So you’ve traded Andre Burakovsky for a bag of pucks. Now what?

There’s a vacancy in the middle six and the Capitals have been linked to a number of forwards, either realistically or, you know, just in my head.

Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly is coming off a 22 goal/46 point season with the Capitals, which is his best NHL season yet. He’s a classic Capitals reclamation project, who just didn’t seem to be finding his groove anywhere else. He’s been a critical part of the team, and the community. We know he’s a fantastic human, who, along with Braden Holtby, refused to visit the White House, and he persevered to ensure that a little girl – now known to Caps fans as Keelan Moxley – got a puck in warm-ups, after a grown man kept swiping the pucks and distributing them to the boys near him. For so many of us female sports fans, the imagery of that was rather too on the nose, so it was refreshing and delightful to see Connolly persist. Between ourselves, I think he might be a bit of a feminist.

Brett Connolly is also due a raise, which the Capitals, certainly until yesterday’s Burakovsky trade, could not afford. And I’m torn. I want to keep this guy around. I think he makes supporting the Capitals a whole lot easier for those of us who struggle with what the NHL fails to do, in terms of fans in minority groups. I think that he clicks so well with Lars Eller that it almost seems foolish not to sign him. But I also think his raise might be an overpay. I think another team is going to price the Capitals out of it and I hope he goes on to have great success.

Jason Zucker

Here’s a name that’s been mooted, albeit in passing, by Elliotte Friedman, who presumably has many thoughts but restricts them to thirty-one on a regular basis.

What do we know about Zucker? Well, we know that his wife has probably reached her limit with trade talk, with her husband being the subject of constant rumours.

Zucker is a left wing, who had 42 points in 81 games last year (thanks, Hockey Reference), in an even split between goals and assists. His worst season was back in 2015-16, when he only scored 13 goals, but he’s been pretty consistent otehrwise. I certainly wouldn’t say no to adding a twenty-goal scorer to the Capitals. Like Brett Connolly, he is also a Good Man, and he and his wife have been involved in a number of charitable endeavours and have been vocal supporters of LGBTQ rights. He was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Award this year which is basically the award a player gets for being an awesome human off the ice.

His salary is, however, $5.5m and he’s under contract till 2022-23. He won’t come cheap, and he won’t be cheap, but he could be a great addition.

Marcus Johansson

It’s always been strange to me that Marcus Johansson (variably styled Mojo, Jojo and General Johansson, the first of his name) is somehow a polarising figure. He’s a good hockey player, guys. His zone entries are exquisite and, contrary to a certain pundit’s inaccurate statements, he does get into the dirty areas to score goals. Since being traded by the Capitals, in a move rather like yesterday’s Burakovsky trade, he’s suffered injury (thanks, Brad Marchand) but has brought his excellent offensive play to both the New Jersey Devils and to the Boston Bruins, making it to the Stanley Cup Final with the Bruins this month.

I think, with Burakovsky being traded, some serious consideration should be given to bringing Johansson back, although I’ll admit that it’s very easy to be nostalgic and how often do returning players excel? Brandon Saad has not been nearly as impactful with the Hawks when he was traded back to them, but then again, they haven’t been nearly as impactful as a team.

Johansson will be 29 in October so, theoretically, he may be at the peak of his powers but conventional wisdom suggests that it’s all downhill for hockey players after thirty (having said that, I give you: Alexander Ovechkin). Last season, he scored 30 points, but only played in 58 games. While resiliency was never a problem when he was with the Capitals, it is a consideration to be made.

All in all, I wouldn’t hate to see Johansson back. He’s certainly an option.

Joonas Donskoi

Joonas Donskoi is another name that has been floated. A large Finnish right wing, he’s a 27 year-old with bog-standard middle six points in 2018-19 (14 goals/37 points in 80 games).

Donskoi was actually drafted by the Panthers back in 2010 but remained in Finland, until he signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2014. He has battled with injuries recently, which always makes me a little concerned, in case it’s the start of an injury trend. He can be streaky but he’s fairly sturdy, by all accounts. According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s awesome (donate to his Patreon for full access; it’s well worth it), he’s okay! He’s pretty useful offensively and defensively and I think the Capitals can work with okay, if it comes at a reasonable price.

However, given that the Sharks are very likely to lose Joe Pavelski this summer (seriously, this gives me palpitations so I’m not sure how my Sharks-supporting friends are coping), I could imagine that they’ll want to maintain at least some of their forward depth.

Jesse Puljujärvi

Please, hear me out.

No, seriously. I think Jesse Puljujärvi could be an amazing reclamation project for the Capitals. I know that he’s younger than the Caps’ usual projects but he’s recently demanded a trade out of Edmonton or else he’ll return to Europe. While the Oilers’ management are being cagey about this, I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on (which is blackly funny when you consider that Puljujärvi almost had neither leg to stand on. He underwent bilateral hip surgery in March, which is concerning in a twenty-one year-old, especially as he played 46 games in the NHL this season. That’s a heavy physical burden if he was carrying this hip issue for a while.

What else do we know about him? Well, he was a top draft pick, going fourth in 2016, to the Edmonton Oilers. That was the same year that Auston Matthews went first to the Leafs, and only Patrik Laine (Jets) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (Blue Jackets) were drafted ahead of Puljuvärvi. Could he be a bust? Absolutely. But there’s every chance that a change of scenery will help this kid and I’d dearly love that to happen with Washington although, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t even the whiff of a rumour about it.

It would be a gamble but this team average age is skewing older and older, especially with the loss of Burakovsky. There’s the all-important Ovechkin-Backstrom Cup window to jam open for as long as possible, but what if this kid could be part of the future, and what comes after?

Other fish in the sea

Of course, there are plenty of UFAs and untapped trade targets out there that I haven’t even mentioned or thought of but I think there’s a solid chance that one of these guys could be a Cap next season.

The wait continues…

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