NHL Draft: Top 31 prospect rankings for 2020

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By Ryan Wagman, McKeen’s Hockey lead prospect writer

After providing a few mock drafts for Rotoworld towards the tail end of last season, I have been asked to make the mock a more regular feature for 2019-20. To that extent, this marks the jumping off point for 2019-20 NHL draft coverage here, with a look at McKeen’s Hockey’s first draft rankings. It is obviously too early to make this a traditional mock draft, in that the NHL standings are too fresh to presume which team will finish in what order, not to mention how the various teams will want to pick players.

Beyond that, it is very early for the players we are about to introduce as well. As an NHL scout taught me when I first begin to watch with intent*, most draft eligible players really only begin to take off after Christmas and the World Juniors. 

*While what I do is effectively scouting, I will reserve that terminology for those whose scouting will have a direct impact on the selections made by their employers. Neither McKeens nor Rotoworld is currently in the business of putting hockey teams together.

So in addition to the three late season mock drafts such as we did last year, there will be three additional, earlier mocks, starting with the one you are reading today. As the months pass, the draft picture will become clearer, just like the various skill sets of the players up for discussion will refine their games and clarify what they will become at their respective peaks.

As always, the players listed and the insights into their games have come from the McKeen’s Hockey scouting team. We have dedicated watchers with intent in rinks across the Northern Hemisphere and this and subsequent lists would not be possible without their collective input.

Without further blather, here is an early look at the top 31 draft candidates for the 2020 NHL Draft.

1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL – Two years before his draft eligible season, Lafreniere topped the point per game mark as a CHL rookie. He followed that up by adding an additional 25 points to his final totals last year, a season in which he also spent some time representing Canada at the World Junior Championship. He would have gone to the U18 tournament again, too, but his Oceanic were pushing through the Q postseason. His point pace this year is putting the two previous years to shame, with 39 points through 16 games, by far the best numbers of anyone, of any age, in any CHL league. He has a pro frame and his offensive tools and instincts are unparalleled in this draft class. While he is not known for playing in the greasy areas, he never gives up on a play and has a rare ability to create – and finish – scoring chances. 

2Lucas Raymond, RW/LW, Frolunda HC, SHL – After tearing up Sweden’s U20 league last year as a 16-year-old, Raymond shone under the international spotlight, helping lead Sweden to a gold medal at the U18 tournament. Now playing men’s hockey for Frolunda, he is still able to drive the play forward with his great hands and vision. The numbers aren’t all there yet, but he is a combo goalscorer/playmaker just waiting to break out.

3. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves, OHL – The much heralded Byfield, two years ago the top pick in the OHL Priority Selection, is going to contend for the same honors at the NHL level next June. After a near point-per-game rookie campaign last year, he is essentially doubling that so far, with 31 points through his first 16 games. He is a dominating power forward with ideal size and skating ability, thinks the game at an advanced level, and has high end hands. 

4. Alexander Holtz, RW/LW, Djurgardens IF, SHL – Similar in developmental path to Raymond above, Holtz has been a bit more prolific in what should be his first full season playing in the SHL. Not the play driver like Raymond, he plays more of a two-way game with a killer shot and enough skill in his hands to keep defenders guessing. A bit more of a complementary player, he can nevertheless finish chances at a high rate.

5. Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters, OHL – Undersized but incredibly smooth and fast on his feet, Drysdale is the highest upside blue liner for the 2020 NHL Draft, by a considerable margin, through the early going. He put up very good numbers as a rookie on a poor Erie team last year is has taken a next step so far this season. He frequently has games that suggest a future number one defender at the highest level, an impression helped along by his mate hockey sense. Is already a real candidate for Canada’s World Juniors entry as a 17-year-old. 

6. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit, OHL – A top three talent in some draft classes, Perfetti’s ranking here is a testament to the strong top end of the 202 draft class. A gifted scorer, he put up 37 goals as an OHL rookie last year. Despite a relatively slow start to his draft year scoring-wise, (16-5-22-27), he has above average offensive tools and is one of the smartest players in this age group, and one of the top two centers as well.

