“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or secret gate.”
-- J.R.R. Tolkien
The last time that the Washington Capitals dressed two rookie defensemen for at least half of the team’s games in a season was the 1995-1996 season, when Brendan Witt appeared in 48 games, and Ken Klee dressed for 66 games. Before that you would have to go back to the 1981-1982 season when Timo Blomqvist (44 game) and Greg Theberge (57 games) did so.
The Caps might make it a third season in franchise history with the rise of Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos to the parent roster. As we described a few days ago, Bowey’s progress has followed a more or less traditional path – second round draft pick, Canadian juniors, AHL, and now a shot at a spot in the top-six on the blue line. For Djoos, the path was a bit different.
Djoos was taken in the seventh round (195th overall) in the 2012 entry draft. To show how difficult it is to rise from that selection level to the NHL level, no player from the 2012 draft taken after the 175th pick overall has yet accumulated as much as half a season’s worth of career games in the NHL, and only eight of 36 players taken after the 175th pick have dressed for any NHL games.
However, Djoos climbed the developmental ladder slowly, but surely. He spent three more seasons with Brynäs IF in the Swedish Hockey League before getting his first taste of pro hockey in North America with one game in a Hershey Bears uniform at the end of the 2014-2015 season. He appeared in more than 60 games with the Bears in each of the last two seasons. Last season his 45 assists tied for the AHL lead among AHL defensemen, and his 58 points was third best among AHL blueliners.
Odd Djoos Fact… Since the NHL went to a seven-round draft in 2005, no Capitals draft pick drafted as low as Christian Djoos (195th overall) ever dressed for a game with the Caps (Stefan Della Rovere, taken 204th in the 2008 entry draft, appeared in seven games with the St. Louis Blues in 2010-2011).
Djoos’ progress through amateur and minor pro hockey has been steady. His point totals improved in each of his three full seasons with Brynäs, and he improved from season to season with Hershey, almost doubling his goal total from one full season to the other (from eight to 13) and more than doubling his point total (from 22 to 58). As a defenseman who can contribute offense, it would be hard to argue that Djoos does not show promise.
Sure, he shows nice progress with his offensive numbers, but almost from the day he was drafted there was another number that some folks might have paid some attention to. With the Bears last season he was listed at 161 pounds, and last season no defenseman in the NHL as light or lighter than that dressed for a game (he is listed at 169 pounds on the Capitals’ web site, but 158 pounds on the training camp roster). Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, who appeared in 76 games, was listed at 164 pounds. Skill isn’t as much a concern as Djoos’ ability to endure the punishment in his own end over an 82-game schedule at this level.
The Big Question… In a game increasingly defined by speed and quickness, can Djoos thrive?
If the Capitals have had a generic weakness the past two seasons, despite winning Presidents Trophies with the league’s best regular season record, a lack of speed up and down the lineup might qualify. Djoos would appear to provide a dimension of skill and speed that they might not have had with, say, Karl Alzner, but it is an open question whether he can flourish in his own end as much as any of the three departed defensemen (Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Nate Schmidt). It also could be a question some time in finding an answer. Only three Capitals defensemen since the 2004-2005 lockout appeared in more than half the team’s games as rookies: Mike Green (70 games in 2006-2007), John Carlson (82 games in 2010-2011), and Dmitry Orlov (60 games in 2011-2012). It has happened only eight times over the last 25 full seasons of Caps hockey (not including the 48-game seasons of 1994-1995 and 2012-2013). For Djoos to do it, he is going to have to demonstrate the offensive skill he displayed last season without being a liability in defending his own end, even if it is with the modest minutes a third pair defenseman gets.
In the end…
Christian Djoos does not appear to be the prototypical NHL defenseman, even by today’s standards emphasizing skill and speed. On the other hand, his steady improvement in production in Europe and in Hershey cannot be dismissed. In those settings he has grown into his position, so to speak. As he prepares to make the last step up the ladder of development, he has the pedigree (his father, Pär Djoos, played 82 games in the NHL with Detroit ant the New York Rangers), and he has skill. Now he gets his chance to demonstrate and measure his all-around game against the best the NHL has to offer. As much as any Capital, his story is among the most intriguing to follow this season.
Projection: 40 games, 1-5-6, even
Photo: Washington Capitals