Is Strachan emerging as seventh defenseman?

Is Strachan emerging as seventh defenseman?
September 27, 2013, 12:15 pm
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A few days had passed after the July 5 start to free agency and the Capitals noticed Florida Panthers defenseman Tyson Strachan was still available.

Capitals coach Adam Oates remembered coaching against Strachan in the 2012 playoffs when Oates was with the Devils and Strachan was with Florida.

“I had watched him a little bit, he’s a big man,” Oates said. “My thoughts were we should really investigate him,”

Oates called Strachan and said he couldn’t promise him anything but that the Caps would give him “a real honest look.”

On July 8 the Caps signed Strachan to a one-year, two-way contract [$550,000 NHL, $225,000 AHL] and today the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from Melfort, Saskatchewan has emerged as perhaps the leading candidate to begin the season as the club’s seventh defenseman.

Strachan, 28, is expected to be paired with Michal Cajkovsky tonight when the Caps face the Flyers at Verizon Center [7 p.m., CSN].

Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the fifth round of the 2003 NHL draft, Strachan spent four years at OhioState before beginning a pro career split between the AHL [Peoria Rivermen and San Antonio Rampage] and NHL [St. Luis Blues, Florida Panthers]. He played a career-high 38 games with the Panthers last season.

“They are totally different philosophies,” Strachan  said. “Here there’s definitely a structure to it, but they embrace guys being creative and making hockey plays and letting their skills show through.”

Strachan is battling Dmitry Orlov, 22, and Connor Carrick, 19, for the final defensive spot on the Caps’ roster. His cap hit of $550,000 is more favorable than Orlov [$900,000] and Carrick [$636,667].

Strachan describes himself as a hard-hitting defenseman who can make a clean first pass out of the zone. But he believes another factor works in his favor. As a veteran he’s played the role of seventh defenseman at an NHL level.

“It’s something I’ve learned to deal with,” he said. “It’s a mental grind. We’re all competitive and we all want to play every night. Obviously, that’s not always the case. If I can get in there and be a guy in the sixth or seventh role it fuels the fire. I’m going to practice every day whether I’m in the lineup or not.

“I think for the younger guys [being a seventh defenseman] is tough. When you’re an elite prospect you’ve never been in that situation, right? You’ve always been the coach’s guy. I think that can be a bit devastating and frankly it’s probably not that great for your development sitting in the stands. I think I have that skill set to offer and I’m hoping it works out.”

Laich update: After experiencing tightness in his left hip flexor on Tuesday, Brooks Laich participated in Friday’s morning skate but is not expected to play tonight or Saturday night when the Caps conclude their preseason in Chicago.

Here is the Caps’ projected lineup for tonight, along with the Flyers:

Forward Lines

Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin

Jason Chimera – Mikhail Grabovski – Tom Wilson

Dane Byers – Mathieu Perreault – Eric Fehr

Aaron Volpatti – Michael Latta – Joel Rechlicz

Defense Pairings

Karl Alzner – Connor Carrick

Dmitry Orlov – Steve Oleksy

Michal Cajkovsky – Tyson Strachan

Goaltenders

Michal Neuvirth [starter] – Braden Holtby

Minus Jake Voracek, the Flyers are expected to go with this lineup:

Forward Lines

Scott Hartnell – Claude Giroux – Matt Read

Brayden Schenn – Vincent Lecavalier – Wayne Simmonds

Max Talbot – Sean Coutierier – Zac Rinaldo

Jay Rosehill – Scott Laughton – Adam Hall

Defense Pairings

Kimmo Timonen – Braydon Coburn

Mark Streit – Luke Schenn

Nicklas Grossman – Andrej Meszaros

Goaltenders

Ray Emery [starter] – Steve Mason