7. Tim Stutzle, F, Adler Mannheim, DEL – The easy part is recognizing his high end puck handling skills, as is his impressive edge work, and his willingness to engage physically with much older players. The hard part is determining exactly how much of that is translatable. The German league is improving, and he played a massive role in helping his native Germany earn promotion to the top flight of U18 hockey, Stutzle’s game is not directly comparable to compatriot and former teammate Moritz Seider in the sense that his skill is rarer in the German game than Seider’s mature and physical game. Uncertainties aside, the potential is special.

8. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers, WHL – One of Canada’s standouts at the 2019 U18 tournament, Zary has picked things up right where he left off in the early goings. With a September birthday, he is on the older side for a first year eligible, around two weeks older then Lafreniere. But with that maturity, comes a more mature game as well, as he plays smart at all ends of the ice, creating space for himself and his teammates through his passes and mobility. Zary also brings a lot of positive energy to the game.

9. Anton Lundell, C/LW, HIFK, Liiga – A big-bodied, versatile forward who is already in his second season in the Liiga, putting up remarkable numbers for a draft eligible player. He similarly played a strong game for Finland at the 2019 World Juniors, which they won. His success is due to a combination of plus skills and incredible offensive instincts. His speed is decent but could be so much more with added strength. Has a clear path to a top six future. 

10. Yaroslav Askarov, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, VHL – For the doubts that I still had on Spencer Knight as the 2019 NHL Draft approached, I am more confident at this stage in the ability to Askarov to live up the glowing early reports. An incredibly athletic netminder, he tracks the puck like a ten year pro, while possessing near elite reflexes. Incredibly accomplished at the international level, he is also receiving plenty of playing time in Russia’s second men’s league, the VHL, and holding his own.

11. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67s, OHL – The best prospect to come from out of Austria since Thomas Vanek, Rossi exceeded all expectations as a rookie last year, with over a point per game in both the regular seasons and the playoffs. Although on the small side, he plays a chippy game to go along with his fine wheels, and solid all-around tool set. 

12. Noel Gunler, RW/LW, Lulea HF, SHL – A clever, offensively inclined winger, Gunler is more quick than fast. He has an innate feel for finding soft spots in coverage and turning them into scoring chances. He still needs to work on his game away from the puck, but his early success in the Champions Hockey League has raised some eyebrows, despite rarely being called up to play internationally for Sweden.

13. Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin Badgers, Big 10 – A true freshman coming off a dominant season with Okotoks of the AJHL, Holloway has demonstrated his impressive tools in the early going for the Badgers. He brings a strong offensive presence with plus stickhandling and a more aggressive game than most in this draft class. He looks ready to burst as the skills catch up to the pace of the NCAA.

14. Ty Smilanic, LW USNTDP, USHL – This year’s USNTDP U18 class is nothing like the star class of 2018 which saw eight players taken in the first round, and all but two draft eligible drafted, there is still some very intriguing talent, and Smilanic is the most interesting of the bunch. He is a very agile skater with high end hands and he processes the game well. Was hurt to start the year and is still warming up, production-wise.

15. Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Saugeneens, QMJHL – Great hands and strong skating ability are united in a high end hockey brain to make Lapierre a very exciting draft prospect in the 2020 class. The top pick of the QMJHL’s 2018 Entry Draft, he is overshadowed by Alexis Lafreniere, but his contributions are still essential to Chicoutimi’s chances. A pure playmaker, he makes great reads and has plus anticipation, helping to make his linemates better. His hockey IQ also extends to the defensive end, and Lapierre is an excellent penalty killer to boot. 

16. Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL – A key member of last year’s QMJHL finalists, Barron is one of several understated future top four defenders in this year’s draft class. He is a good skater for his size, and he helps to shut down opposing rushes with great gap control and then he puts the Mooseheads in gear with consistently high end first passes to begin the transition. Has a good point shot, but lacks a dynamic presence in the offensive zone.

17. Justin Sourdif, C/RW, Vancouver Giants, WHL – One of the top picks in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, Sourdif is looking like one of the top draft prospects from the WHL for the spring of 2020. He needs to beef up, but he plays a power game, driving the net aggressively. He is a strong skater with high marks for his ability to close in on the puck, and his decision making under pressure. 

18. Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL – Younger brother of Brendan Guhle of the Anaheim Ducks, Kaiden is bigger and similarly advanced as a skater. He is not a flashy presence in the offensive zone, but demonstrates great stick work and gap control and uses his strength well without being mean. That all said, he is no old-school defensive defenseman, but a player who can kickstart the counterattack with a head for the transition game.

19. Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL – Although he has also spent time this year in the second men’s league and the top junior league in Russia, Amirov has spent the bulk of the early season playing in the KHL. While his production there isn’t rivalling his accomplishments at last year’s U18 tournament, he is still able to show off his fast-paced offensive game, plus skating, and intriguing puck skills. His game away from the puck has not yet caught up to his game with it.

20. Emil Andrae, D, HV71 J20, SuperElit – A modern day defender who makes up in smarts what he lacks in size or strength. He reads the game like an aged pro and is a strong contributor at both ends of the ice. Despite his eye-popping early season numbers, Andrae is not gifted with jaw dropping skills, but he moves the puck very well and plays the type of game which will see him on the right side of the puck more often than not, pushing play in the right direction.

21. Seth Jarvis, RW, Portland Winterhawks, WHL – An undersized point producer, Jarvis is following up a strong rookie season in the WHL with over a point per game in his draft year. He is a dynamic player with high end vision and creativity. He can attack defenders one on one with his speed and hands, or play within a team structure. Like many players his size, he will have to show that he can stand up to the full season grind, and prove some utility off the puck.

22. Zion Nybeck, RW, HV71 J20, SuperElit – A teammate of Andrea’s with HV71’s junior program, Nybeck is even smaller than his undersized teammate. He is quick with fantastic hands, which he deploys with creativity and instincts. He will be asked to prove that he can contribute off the puck, a question that dogs most players of his stature, but the early returns are positive. 

23. Jacob Perreault, C, Sarnia Sting, OHL – The son of two-way center Yanic Perreault, Jacob looks to be following in his father’s footsteps. Although he lacks any real defining tools to advertise his game, he does everything at a solid, and promising for more, level. His high end hockey IQ will eventually allow all of his skills to play up at maturity.

24. Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP, USHL – The son of Geoff Sanderson, the younger defenseman is also a plus skater, although not the burner his father was. He plays a very low key game, with a high panic threshold, and a great, consistent first pass out of the zone. A shutdown type, but more regularly on the penalty kill than the power play.

25. Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL – A high energy center with great hockey sense, Bourque overcomes his size concerns with strong skating and a feisty demeanor on the ice. The center is an offensive force, leaning more towards the finishing side of the attack than the playmaker. A committed backcheker, he wants the puck and wants to impact the game with it.

26. Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL – On the younger side with a June birthday, Poirier did what he could with a putrid Saint John team as a rookie last year, and while the team isn’t a big competitor yet, Poirier is excelling, with almost a point per game from the blueline so far. He has gained the confidence that he lacked last season, allowing him to lead the attack with regularity. He has demonstrated the ability to be passable away from the puck, but suffers from the occasional lapse in concentration. 

27. Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL – Considering his usage internationally for Team Canada at last years U18 tournament and the recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Schneider is not a big offensive presence, but is very much a defense first blue liner. He has a large, mature frame and skates very well, controlling things in his own zone through mature positioning, coupled with his strength. Developing his offensive game would see him move up future versions of this list.

28. Roni Hirvonen, C Assat, Liiga – Although small, Hirvonen is a skilled forward with plus instincts. Despite his age, he has been performing admirably as a 17-year-old in the Liiga. An equal opportunity shooter and playmaker, he makes up for his lack of size with plus skating and the ability to make plays at speed. After a massive Hlinka Gretzky Cup, look for more international exposure before draft day.

29. Antonio Stranges, C/LW, London Knights, OHL – So far, Stranges is more potential than production, but, to his credit, his early season numbers are heading in the right direction. You are still hoping to see more consistency as the season progresses, his puck skills are among the best in the draft class. In addition to a steadier game, he could also stand to show more assertiveness and fearlessness, while also improving his footwork to increase his chances of realizing his potential.

30. Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL – Not the flashiest or most talented defenseman in the 2020 draft class, O’Rourke is a strong, somewhat brawny blueline rock instead. It’s not that he cannot contribute to the offensive attack, because he can, but his puck moving ability is more fitting on a second pairing than a first, or a prime powerplay slot. Still very valuable in the late first round.

