Forward Nathan Walker has been placed on waivers, and the Washington Capitals intend to send him down to their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey if he clears. Walker has played in just seven games all season, and his last appearance was two weeks ago.
Walker is the second player the Capitals have waived this week — defenseman Aaron Ness cleared waivers Wednesday and was assigned to Hershey — and Washington will likely have to continue its roster maneuvering as it gets healthier. Defenseman Christian Djoos will be activated off injured reserve Thursday and play against the Los Angeles Kings, and forward Andre Burakovsky is on schedule to play sometime in the next three weeks. Burakovsky had surgery on his left thumb last month.
Once Burakovsky is healthy, the Capitals will be out of long-term injured reserve salary-cap relief because his $3 million cap hit will be back on the books. Even with Walker waived, Washington would have to clear roughly another $90,000 in salary-cap space, so it’s likely another forward will be waived or reassigned to the AHL once Burakovsky is healthy. Tyler Graovac has played in just four games all season, but he’ll be in the lineup for a second straight game Thursday. Brett Connolly is the healthy scratch again. The two players who are waivers-exempt are forward Jakub Vrana and defenseman Madison Bowey.
“When Andre gets back, I’m looking for him in the top-nine [forward corps], so that’s going to force someone down,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s competition there, so that’s what you want. You want internal competition for ice time, and that’s what’s being created.”
Walker’s arrival in the NHL was a feel-good story at the start of the season. He became the first Australian to play in an NHL game, and he scored a goal in his debut. But Walker hadn’t played in two straight games since the first week of the season. The Capitals will learn Friday at noon whether Walker cleared waivers or another team swiped him.
“We looked at it with people getting healthy and that Nate wasn’t getting in the lineup,” Trotz said. “You can only build your game on the ice, so he’s going to see if he clears waivers. He’s got to play. He’s a good young man, but he’s still got to build his game. …
“Message to him was I’ve known many a players who have been up and down, many a times. Keep developing, keep getting better. That’s the message you want. I said to him, everybody knows he’s a real terrific person. You’ve got to make sure your game is — you’re on top of your game and playing lots and getting better all the time. I think we didn’t get him enough games, plain and simple.”Djoos has missed the past six games with a suspected concussion, but Trotz said Thursday morning that he has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup against the Kings. Fellow rookie Bowey is also in, meaning veteran Taylor Chorney will be the healthy scratch. Before Djoos was injured at Nashville earlier this month, he was playing 14:42 per game and had two goals with one assist.
Connolly will be a healthy scratch for a second straight game as Graovac is expected to play third-line left wing beside center Lars Eller.
“He’s a big body, and I thought he was skating better,” Trotz said of Graovac. “He was getting involved. I think for him, it was as much how much he’s played well as it is that I need to give him a couple games to get established with our group. I know he’s got another level; I talked to him yesterday about what I’m looking for, trying to give him a vision for what I think will be best for his game.”
Home sweet home
Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Capitals are 7-1-0 at Capital One Arena in November and are one home win shy of posting the second-most home wins in a calendar month in team history. Washington is also one home win away from tying the record for home wins in November in team history (eight). The Capitals’ seven home wins in November are the most in the NHL.