Capitals' Top 25 impact players for 2014-15: No. 5: Matt Niskanen

Capitals' Top 25 impact players for 2014-15: No. 5: Matt Niskanen
August 18, 2014, 12:30 pm
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As part of our summer countdown series, Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley breaks down his Top 25 impact players for the Washington Capitals' upcoming 2014-15 season.

No. 5: Matt Niskanen, Defense

Age: 27

2014-15 Salary: $5.75 million [$5.75 million cap hit]

2013-14 stats: 81 games, 10 goals, 36 assists, 46 points, plus-33, 51 penalty minutes, 21:17 ice time

Projected 2014-15 stats: 78 games, 9 goals, 34 assists, 43 points, plus-21, 47 penalty minutes, 21:35 average ice time

Analysis: Taken by the Dallas Stars with the 28th overall pick of the 2005 NHL draft, Niskanen entered the NHL with a bang, recording seven goals, 19 assists and a plus-22 rating in 78 games as a rookie. Over the next two seasons his game dipped, especially in his own end, where he was an aggregate minus-29 over his next 2 1/2 seasons in Dallas. Niskanen credits his trade to Pittsburgh and introduction to assistant coach Todd Reirden for turning his career back in the right direction. In parts of four seasons in Pittsburgh, Niskanen became a reliable two-way player, recording a plus-44 rating, which was bolstered by his career-best plus-33 last season. Niskanen also reached career highs in games [81], goals [10], assists [36], shots [162], shooting percentage [.057] and ice time [21:17]. Niskanen reportedly turned down more money from other NHL teams to sign with Washington, in part because of his relationship with Reirden, who was hired by the Capitals just a week before. “Coaching is important to Matt, and he has a lot of trust in Todd,” Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, told at the time of his July 1 signing. Despite his big payday, Niskanen will not be asked to carry the load for the Capitals, who are arguably the NHL’s deepest team on the right side of their blue line with himself, John Carlson and Mike Green. Niskanen likely will begin the season with the reliable Karl Alzner on his left but there is nothing from keeping Reirden away from putting Niskanen with Orpik or trying him alongside Dmitry Orlov, another talented defenseman who could blossom under Reirden. If Carlson and Green stay healthy it will be difficult for Niskanen to match his career highs from last season, especially if his ice time goes down a few ticks. But his arrival significantly strengthens the Caps’ blue line and, by extension, makes them more difficult to beat on a nightly basis.