31. Dawson Mercer, RW, Drummondville Voltiguers, QMJHL – After approaching one point per game last year, Mercer is stepping forward in his draft year, scoring nearly one goal per game so far. He is a great North-South skater, who plays hard at both ends and has turned himself into a useful penalty killer in addition to his killer finishing ability from the slot. His success is more a function of his hockey smarts than his innate skill set. 

Observations for all of the above are courtesy of the amazing McKeens Prospect Team. Brock Otten, OHL; Jimmy Hamrin, Sweden; Mike Sanderson, QMJHL; Vince Gibbons, WHL; Marco Bombino, Finland; Alessandro Seren Rosso, Russia.

If you’re looking for more prospect or fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. Ryan Dadoun writes have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column written by writers from McKeen’s Hockey.

For more coverage of top prospects and the 2020 NHL Draft, follow @Ryan Wagman on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Georgiev shines again; big days for Scheifele, Barkov

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Three Stars

1. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. It was a pretty dominant win for the Rangers on Sunday evening as they picked up a 5-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights thanks to some big offensive contributions from their blue line and another goal from superstar free agent signing Artemi Panarin. It was also another great day for Georgiev as he continued his recent stretch of great play, stopping all 38 shots he faced for his second shutout in his past four appearances. His save percentage for the season is now above .920 while he has allowed just four goals in his past four games.

2. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg has been one of the big surprise stories in the league this season as they continue to make things work and collect points with a mostly makeshift defensive lineup. Starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been the big star for them this season — and he was great again on Sunday — but it was Scheifele that stepped up in a big way against the Anaheim Ducks with a pair of goals in a 3-2 win. He has now scored goals in three consecutive games.

3. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers. The Panthers were dominant on Sunday afternoon against a struggling San Jose Sharks team (read more about them here), and it was Barkov helping to get things rolling with an early goal and assist to get them out to an early 2-0 lead. He is now on a five-game point streak and is continuing to show this season how he is one of the league’s best all-around players. Alongside Jonathan Huberdeau they give the Panthers one of the best scoring duos in the league.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • Colin Miller has been a healthy scratch quite often this season but was in the lineup on Sunday and helped the Buffalo Sabres get two huge points by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.
  • Carl Soderberg helped the Coyotes erase a two-goal deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks by setting up one goal and then tying the game on a power play goal.

Highlights of the Night

Robin Lehner may not be able to stop anything in the shootout (read more about that here) but he is pretty great during regulation. This save on Clayton Keller was his best of the night on Sunday to help get the game to overtime.

The other goalie in that game, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper, is also pretty outstanding and made a great save of his own to help them get another win to move back into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division.

Jack Eichel continued his brilliant season and extended his point streak by helping set up Colin Miller’s game-winning goal in overtime for the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.

Image(s) of the Night

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson takes Blake Wheeler‘s stick out of his hands and calmly placed it on top of the net.

Factoids

  • Thanks to points from Marc Staal, Tony DeAngelo, Jacob Trouba, and Ryan Lindgren the Rangers now have more points from their blue line this season than any team in the NHL this season, moving ahead of both the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Huberdeau moved ahead of Stephen Weiss for second place on the Panthers’ all-time scoring list. [Florida Panthers PR]
  • The Coyotes’ win in Chicago on Sunday was their third multi-goal comeback win this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Winnipeg Jets 3, Anaheim Ducks 2
Florida Panthers 5, San Jose Sharks 1
New York Rangers 5, Vegas Golden Knights 0
Arizona Coyotes 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (OT)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lehner’s shootout struggles continue in Blackhawks’ loss

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Robin Lehner has been one of the very few bright spots for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, and he was really good again on Sunday night in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes.

He stopped 44 shots, gave his team a chance to win on a night where they probably did not deserve the one point they ended up getting in the standings, and made an absolutely incredible save on a wide open Clayton Keller to keep the game tied mid-way through the third period.

For 65 minutes he was mostly outstanding, just as he has been all season. Sunday’s performance keeps his season save percentage at .929 — among the best marks in the league — as he continues to help mask the flaws of a bad defensive team and gives them a chance to win in almost every appearance he makes.

He has just had one major Achilles heel that showed itself again on Sunday — he can not stop anything in a shootout.

By allowing two goals on the only two shots shots he faced on Sunday to the Coyotes, he is now 0-3 in shootouts this season and has allowed six goals on seven shots.

This is not a new problem, either.

