The Washington Capitals are no strangers to reclamation projects. The Capitals organization has a history of giving struggling NHL players second chances, and its track record is pretty good. In recent seasons, the Caps have seemingly rolled the dice on Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Michal Kempny, and all of them have found success in Washington. Michal Kempny has even said, on several occasions, that his trade to Washington saved his NHL career.
This season, the Capitals gave two more players a chance; they signed center Nic Dowd to a one-year, $650,000 contract on July 1st and claimed winger Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers from the St. Louis Blues on October 2nd. We’ve already explored the positive impact Jaskin has had on the lineup, and it’s time we did the same with Dowd.
A dive into Nic Dowd’s stats and defensive playing style coming into this season painted a picture reminiscent of Jay Beagle, who left a penalty killer-sized hole in the Caps’ fourth line after signing with the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent this summer. In 131 games over three seasons in Los Angeles and Vancouver, Dowd tallied nine goals and 17 assists and had a career faceoff win percentage of 49.1%. However, he was a healthy scratch 12 times in Vancouver after being traded by the Kings two months into last season, which definitely seems like a red flag. So how would he fare in Washington? Spoiler alert: he’s fitting in just fine.
The Capitals have played 24 games this season, and Dowd has played in 20 of them. Before the season began, it was unclear whether Dowd or Travis Boyd would be slotting in as the fourth-line center. However, after Boyd was injured late in the preseason, Dowd got the job and ran away with it. He has three goals and two assists, which already exceeds his four point total from 56 games last season, and he is currently riding a two-game goal streak (he gave a shout-out to his dad for that, which is incredibly endearing).
#Caps center Nic Dowd scored in both games with his dad Alan in attendance this weekend in NYC. Cause he ALWAYS does: that: "It's just by happenstance, but...I’m sure the universe is connected somehow. I feel better when he's around, when family is around.”— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) November 27, 2018
Dowd has slid seamlessly into the Capitals’ fourth line centering Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin. This fourth line has looked really good lately, and they have the stats to prove it. Take a look at some of their numbers when this trio shares the ice:
His charts from HockeyViz also support his positive impact on the fourth line and the lineup as a whole. Below are his With or Without You (WOWY) and Spider Diagram, which show his influence on other players’ 5v5 offense and defense as determined by comparing Score-adjusted shots/60 For and Against.
Dowd has a positive effect on several of his teammates’ offensive and defensive play, particularly his most frequent linemates. He and Jaskin definitely work well together; both of their shot shares improve and trend towards the “Good” corner of the WOWY when they share the ice. Stephenson does not have as strong of an impact on Dowd, but Dowd clearly helps Stephenson when they skate together.
As a line, Jaskin-Dowd-Stephenson trends heavily towards both better offense and better defense. It’s also interesting to note that, in 30 minutes of shared ice time, the other forward Dowd has a drastic impact on is our favorite struggling Swede, Andre Burakovsky. I certainly like the fourth line the way it is, but perhaps this deserves some exploration?
Nic Dowd has been an important part of the Capitals’ penalty kill as well, especially when they were without Tom Wilson during his suspension. Here are heat maps of the Caps’ PK, which currently ranks 22nd in the league, both with and without Dowd on the ice:
When Washington is on the penalty kill, they control more of their zone when Dowd is part of the PK unit.
Additionally, among Washington’s forwards, Dowd ranks fourth on the team in faceoff wins with 50.45% behind Stephenson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Lars Eller.
However, it is important to note that Stephenson, a natural center who has been playing winger since he became a regular in the Capitals’ lineup, has taken considerably less faceoffs than the other players listed here, so his percentage is somewhat inflated. Taking that into account, Dowd ranks third among Capitals mainstay centers (Backstrom, Eller, and Kuznetsov). Given the fact that Dowd is currently at a zone deployment split of 24.8% oZS and 75.2% dZS, his faceoff percentage, and the fact that it has improved over time, is encouraging.
With T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov both out of the lineup recently, Dowd has had an extended period of time to shine, and he has excelled. Dowd absolutely needs to stay in the Capitals lineup when they get their stars back. With the departure of Jay Beagle this summer, the fourth-line center spot was left up for grabs, and Dowd has more than proved he deserves it.