“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds, to show you what is possible.”
-- Terrence Mann (“Field of Dreams”)
It happens, if not often, than with some regularity. A player is injured, creating a hole in the lineup that must be filled. Sometimes, that sort of thing mushrooms, and a team is forced to make moves it was not anticipating having to make. Such was the case in November 2019 for the Washington Capitals among the defensive squad. Brooks Orpik was on the shelf with what eventually be diagnosed as a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. Then, John Carlson was knocked out of the lineup with a lower body injury. The club responded to the misfortune by recalling from the Hershey Bears Aaron Ness, who had already appeared in 18 games over three seasons with the Caps, and Jonas Siegenthaler, who in his third season with the Bears but who had not yet had a chance with the parent club.
It was Siegenthaler who got the call, making his NHL debut on November 9th in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. It would be the first of 26 games for which Siegenthaler dressed in his first NHL season, and it was a season that cleaved into two parts. The first from that debut on November 9th through December 29th covered 12 games. Siegenthaler did not make a huge impression at the offensive end of the ice, recording three assists, but his plus-6 was third-best on the team despite playing fewer games than all of the eight defensemen who dressed over the period except Tyler Lewington (two games) and fewer minutes per game (13:43) than all but Christian Djoos (13:06). In the 12 games in which he appeared, the Caps went 9-3-0.
However, starting with a New Year’s Eve game against the Nashville Predators, Siegenthaler dressed for 14 games over the remainder of the season, going 0-1-1, even. His ice time was up over this period (14:32 per game), but the team’s record fell to 5-6-3 over those 14 games.
Odd Siegenthaler Fact…
Jonas Siegenthaler was one of two Capitals defensemen to record seven blocked shots in a game last season. He did so in a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators last January 15th. Matt Niskanen was the other Capital to block seven shots in a game, turning that trick twice last season, both times in victories (against Chicago on November 21st and against Montreal on April 4th).
Bonus Odd Siegenthaler Fact…
Jonas Siegenthaler is the only rookie defenseman for the Caps since 2005-2006 to record at least 25 hits (31) and at least 40 blocked shots (44), and do it in fewer than 30 games (26).
The 2015 Entry Draft was a defense-heavy draft with 74 defensemen taken among the 211 picks. Jonas Siegenthaler was the 19th defenseman taken in that draft, and he is generally on track in a manner consistent with his draft placement. He is 18th in his draft class in games played (26), 31 of the 74 members of his class having appeared in at least one NHL game. He is tied for 20th in his class in points (four, with 124th overall pick Ethan Bear). His plus-6 rating is tied for eighth with 26th overall pick Noah Juulsen.
Jonas Siegenthaler is not what one would think of as an offensive defenseman; he was 9-11-20 in 122 career games in Hershey with the Bears, and he never had more than three goals or 11 points in any of his four seasons in Swiss hockey. But what offense he did display dried up late. He had one point in his last 14 games of the regular season and did not record a point in any of the four postseason games in which he played. He did not record a goal, perhaps a product of his lack of inclination or ability to get pucks to the net. He had only six shots on goal over his last 14 regular season games, half of those in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in March, and he had three shots on goal in his four postseason games, all of them in the Caps’ double overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that ended their season.
- 100 career NHL games played (26; he needs 74)
The Big Question… Is Jonas Siegenthaler a keeper in 2019-2020, or does he need more seasoning?
Jonas Siegenthaler turned 22 years old in May. In 44 seasons, 32 defensemen have appeared in more games by their 22nd birthday than Siegenthaler (only nine since 2005-2006). It’s not a small number, but it is not an especially large club, either. The Capitals, assuming all are healthy, seem set among the first five defensive positions with John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Radko Gudas, and Nick Jensen. It is that sixth position where the competition continues in training camp with Siegenthaler in the mix with Christian Djoos and, as dark horse candidates, Lucas Johansen, Tyler Lewington, and Martin Fehervary. Even if the competition comes down to Siegenthaler and Djoos, Siegenthaler has the advantage of playing under a waiver-exempt entry level contract. He could be sent to the Bears to get more playing time.
On the other hand, the Caps are in a salary cap bind, and moving a defenseman is a possibility to solve that problem. Although lineups will not be set for a bit longer, Siegenthaler would seem to have, based on how last season wrapped up, an inside track to a regular spot in the lineup. But that lineup card might be written in pencil for a little while.
In the end…
Jonas Siegenthaler’s progress has been steady, even perhaps a bit more rapid than expected. After 68 games over two seasons of Swiss-A level competition after he was drafted and another 122 games in the AHL over four seasons in Hershey of the AHL, he got a shot with the Caps and advantage of it.
However, Siegenthaler’s rise through the Caps system does beg an uncomfortable question. Is his progress a function of his potential as a regular NHL’er, or is it the product of a thin prospect pool at the position? Last year at this time, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos were looked at as potential partners on the third defensive pair. Bowey was not the answer and was traded for a more veteran blueliner in Nick Jensen. Djoos suffered the double whammy of a slow start to the 2018-2019 season and injury that interrupted whatever progress he was making.
Siegenthaler took advantage of a series of favorable circumstances, including his own solid play in Hershey last season, to put himself in a position to take up a regular spot in the Capitals’ lineup. Whether he can take a firmer grasp on that opportunity is one of the open questions for the Capitals as training camp winds down, and the regular season approaches.
Projection: 65 games, 3-7-10, plus-5
Photo: Patrick McDermott / NHLI via Getty Images