There's a chill in the air (at least at night) and local sports radio can talk of nothing but football. You know what that means... it's hockey time!
Over the next three weeks, Barry Trotz and his staff will look to whittle down a camp roster of 64 hopefuls to the requisite 23-man roster as they prepare from what is one of the more highly anticipated seasons in recent memory. And while at least a few of the names are mortal locks to make the opening night squad, there are plenty of roster openings - and a few injury questions - that could add some intrigue to the proceedings.
So who's battling whom for a coveted spot on this year's Capitals squad? Let's take a look.
(*Note: All players are shown as being "in the mix" for whatever position they are listed as on this year's training camp roster; those who may compete for spots at other positions are mentioned where applicable.)
Departures: Eric Fehr, Casey Wellman
New arrivals: Derek Roy (PTO)
In the mix for 2015-16: Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, Carter Camper, Paul Carey, Caleb Herbert, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich, Tim McGauley, Derek Roy, Max Sauve, Chandler Stephenson
Probable Caps: Backstrom, Beagle, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Laich
Potential surprises: Herbert, Roy, Stephenson
Battles to watch: There are two pretty major stories at center to keep an eye on as camp gets underway.
The first, of course, is the ongoing recovery of Nicklas Backstrom from offseason hip surgery. Backstrom has been skating at Kettler with the rest of the squad, but it's unlikely that he'll be able to play in any of the exhibition games and his readiness for the season opener remains in question, as well. His absence from the lineup leaves a big hole to fill; first in line to do so is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who will hopefully provide the team with a viable option to fill in until Backstrom is back.
The other story to watch is the recent addition of Derek Roy to the roster, with the veteran signing a professional tryout contract with the Caps earlier this week. If he can carve out a spot for himself on the roster - and if his salary demands fit in with the Caps' tight cap situation - he could be an intriguing option for the recently-vacated third-line center role.
Departures: Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward
New arrivals: Chris Bourque, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams
In the mix for 2015-16: Riley Barber, Chris Bourque, Chris Brown, Derek Deblois, Stanislav Galiev, Miles Koules, Michael Latta, Garrett Mitchell, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Cole Wilson, Tom Wilson
Probable Caps: Latta, Oshie, J. Williams, Wilson
Potential surprises: Bourque, Galiev
Battles to watch: It's probably pretty safe to say that new additions T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams are a lock to make the opening-night roster; what's not so certain is where each of them will play, as either one could be an interesting option on the top line.
Also of interest will be the ongoing development of guys like Tom Wilson and Stanislav Galiev - two very different players who each will be looking to take another step in their respective careers. Wilson is all but assured a spot on the roster, but after spending most of his first two seasons on the fourth line, in the penalty box or out of the lineup altogether, he'll be looking to move up to at least the third line (something which is made a bit easier by the exits of Ward and Brouwer).
As for Galiev, he's had an up-and-down start to his career but seemed to find his stride last year, first with a strong season in Hershey and then with his NHL debut towards the end of the season. He's probably a longshot to make the big club out of camp, but with a strong showing (and as a player who requires waivers to go back to Hershey) he could make a surprise appearance on opening night.
Oh, and Chris Bourque is back. Again. Again.
Departures: Aaron Volpatti
New arrivals: Zach Sill
Probable Caps: Chimera, Johansson, Ovechkin
Potential surprises: O'Brien, Vrana
Battles to watch: If you're looking for intrigue and excitement and surprises, well... maybe look elsewhere. There's just very little suspense along the lefthand side of the roster this year, and not just on the top line.
It's likely that at least one of the players listed as centers will be tabbed to play on the wing (safe money's on either Laich or Burakovsky), especially if Derek Roy makes the cut, so . There's always a chance that Liam O`Brien makes another surprise appearance on opening night, or that Jakub Vrana wows the masses and makes the leap to the NHL earlier than expected - but barring that, expect Chimera, Johansson and Ovechkin to round out the roster.
Departures: John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Mike Green, Steve Oleksy, Cameron Schilling
New arrivals: Taylor Chorney, Aaron Ness, Ryan Stanton
In the mix for 2015-16: Karl Alzner, Madison Bowey, Erik Burgdoerfer, John Carlson, Connor Carrick, Taylor Chorney, Christian Djoos, Connor Hobbs, Joey Leach, Tyler Lewington, Mike Moore, Aaron Ness, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, Nate Schmidt, Bobby Shea, Jonas Siegenthaler, Ryan Stanton, Keoni Texeira
Probable Caps: Alzner, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Orpik, Schmidt, Chorney
Potential surprises: Bowey, Carrick
Battles to watch: For the second straight camp, the Caps will have a new-look defense to sift through - only this time it's not because of new additions to the squad.
Mike Green's departure over the summer opens up a spot on the blueline, sure, but it'll take more than just a warm body in a red jersey to fill the hole he left on the team. It'll likely be up to Orlov and Schmidt to fill the role, but don't overlook someone like Connor Carrick as a potential option for one of those spots (or at least for the seventh defenseman) - while his first go-round in the NHL two years ago wasn't that great, a bit of Hershey seasoning may have him ready to make the leap to the big time.
And while they're not expected to be NHL-ready just yet, the Caps have some high-end talent in the pipeline in Bowey, Djoos and 2015 draft pick Siegenthaler - all worth checking out.
New arrivals: Mark Dekanich, Dan Ellis
In the mix for 2015-16: Mark Dekanich, Dan Ellis, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Taran Kozun, Justin Peters, Vitek Vanecek
Probable Caps: Holtby, Grubauer
Potential surprises: Peters, Ellis
Battles to watch: ...there are none. Not really, anyway. Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer appear poised to head into the 2015-16 season as the Caps' 1-2 punch in net, which likely leaves Justin Peters in Hershey, fighting it out with veteran goalie Dan Ellis (a former Mitch Korn student) for the top spot with the Bears. And down in South Carolina, 2014 draftee Vitek Vanecek is set to make his professional debut alongside recent signing (and another former child of the Korn) Mark Dekanich.