-- Mike Stud, School
There were 886 skaters dressing for NHL teams in the 2013-2014 season. That makes for roughly 30 skaters per club. Take that many skaters and only 18 spots available on any given night, combine it with injuries and occasional bouts of poor play among the regulars, and there will be opportunities for a lot of players to make contributions, even if those opportunities are low in number and infrequent.
In fact, there were 214 skaters who dressed for fewer than 20 games this season. Some of those players were those who missed time to injury, others because they came to the dance late. For the Washington Capitals 12 skaters appeared in fewer than 20 NHL games. Jack Hillen was one of those who fell into the “lost games to injury” category. Evgeny Kuznetsov was one who came to the dance late, arriving only after his Traktor Chelyabinsk club was eliminated from the KHL playoffs. Others – Michael Latta, Chris Brown, and Patrick Wey, for example – have been covered already. That leaves a group of seven skaters, four forwards and three defensemen, as part of the revolving door.
Casey Wellman appeared in 13 games for the Caps this season, the first action he saw in the NHL since appearing in 14 games for the Minnesota Wild in 2011-2012. In fact, Wellman’s appearances in the NHL have been very consistent – 12 games with the Wild in 2009-2010, 15 in 2010-2011, followed by those 12 in 2011-2012 and the 13 for the Caps this season. He tied a career high in goals this season. Okay, so it was two goals. But Wellman was something of a good luck charm. The Caps were 8-4-1 in the 13 games in which he appeared.
What he did in those appearances was appear sparingly, as one might expect. His average ice time of 9:22 was a career low, and he logged more than ten minutes only four times. What he did get with his ice time was fairly frequent opportunities to skate with the big boys. He skated most often with Troy Brouwer at 5-on-5 (38.0 percent of his ice time) and skated more than 30 percent of his ice time with Marcus Johansson. The flip side of that, however, is that if Wellman was getting large chunks of his limited ice time with top-six forwards, the Caps had depth issues at center. But that is an issue with which we are already familiar.
Ryan Stoa was not a complete stranger to the NHL. He appeared in 37 games for the Colorado Avalanche over the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons. He was pretty much a stranger to the Caps, though. He was signed by the Hershey Bears in the summer preceding the 2012-2013 season but did not see any action with the Caps. This season he appeared in three games, a short stint in early March in which he did not record a point in 27 minutes of total ice time. He was, however, tied for third in points with Hershey this season. Fun Stoa fact… he was a second round draft pick in 2005, selected 34th overall, 10 places ahead of Paul Stastny, 26 spots ahead of Kris Letang, 36 spots ahead of Jonathan Quick and 71 spots ahead of Keith Yandle.
Two players had their NHL debuts from this group – Nicolas Deschamps and Peter LeBlanc. Deschamps came to the organization in one of those under the radar trades, acquired from Toronto for Kevin Marshal in March 2013 (it was so far under the radar, it was practically sonar). Deschamps made his NHL debut in Florida in late February and stuck around for games in Boston and his home debut against the Flyers. There were no scrapbook moments, though. He did not record a point in 20 minutes of total ice time. He was another second round draft choice not loudly heard from, drafted by Anaheim in 2008 ahead of Derek Stepan, Travis Hamonic, and Adam Henrique. The Caps appear to have been collecting players like this.
LeBlanc appeared in one game with the Caps, the season finale against Tampa Bay at Verizon Center. He, like every other Cap on that afternoon, did not record a point. He, like eight other skaters, did not record a shot on goal. He got almost ten minutes of ice time in a 1-0 Gimmick loss to the Lightning.
Tyson Strachan was selected in the fifth round of the 2003 entry draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then, he has been around – a stint with Las Vegas in the ECHL, three different AHL teams, three different NHL teams, the last of them being the Capitals with whom he signed last July as a free agent. Strachan filled in for three separate blocks of games this season, a nine-game stretch in November, three games just before the break for the Olympic Games, and a six-game stretch to end the season.
If Strachan was not personally very successful (0-2-2, minus-2 in his 18 games), the Caps had modest success (9-6-3 in games in which Strachan appeared). He did have an element of courage in his game, though. In 18 games he had two fights, both against players with reputations for that sort of thing. One came against the New York Islanders’ Matt Martin (47 NHL fights), the other against the Ottawa Senators’ Chris Neil (152 fights in regular season games). Alas, the Caps lost both games.
Julien Brouillette is a guy who had a hard climb to the NHL. Undrafted as a junior with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, he signed as a free agent with the Columbia Inferno in the ECHL. From there he bounced around between the ECHL (Charlotte and Greenville) and AHL (Providence, Hartford, and Lake Erie) before he found himself in Hershey for the 2011-2012 season. He had a solid year there (7-14-21 in 74 games), but that looked like his ceiling level of play. He regressed a bit with the Bears the following season (2-5-7 in 61 games), but he stayed on with the Bears to start the 2013-2014 season.
Brouillette finally got his first taste of NHL action in early February against the Winnipeg Jets. He had an assist on the game tying goal for his first NHL point in a 4-2 Caps win. He followed that up in his next game with his first NHL goal, the game-winner in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. That would do it for his scoring in his ten games with the Caps, but the Caps were 6-2-2 with Brouillette in the lineup. He also became the first player in club history to wear number “59.”
Then there is Cameron “One Game” Schilling. Two seasons with the Caps, twice appearing in a single game. Really Odd Schilling Fact… the Caps have yet to score in a game in which he appeared. In 2012-2013 the Caps were shut out, 4-0, by the Carolina Hurricanes. This season it was a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Boston Bruins. And, he was on ice for three of the five non-empty net goals in those two games.
In the end…
Four forwards with 20 man-games among them, two goals and one assist (all by Wellman), only 19 shots on goal (15 by Wellman). One should not expect much from this end of the roster. Even Chicago had their Brad Mills and Matt Carey; the Rangers had their Brandon Mashinter and Conor Allen.
Only four teams employed more skaters than did the Caps this season (35). Of that group only Pittsburgh (37) reached the playoffs. The other three – Calgary (40), Buffalo (39), and Edmonton (37) finished in the bottom four in the league. If a team is getting into the mid-30’s in terms of roster players over the course of a season, those last few players in games played are probably not going to be making noteworthy contributions and are likely to be skating for a team that is struggling. The Caps had their own version of the revolving door this season with the expected results.