The No. 2 center spot on any NHL roster can be problematic. Some teams manage to win despite not having an elite one – hello, 2013 Chicago Blackhawks – while other teams are perpetually looking for that pivot that can take some of the heat off the No. 1 line.
The Washington Capitals have been that latter team for several seasons, using a collection of veteran stop-gaps and homegrown talent in an attempt to find Nicklas Backstrom’s understudy. Some worked, like Sergei Fedorov and Mike Ribeiro, who parlayed his point-per-game season into a big money deal with Phoenix; some didn’t, like inconsistent stints for Mathieu Perreault, and Tomas Fleischmann.
Last season’s solution showed promise: Mikhail Grabovski, who had 35 points in 58 games before injuries torpedoed his season.
He’s a UFA and with Adam Oates out as coach, there’s no telling if there’s a match there again between player and team. Furthermore, getting him signed isn’t the priority that improving the defense is for Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.
So if it’s not Grabovski, where would the Capitals turn?
Internally again, according to MacLellan.
Laich and Johansson have served in that capacity before. Kuznetsov came up as a center but played wing in the KHL. He’s got great tools to be an awesome offensive force at center, but as Russian Machine Never Breaks points out, he’s also a problematic solution at this stage in his development.
“I want to see with a little coaching, how much he can improve,” said MacLellan of Kuznetsov.
MacLellan isn’t concerned that staying “in house” for second line center might be seen as a continuation of the previous regime for the Capitals, as the same headache was frequently addressed in the same manner by George McPhee.
“I don’t think it’s about me. It’s about improving our team,” he said.
MacLellan also said that the trio of players are simply better than other options available to the Capitals this offseason.
“If I thought there was a guy that was better than Kuznetsov, Laich and Johansson I’ll pursue it,” he said.