2020 Fantasy Hockey Season Preview: Washington Capitals

Updated: September 30, 2019 at 11:15 am by Dylan Berthiaume

The 2018 NHL champions did their best to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover, far from an easy feat considering the three-month long bender that followed Alex Ovechkin’s first Stanley Cup victory. The Washington Capitals finished the 2018-19 regular season with 104 points, earning them their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division title. Matched up against the Carolina Hurricanes in round one, the Capitals quickly jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. Carolina would battle back to win the next two games and even up the series. The teams then traded victories, setting up a dramatic double-overtime victory for the Canes in game 7.

The Capitals followed a disappointing playoff performance with a relatively quiet off-season. With the core of their team in place, the front office elected to focus on adding and retaining quality depth pieces. Carl Hagelin and Jakub Vrana were signed to four and two-year extensions, respectively, while free agents Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway were brought in on a pair of four-year deals. The Capitals also tweaked their blue-line, sending veteran defender Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for penalty-kill extraordinaire, Radko Gudas.


Forwards

The Capitals’ offense is highlighted by one of the deadliest top-sixes in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov should take turns centering Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on the top line. Backstrom looks set to start the season there, with Kuznetsov playing the pivot for Vrana and @T.J. Oshie on line two after he serves his three-game suspension. Panik figures to take over for Brett Connolly on line three, who left for the Panthers in unrestricted free agency. He fits in nicely alongside Hagelin and Lars Eller, while Hathaway and Nic Dowd should be the most consistent members of line four. Their bottom-six is still a little underwhelming, but the Capitals have as much high-end talent as any team in the league.

Alex Ovechkin (LW)

It goes without saying, but you won’t find a more reliable source of goals on draft day. Ovie has claimed the Rocket Richard Trophy eight times in his career, including a remarkable six in the last seven seasons. Over those last seven seasons, Ovechkin is averaging an absurd 49 goals per 82 games played. When you toss in the fact that Ovechkin is as durable as players come, you’re looking at perhaps the highest floor in all of fantasy hockey. He is worthy of a top-three pick in re-draft leagues and is even more valuable in leagues that reward shots on goal.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (C)

Kuznetsov won’t be available to play until October 8 after receiving a three-game suspension for “inappropriate conduct.” The delayed start to his season shouldn’t affect Kuznetsov’s draft stock. He’s still a safe bet to finish in the neighbourhood of 20 goals and 50 assists. He is a great source of power-play production, but his upside is ultimately limited by a lack of goal scoring and Backstrom’s intruding presence.

Nicklas Backstrom (C)

Backstrom receives a sizable boost in value in leagues that reward power-play production. Partnering with Ovechkin has made for some productive seasons on the man advantage for Backstrom. He leads all NHL players in power-play points since the start of the 2013-14 season. Just like Kuznetsov, Backstrom’s upside is capped, but he does offer a very high floor for a No. 2 fantasy centreman.

T.J. Oshie (RW)

Oshie should continue to be a heavily featured part of the Capitals’ offense in 2019-20. He registered 54 points while playing just 69 games last year, but a 17.5 SH% suggests he was fortunate to score 25 times. It is worth noting though that Oshie has always been an above-average shooter with a 13.9 career SH%, and last year’s 10.8 on-ice SH% was well within reason. His spot on the Capitals’ deadly power-play gives Oshie a sturdy floor and potential 30-30 upside.

Jakub Vrana (LW)

Vrana enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season in 2018-19, recording 24 goals and 23 assists across a full 82 games. His ATOI sat at just 14:02, suggesting there could be more upside here if Vrana were ever to see an increase in role. The problem is, as a left winger, Vrana will always be rooted firmly behind Ovechkin on the depth chart, and there’s no room for him on the top power-play unit, either. There is some undeniable talent there, but his current role limits Vrana’s fantasy relevance to deep leagues.

Defensemen

Washington’s blue-line is chalk full of good skaters that excel at getting the puck to their world class teammates on offense. Michal Kempny should continue to serve as John Carlson’s partner on the top pair. Kempny and Carlson played over 880 minutes together at 5v5 last sason, registering a 52.18 CF%. After playing 73% of his 5v5 minutes with Niskanen last season, Dmirti Orlov is in search of a new defensive partner, and Gudas looks to be the guy. As a right-handed, stay at home defenseman, Gudas is a natural fit to play alongside the left-handed, more offensively minded Orlov. Acquired last season at the trade deadline, Nick Jensen should hold down the fort on the Capitals’ third pair, while Jonas Siegenthaler projects to start the season as the team’s sixth defenseman.

John Carlson (D)

Similar to Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Oshie, Washington’s dynamic power-play gives Carlson an incredibly high floor. The 10-year-veteran has recorded 58 power-play assists over the last two seasons. He offers elite shot volume for a defenseman and is an above-average shooter from the back-end, marked by a career SH% of 5.8%. You can bet on getting double-digit goals out of Carlson, and his ideal usage makes him a lock for 60 points. There are only two or three defensemen that deserve to go ahead of Carlson on draft day.

Goalies

One of the more reliable goaltenders in the NHL over the last decade, Braden Holtby is set to enjoy another productive season. He should see somewhere close to the 59 games he played last season, making him a safe bet for 30-35 wins. His SV% has tailed off in recent years, but he continues to post above-average splits and will receive plenty of goal support, making him one of the top five goalies to own in fantasy hockey heading into the 2019-20 season.

Pheonix Copley is set to reassume his role as Holtby’s backup. The 27-year-old Alaska native made 27 appearances for Washington last season, posting a .905 SV% along with a 16-7-3 record. He doesn’t get enough starts to warrant a full-time roster spot in standard leagues, but he’s worth considering for a spot-start whenever he does get the call.

Projected Scoring Leaders

Goals Assists Points PPG PPP
A. Ovechkin (47) N. Backstrom (56) A. Ovechkin (86) A. Ovechkin (19) N. Backstrom (31)
T. Oshie (26) E. Kuznetsov (54) N. Backstrom (78) T. Oshie (8) A. Ovechkin (29)
E. Kuznetsov (23) J. Carlson (47) E. Kuznetsov (77) N. Backstrom (7) J. Carlson (26)

Capitals in the DFO Top 300

  • 4 — Alex Ovechkin (LW)
  • 33 — Braden Holtby (G)
  • 37 — John Carlson (D)
  • 54 — Evgeny Kuznetsov (C)
  • 60 — Nicklas Backstrom (C)
  • 142 — T.J. Oshie (RW)
  • 218 — Jakub Vrana (LW)

Season Outlook

Metropolitan Division
1 WASHINGTON CAPITALS 45-30-7 97 PTS
2 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 42-30-10 94 PTS
3 CAROLINA HURRICANES 41-30-11 93 PTS
4 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 43-33-6 92 PTS
5 NEW YORK RANGERS 40-32-10 90 PTS
6 NEW JERSEY DEVILS 40-34-8 88 PTS
7 NEW YORK ISLANDERS 39-33-10 88 PTS
8 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 37-35-10 84 PTS

The Capitals have a proven formula for regular season success, and you can expect more of the same from them in 2019-20. While their numbers at 5v5 leave a lot to be desired, elite goaltending and special teams should continue to afford them a lot of wins in the upcoming season. We have the Capitals projected to narrowly edge out the Penguins and Hurricanes for their fifth-straight Metropolitan Division title. Ovechkin and company should be in contention to win another Stanley Cup come April.