Caps Offensive Projections for the Upcoming Season: Centers

Posted November 30, 2020

In this final installment of offensive player previews, Caps Outsider takes a look at the centers. 

For the rest of the offensive projections, take a look at our previews on left and right wings. 

As the Caps approach the 2020-2021 season, the center position is filled with four returning players, all of whom look to add more power to an already well-experienced offensive lineup. These players are Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd. 

(Caps Outsider)

Nicklas Backstrom (6’ 1”, 206 lbs, 33 years old)

Alongside Alexander Ovechkin, the Caps have long relied on Backstrom, who enters his 14th season with the franchise. A consistent point-getter and master of assists, Backstrom will once again play a pivotal part in the Caps offensive scheme. 

Despite the shortage of games last season, the Swede still managed 54 points (12g, 42a), a commendable stat-line that is actually higher than his 52 assist average throughout his NHL career. With the possibility of more games next season, Caps fans should expect higher levels of production. 

In order for the Caps to be successful offensively, Backstrom will need to step up as a leader and offensive contributor once again. Luckily for Caps fans, Backstrom has always been a dependable asset. With an average of 71 points per season, expect Backstrom to contribute heavily to the goal scoring with plenty of assists and meaningful minutes on the offensive side of the puck. 

(Caps Outsider)

Evgeny Kuznetsov (6’ 2”, 197 lbs, 28 years old)

A few years after etching his name in Caps lore with his overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kuznetsov has continued to be an outstanding piece to the Cap’s offense. 

Since being drafted by the Caps with the 26th overall pick in 2010, Kuznetsov has grown tremendously as a player and a leader. In his first season with the Caps, Kuznetsov only notched 9 points (3g, 6a) in 17 games. Since then, Kuznetsov has seen an exponential increase in playing time and points, marking a career high 83 points (27g, 56a) with the Caps back during the 2017-2018 season. 

Last season Kuzy contributed 52 points (19g, 33a) which was not far off from his higher career totals despite playing in fewer games. Caps fans should anticipate another big season from Kuznetsov, particularly in the assist category. It is the play of Kuznetsov that will be crucial to the Caps’ success this upcoming season.  

(Caps Outsider)

Lars Eller (6’ 2”, 205 lbs, 31 years old) 

Since joining the Caps in the 2016-2017 season, Eller has continued to prove his worth. He enters his fifth season with the Caps, where he has played very well offensively and scored perhaps the most important goal in franchise history in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Eller put up career high numbers last season despite playing only 69 games. Eller’s 39 points (16g, 23a) from last season mark the greatest point and assist total during a season in his career thus far. In fact, Eller’s top three seasons stat-wise are his previous three seasons with the Caps. 

The numbers don’t lie and clearly Eller is in a prime point in his career. Hence, Caps fans have great reason to be excited about what he will bring next season and for years to come. Eller will play a decisive role in adding depth at the center position for the Caps and in helping garner success offensively. 

(Caps Outsider)

Nic Dowd

Entering his third season with the Caps, Dowd looks to have more success as the likely leader of the fourth line. Last season, Dowd racked up 15 points (7g, 8a) in a span of 56 games. While his production has been relatively low, Dowd has been making great strides with the Caps and even came close to his career high points after playing in fewer games. 

Next season the Caps will rely on Dowd to assist in production among the lower lines. Caps fans should expect Dowd to produce similar numbers and possibly exceed his career high if able to play in more games. 

At the center position, the Caps seem to be well off. Look for Backstrom and Kuznetsov to lead the way and provide crucial points. In terms of depth, Eller and Dowd are both solid players with a lot of promise. Both certainly have the potential to exceed past career numbers this upcoming season. 

These centers are an instrumental piece to the Caps offensive dynamic and with the talent of the left and right wings it should make for great play under head coach Laviolette. The expectations will once again be high for the Caps, but based on the current offensive lineup fans have good reason to believe they will once again deliver. 

Hendrix Lapierre (6’ 0”, 179 lbs, 18 years old)

While it is unlikely that Lapierre will play this upcoming season, it is important to note that he may become a prominent option at center for years to come. 

The young Canadian was selected earlier this year by the Caps with the 22nd overall pick in the draft. Lapierre grew up admiring Ovechkin and has the promise to be a good future fit for the team. 

Lapierre recently signed a three-year, entry level contract with the Caps and currently plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in which he leads his team, Chicoutimi, with 8 points (3g, 5a). 

In the event that the center position starts to open up in the coming years, look for Lapierre to make an appearance in the red and white.

Connor McMichael (5’11”, 183 lbs, 19 years old)

McMichael has only been playing in the OHL for the last few seasons, will certainly find a spot in the minors, but still may be a year or so away from the NHL.

Beck Malenstyn (6’3″, 200 lbs, 22 years old)

Malenstyn played three uneventful games in the NHL already, but with his size and age, compared to the other prospects, he still might be the first man called up if there’s a spot down the center. Garrett Pilon is another option but at 22, hasn’t yet played in the NHL.

–Injury Potential–

In the event of an injury the Caps may dip into free agency if a replacement is needed. The Caps should consider:

Trevor Lewis (6’ 1”, 202 lbs, 33 years old)

A possibility would be for the Caps to sign free-agent Trevor Lewis which could potentially become a good option for the team. 

The American has spent the past 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and recently hit the market after not being re-signed. Lewis managed 12 points (6g, 6a) in 56 games this past season and has averaged around 14 points throughout his career. While these numbers are not jaw-dropping by any stretch, there is still value to bringing in Lewis. For instance, the center adds experience having previously won two Stanley Cups with the Kings both in 2012 and 2014. 

If needed, Lewis would be a solid and consistent player for Laviolette to work with as he is considered one of the better free agents to come out of the Pacific Division.