After trying to keep the band together after the Stanley Cup run in 2018, Brian MacLellan changed tactics in 2019 making several new additions to bolster a contending roster. In came Radko Gudas, Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic and Richard Panik.
Adjusting to a new team takes time. Hockey systems are complex and require practice. Plus, relationships have to form in the locker room. Trying to judge these players a week into the season serves no purpose. Thanksgiving, however, seems like a reasonable time to check in and see how eacy player has fared thus far.
Gudas was a surprise pick up off the Matt Niskanen trade. With the salary cap situation being what it is for Washington, it was widely just assumed that MacLellan would trade away the veteran defenseman for draft picks or prospects. Instead, he got Gudas, a defenseman whose solid play last season was overshadowed by the reputation he developed through the multiple suspension he has taken in his NHL career.
Stats: 26 games played, 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, 25 PIM, 17:09 time on ice per game
Gudas on the Caps
It's nothing but positives. The team's playing well, I thought I fit in pretty good right away. Obviously we got some teaching points learning new system. Everybody's still getting a little bit used to it. I think it's going to take a couple more games, but so far I've been amazed with everything around me.
Todd Reirden on Gudas
He's been a great add to the team. Certainly still getting used to some things we're doing systematically that are different than how they did them in Philly. That's for certain. He's probably been one of the biggest changes we've brought over from another team in terms of some of the things we ask from our defensemen that are new to him. So I think he continues to go through some growing pains on that. But in terms of how he fits into our room is he's been outstanding, fits in great with the guys, good leadership qualities already. A number of times he stands up for his teammates when he's in these scrums. I put a big value on that. There's certain situations like that, he's always the first one to jump in there for a teammate if there's a hit that's dirty or bad so I think he's done a great job of that. I think he's been a big part of why we've had success on the penalty kill. Him and [Jonas] Siegenthaler are the first two over the boards right now for us and they're really are willing to block shots and pay the price in battle and they've done
When MacLellan traded for Gudas, he knew he was getting a high-end third-pair defenseman. Nick Jensen's struggles on the second pair allowed for Gudas to have a shot there. Had he been able to stick and establish himself as a top-four defenseman, this move would have been an A+ as MacLellan would have solved the team's main weakness without even knowing it. Still, even if he can't fill the hole on the right next to Dmitry Orlov, Gudas has proven himself to be every bit the strong, physical defenseman and penalty killer the team hoped it was getting.
Looking to make the team more difficult to play against, MacLellan managed to sign Hathaway away from the Calgary Flames, the only NHL team he had ever known. Hathaway instantly brought a physical edge to the lineup. He has proven productive as well and has seven points in his first 23 games, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 14 points.
Stats: 23 games played, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, 30 PIM, 11:38 time on ice per game
Hathway on the Caps
I think they built this team so well, I don't think there's a void that you can really point at. I want to go and I want to compliment the guys that are there right now. They have a lot of skill, they have a lot of scoring and they have guys that are tough and play a physical game. So, I want to continue on the growth I have in my career right now and I want to continue to be hard to play against.
Reirden on Hathaway
He's a special guy in terms of his compete, his battle, his character. It's really high-end. And when you have a guy that has a broken nose and comes back and then gets into a fight and draws a penalty which we score on the power play and then ends up scoring an empty netter that's how it should work out. For a sacrifice like that, if you're willing to do those things that's what to me being a Washington Capital is all about.
You can't be effective if you aren't on the ice. Hathaway was suspended three games for spitting which is just so far off the grid from what you expect from an NHL player, you have to ask if he can keep his emotions in check. Beyond that limited incident, however, I love what Hathway brings. The type of player he is can be summed up in the sequence he had against the New York Rangers in which he broke his nose, came back, drew a penalty, got into a fight, the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway scored an empty netter at the end of the game. When you have a player like that, that's a big addition.
Leipsic is Washington's latest reclamation project. A player on his fourth NHL team who the team signed on a whim to a cheap contract in the hopes he could turn into a team contributor.
Stats: 26 games played, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, 4 PIM, 9:17 time on ice per game
Leipsic on the Caps
It's never really easy coming into a team that's won, especially prett recent. I did in L.A. and then here. But everybody kind of welcomes you really well. Everybody gets treated the same from the top to the bottom, first line, fourth line, backup goalie. Great group of guys, I can see why they've had a lot of success here.
Reirden on Leipsic
He's helped us a couple different ways. We're looking for someone to play with a lot of energy and speed and also had a little bit of edge to his game. I think that he's been able to provide that through the first quarter of the season for us. Primarily played on the fourth line but I haven't been afraid to slot him up at times with some other players. He has the skill to play with some top-end guys as he showed probably more so in LA then with Van. He's fit in nicely and I think when our fourth line's at it's best, it has him on it to be able to create offense. Also, he's not really all that fun to play against. He's a tenacious player that hunts pucks and has a physical element to him. I think he's allowed us to play a more aggressive skating game that we were seeking to play when we looked to sign him this summer.
It seems early to slap a grade on Leipsic because it seems like he has just started to really hit his stride. It was evident immediately how fast he was, but it took time to show how skilled and physical he was as well. He is a very high-end fourth-line player who presents a very difficult matchup for teams, much more difficult than you would anticipate for a fourth-line player. I'd like to see him perform the way he is now for an extended amount of time so I'll give him a B+ with the caveat that I feel this will go up by season's end.
Of the four new acquisitions, Panik was expected to take on the biggest role as a two-way, third-line forward. He was expected both to be strong in his own end, while also a strong goal-scorer on the other. He also happens to be the player who has struggled the most adjusting to his new team. A shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games certainly did not help.
Stats: 16 games played, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points, 4 PIM, 11:53 time on ice per game
Reirden on Panik
He's more than just a scorer for us. That's why we targeted this player in the summer and our organization went after him. I'm just happy to see him get rewarded with some offense. That line, it's been much talked about trying to get a little something offensively from that group.
MacLellan on Panik
It hasn't been a seamless transition for him. We haven't seen that line together much. As we get healthy, I think we'll have a better indication of whether it works or it doesn't work. For [Panik], it's been up and down. His performance has been good and it's been not so good. But we've got to give him some time to fit in and to play with his normal linemates for a stretch during the season.
Two goals aren't going to cut it, but there's no denying that Panik has played remarkably better since returning from his upper-body injury. The Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Panik third line has also played together less than 24 minutes at 5-on-5 this season thus far so there really is not enough sample size to call this signing a bust yet.
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