As part of our summer countdown series, CSNwashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley breaks down his Top 25 impact players for the Washington Capitals' upcoming 2014-15 season.
No. 11: Brooks Laich, Center, Left Wing
2014-15 NHL Salary: $4.5 million [$4.5 million cap hit]
2013-14 stats: 51 games, 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points, minus-7, 16 penalty minutes, 17:15 ice time
Projected 2014-15 stats: 76 games, 16 goals, 24 assists, 40 points, plus-2, 24 penalty minutes, 16:50 average ice time
Analysis: Is there a bigger wild card on the Capitals’ roster than Laich, who has missed 70 of the Capitals’ 130 games the past two seasons due to groin/adductor issues? At 31, Laich still has three years and $12.5 million remaining on his contract, but since the Caps chose not to use a compliance buyout on him they must believe he is ready to contribute at the level he did before he was injured during the 2012 lockout when he had 16 goals and 25 assists under Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter. New coach Barry Trotz envisions Laich as a big part of his leadership group and dropped hints he may try him on a top line with center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Alex Ovechkin. That could be a solid combination, with Laich acting as a defensive safety valve capable of making plays at both ends of the ice. At his best, Laich can play on a first or second power-play unit, kill penalties and play top-six minutes. But we have not seen Laich at his best since 2009-10 when he had a career-high 25 goals and 59 points on a team in which everyone seemed to put up gaudy offensive numbers. If Laich is healthy – and all indications from him are that he is -- he will have a major impact on the Capitals’ drive to return to the playoffs, one he believes can be a long one. “We cannot go through the year, get to the playoffs, make it to the first or second round and say, ‘OK, that's good enough, we now know our coach and our general manager and our system and what's expected of us,’” Laich told NHL.com. “We can't burn this year. We need to win this year.” That said, you cannot ignore the fact Laich has missed large chunks of two hockey seasons and will need to work hard to regain his offensive touch. If Laich labors through another in-again, out-again season like he did the past two years under Adam Oates, the Caps may lack the depth, especially at left wing, to stay near the top of the Metro Division.