The Washington Capitals were in a tough spot prior to the start of the regular season, with a number of prospects fighting for a few vacant spots in the lineup. Long-time prospect Chandler Stephenson was among these players vying to crack the opening night roster.
His performance through training camp, which consisted of excellent skating, versatility and effort, earned him four preseason games and considerable attention from the Washington front office. However, the Capitals had to trim and finalize their roster, and on the final day of camp, they waived Stephenson and sent him to Hershey to start the year.
Making the Jump
Stephenson, who was taken in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and played junior hockey with the Regina Pats, has been developing with the Bears for several seasons, but his strong showing in the preseason and an outstanding start to this year made him shine brighter than he had in previous ones.
In six games with Hershey to kick off 2017-18, Stephenson racked up five goals and six points, including a hat-trick in Hershey’s first win of the season. In the wake of injuries to Andre Burakovsky, Tyler Graovac and Brett Connolly, Washington decided to reward Stephenson with a call-up. So far, not only is he serving as a strong understudy but he is proving his worth, possibly enough to stay with the team for longer than expected.
According to head coach Barry Trotz, the 23-year-old is making a strong case for himself, even though he hasn’t been up with the team for long.
“It’s only a very small sample size right now, but he’s going to make it if he continues to push forward,” Trotz told the media following the team’s 5-4 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday. “The one thing right now that Chandler has shown in the past is that he can play in the NHL. It’s really in his court. If he does it consistently, it’s going to hard to take him out.”
Sticking With the Main Club
Prior to the start of the season, and coming on the final day of roster cuts, Stephenson discussed his versatility and his desire to stick with the team. However, heading into the season, he tried “not to think about it too much,” and took a relaxed approached when it came to cracking the NHL roster.
“Just take it a game at a time and just kind of do you,” Stephenson said.
The Saskatoon native said he also focused on many different areas of his game over the offseason which has helped him get back into the rhythm of the regular season.
“Just trying to be in the best shape I can,” he said of what’s carried him into the regular season. “Also working on the mental side of things, too. You gotta stay mentally strong and tough. It’s a long season, so you have to stay on top of both things.”
In his five-game run with the Capitals, Stephenson has a goal and four assists, including points in two consecutive games. He has also made himself a staple on the team’s third line alongside Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. With him in the lineup, the Capitals have received more offense from their bottom-six and have also found a third-line combination that works.
“He’s playing very well,” Eller told the media following Friday’s victory over New York. “Sometimes, it’s just there right away. I think [Stephenson] has blended in very well with me and Tom.”
Not only is the 6-foot, 203-pound forward making an impact on offense and showing versatility as a winger but he is strong on the backcheck as well. He has a takeaway and two blocked shots for the Capitals so far and has great poise and patience with the puck.
As Stephenson looks to stay with the Capitals for as long as he can, he said that he is taking a lot of the experience in and trying to capture every moment that he can, whether that be advice from the veterans or getting to play in a game.
“Every time you’re around, be a sponge,” Stephenson said. “Take in as much as you can and learn something every day.”