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New Kids on the Block: Checking In on Brenden Dillon and Ilya Kovalchuk

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A week removed from the Trade Deadline, how are Washington’s new acquisitions adjusting to life as Capitals?

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The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and in its wake were two new Washington Capitals, as GM Brian MacLellan added former San Jose blueliner Brenden Dillon and famed Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk from Montreal.

How have the newbies fared in the Capitals’ lineup so far? Let’s find out…

Brenden Dillon

Brenden Dillon endeared himself to both fans and the team very quickly, voicing his excitement about the trade after the news broke. However, he truly cemented himself in the hearts of everyone in Washington when he dove headfirst into the Capitals-Penguins rivalry and got into a bit of a tussle with Evgeni Malkin less than a week after the trade. In fact, he has already gotten in one and a half fights during his six games as a Cap.

Dillon’s game is big and physical, and he has an excellent net-front presence that the Caps were certainly lacking heading into the deadline. He has taken five trips to the penalty box so far, including one fighting major, but has tried to offset that by drawing three penalties. His 13 hits through six games are fifth on the team behind Tom Wilson (24), Garnet Hathaway (21), Nic Dowd (19), and Alex Ovechkin (15).

Dillon is a true defensive defenseman, and Todd Reirden is already deploying him as such; he has started 42% of his shifts with either a defensive or neutral-zone faceoff, which shows that Reirden already trusts him in defensively important situations. He has primarily been skating on the top pair with John Carlson, and the two skaters complement each other well. Dillon’s defense-first mindset helps balance out Carlson’s frequent “I am a fourth forward and would like to join the rush” plays. He doesn’t, however, weigh Carlson or the rest of his teammates down at all by staying behind to cover his own zone.

The sample size is small, but this season’s addition to the Washington blueline is looking to be a solid one. He appears to fit in well with the style of play Reirden has going, and his likeable and easygoing personality seems to gel with the rest of the locker room.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk was definitely more of a surprise deadline move from GMBM, but it is already paying dividends. He did exactly what most Caps fans hoped he would do: he injected some life into the locker room and ignited a bit of a spark in a struggling team.

Kovalchuk has only played three games for the Capitals so far, but his presence was felt immediately. He has averaged 15:14 of icetime per game, brings some extra firepower to the Caps’ second power play unit, and skates well with new linemates Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Despite only skating for 26:34 together through three games, this new Caps’ third line has been solid. Imagine what a few more practices and games could do...also, a bonus result of these line changes: Richard Panik looks excellent on the fourth line with Dowd and Hathaway.

Most notably, Kovalchuk notched his first point in a Caps’ sweater against Minnesota on Sunday night with - what else - an assist on an Alex Ovechkin goal. He was out on the ice with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, a line that had yet to appear until Sunday. They don’t seem to be a permanent trio, but when deployed in the right situations (post-penalty kill, perhaps?) this Russian Troika has the potential to be deadly.

As people noted when he was given a chance to prove himself in Montreal, an invested Kovalchuk is a valuable Kovalchuk. He has made it clear that he is thrilled to be in Washington, thrilled to be playing with so many fellow Russians, and thrilled to be chasing his first Stanley Cup with a contending team. A+ move for all parties involved.

Bonus: Daniel Sprong

The Capitals made one trade on deadline day: a minor league swap that sent Stanley Cup Champ Christian Djoos to Anaheim in exchange for Daniel Sprong. Although it was sad to see Djoos go, the Caps got a stellar NHL-caliber forward in return. He absolutely shone in his Hershey Bears debut, netting a goal and two assists and earning first star of the night honors. Sprong is going to be a killer addition to Hershey’s offense this season, and it will be interesting to see if he makes the jump up to Washington soon.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick