"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
-- Oscar Wilde…or Mark Twain…or Will Rogers…or a 1966 clothing ad
Jonas Siegenthaler is the first of his kind in one respect with the Washington Capitals. He is the first player drafted in team history who was born in Switzerland (Timo Helbling, also born in Switzerland, was obtained by the Caps via trade in 2007 and played two games for Washington). When he took the ice on November 9th against the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was his first NHL game, he became the 178th defenseman to suit up for the Caps in team history (Tyler Lewington and Nick Jensen would become the 179th and 180th defensemen to dress for the club later in the season).
Siegenthaler appeared in 26 games in this, his rookie season, all but one of them over a 38-game stretch from November 9th through February 5th (he appeared in the regular season finale on April 6th). And while he posted modest scoring numbers (0-4-4), his four points were one more than Mike Green scored in his first NHL season (1-2-3 in 22 games in 2005-2006) and only two fewer than what John Carlson posted in his inaugural season (1-5-6 in 22 games in 2009-2010).
Not surprisingly, there was a bit of an up-and-down quality to Sigenthaler’s season. He recorded three of his four points and was plus-7 in a 15-day/seven-game stretch from December 14th through December 29th. In the 19 games that preceded and followed that stretch, he was 0-1-1, minus-1.
Fearless’ Take… Jonas Siegenthaler made his debut on a defending Stanley Cup champion, so there was a lot of talent and support around him. Still, he finished the season with the eighth-best plus-minus rating among first year defensemen in team history (plus-6).
Cheerless’ Take… Siegenthaler is a work in progress who might contribute in a more meaningful way down the road, but in 2018-2019, the Caps were just 14-9-3 in the 26 games in which he played. And, he did not age well in this regard. Washington was 12-4-1 in his first 17 games, 2-5-2 in the last nine games he played.
Odd Siegenthaler Fact… All four points Siegenthaler recorded this season came on the road. He was also a plus-5 in 12 games away from home. He was 0-0-0, plus-1, in 14 games at Capital One Arena.
Game to Remember… November 9th vs. Columbus
It is not the best of circumstances in which to make an NHL debut, but it often happens that one player’s good fortune comes, if not at the expense of, than simultaneously with another’s misfortune. Such was the case in early November, when John Carlson was declared out of the Caps’ game on November 9th against Columbus with a lower-body injury. With Brooks Orpik already on the shelf, the team called up defensemen Aaron Ness and Jonas Siegenthaler from the Hershey Bears.
The particulars of Siegenthaler’s debut against the Blue Jackets did not jump off the page – no points, an “even” plus-minus rating, a shot on goal, three hits, two blocked shots, along with three giveaways in 12 minutes of ice time – but it was a solid performance against a playoff-caliber opponent.
Game to Forget… December 19th vs. Pittsburgh
Jonas Siegenthaler was baptized into the Capitals-Penguins rivalry in a mid-December game at Capital One Arena. It took him two shifts to take his first penalty against the Penguins. He lost track of Sidney Crosby coming around from behind the net to redirect an Evgeni Malkin feed that tied the game at a goal apiece less than three minutes after the Caps took the lead. He did not skate the last six minutes of the contest with the Caps trying to get the tying goal in a 2-1 game. Siegenthaler finished his night without a point, no shots on goal (two attempts), two giveaways, and the penalty in 8:24 of ice time, his lowest of the season.
Postseason… It certainly was not his fault, but after Jonas Siegenthaler took the ice for the first time in Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs through Game 7, the Caps went 1-3 after taking a 2-1 lead in the first three games of the series. He did not record a point in any of the four games and did not record a shot on goal in Games 4-6. He did, however, average more than twice as much ice time (16:00 per game) than the player he replaced, Christian Djoos (7:24), although that number was inflated some by his logging 20:27 in the Caps’ double overtime loss in Game 7 that ended their season.
Looking ahead… Siegenthaler is entering the last year of his entry-level contract that carries a cap hit of $714,116. He will be a non-arbitration eligible restricted free agent upon its expiration. The Caps are not an especially deep team in defensive prospects (depending on how one stands on the potential of Alexander Alexeyev or Lucas Johansen), and the Caps could be losing the services of Brooks Orpik and/or Matt Niskanen this off-season. It leaves a clear path for Siegenthaler to take on a bigger role in his development program.
In the end…
Jonas Siegenthaler, who has (and who seems likely to have with this team) an opportunity for growth, might not have a long resume with the Caps, but he is not inexperienced for one as young as he is (he turned 22 years old this month). He has played in European hockey, has represented his country multiple times, and has more than 40 games of AHL experience over three seasons, and that is just since his being drafted in 2015.
If there is a Capital he resembles that fans might recognize, it might be ex-Cap Karl Alzner. Both were of a quiet demeanor on the ice, both could be physical from time to time but depended more on position and angles, and neither seems to have much of an offensive upside. Each might be thought of as the modern defensive defenseman, not the more physical species that might be illustrated by Brooks Orpik, a development product of the pre-2004-2005 era of hockey.
With the potential for significant changes on the Caps’ blue line heading into next season, the team’s success might depend in significant part on just how much more Siegenthaler develops into a dependable night-in, night-out defenseman. His will be a story to watch as the coming season unfolds, but his first experience in the NHL provides some measure of hope for a successful future.