Dating back to the start of the 2015-16 season Lehner has won just one of the 14 shootouts he has participated with a .357 save percentage. Of the 75 goalies that have faced at least 10 shots in shootouts during that stretch, Lehner is one of just two goalies that has stopped fewer than 50 percent of the attempts against him. The only player with a worse mark is Michael Hutchinson, who has a .333 mark. Hutchinson has only faced 12 shots. Lehner has faced 42 shots.

The thing that has to be especially frustrating this season is that in the three shootouts he has lost he has been the only reason the Blackhawks were even in the games.

Back on Oct. 22 Lehner stopped 33 out of 34 shots against the Vegas Golden Knights in a game where he received one goal of offensive support in regulation. He then allowed two goals on three shots in the shootout.

It was a similar story on Nov. 23 when he stopped 40 out of 41 shots against Dallas and again only received one goal of support. He allowed two goals on two shots in the shootout.

Lehner was asked on Sunday if he has gone back and looked at things since his most recent shootout loss to see if there is anything he can improve on or do differently.

“I have. We are still working on it,” said Lehner. “We will see what happens. We will see what happens. It is what it is. I am positive about it — just not very good at it. Have to get better, keep working on it, keep finding another way.”

As for the Coyotes, their win on Sunday, combined with the Edmonton Oilers’ overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres, puts them in a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with 40 points. The Oilers currently have the tiebreaker due to more regulation wins.

Related: What is driving Coyotes’ fast start, and can they maintain it?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks still in trouble after miserable Florida weekend

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About a week ago the San Jose Sharks looked like they were getting back on track. They had won 11 out of 13 games, were climbing back up the standings, and starting to finally resemble the team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

They were probably a little fortunate during that hot streak thanks to a bunch of one-goal wins, including a perfect 4-0 mark in games that went beyond regulation, but after the start they had they really need to stack up some points. To their credit, they did.

But after Sunday’s ugly 5-1 loss in Florida, which game just 24 hours after an even uglier 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay, the Sharks have now lost four games in a row and are just 6-8-2 away from the Shark Tank this season. This ugly Florida trip, which saw them be outscored by a 12-2 margin, also dropped their season goal-differential to a miserable minus-23, which is currently the second-worst in the Western Conference and one of the five worst in the entire NHL.

If you wanted to be an optimist about this team you could point to the fact that even with all of their struggles they are still just two points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, still have enough talent on their roster to win, and still have 50 games remaining in the regular season to turn things around.

The problem with that is they have played more games (in many cases multiple games) than every team around them in the playoff race, while their point percentage (.500 as of Sunday night) is only 25th in the NHL, right between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, two teams that are going nowhere. They are only on pace for 82 points at the moment and still have a gigantic problem in goal. They were so dominant a year ago that they were able to mostly outplay their goaltending issues. They are not that dominant this season, and we are starting to get to a point where we are getting an idea of what every team is capable of and what they are.

The most concerning number for the Sharks is that goal-differential, because teams that get outscored by this many goals at this point in the season do not tend to get back on track. It is very simple: If you’re getting outscored by this many goals, and getting blown out this many times, it is probably a bad sign for how good your team actually is.

The Sharks have already lost 12 games this season by three goals or more. Only the Detroit Red Wings, a team that is looking to be historically bad, have lost more (14). The New Jersey Devils have only lost nine games by three goals or more. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers have only lost eight such games. These are teams that do not figure to be factors in the playoffs, and the Sharks are sitting there among them.

The Sharks’ wins are mostly close, one-goal games, and they have probably been very fortunate to be as good as they have in them (including 5-2 in OT/Shootouts), while they are getting completely blown out in their losses.

Not concerning enough?

Just consider these numbers as well.

— Over the past 10 years there have been 26 teams that have had a goal differential of minus-23 or worse through their first 32 games.

Do you know how many of those teams went on to make the playoffs that season?

Zero.

— Go back to the start of the 2005-06 season and teams in that situation are 0-for-40 in terms of making the playoffs.

— The last time a team with a goal differential this bad, at this point in the season, came back to make the playoffs was the 1997-98 Edmonton Oilers, who snuck into the No. 8 seed (with a losing record).

It might be early, and they may still be within striking distance of a playoff spot in the standings, but things are looking bleak for a team that still has the Stanley Cup in mind.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

 

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.