason to help the team avoid any early hangover?

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