Throughout the two weeks that the Capitals have been in preseason and during all five of their preseason games, a player who has been up and down over the last three seasons has really stood out. That player is center Mathieu Perreault, who leads the Capitals in preseason points with four and has been one of the best players on the ice every time he has played. He has been so good, in fact, that many are predicting Bruce Boudreau will not be able to cut Perreault because of it.
Which, of course, begs the question: if Perreault makes this team, where does he play?
First of all, Perreault is a center, not a wing; he is not big enough or strong enough to be converted to a wing for an extended period. His skill set is that of a center. This automatically rules him out of any spot on the top two lines in my opinion. What’s more, Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson aren’t going anywhere as the team’s top two pivots. He can’t play wing regularly on on the top three lines, either, as there are already seven wingers far better than Perreault battling for the six wing spots on those top three lines. And he is not going to play on the fourth line; that one is pretty self-explanatory.
That leaves, theoretically, one spot for Perreault to play: the third line center role. I think that Brooks Laich is the best fit for this spot, but that does not seem like a very likely scenario considering where Laich has played this preseason and Boudreau’s statements involving the role. So can Perreault excel in taking a regular shift with grinders like Joel Ward and Jason Chimera?
I honestly don’t think so. Look, I love Perreault. I always have and I think he has a lot to offer because he’s skilled and he can skate. But not on a third line. When you think of a third line, you think of forechecking, size, and defense. None of those are Perreault’s forte; he is an offense-first player. He’s failed at manning the third line center spot before, even with scorers like Eric Fehr on one of his wings. Plus, he has been so inconsistent over this NHL career that I don’t think playing him on a line that requires consistency and energy over everything else is that smart of a move.
That being said, as I wrote above, Boudreau does not seem like he is going to budge in having Laich play wing. And at the start of the preseason, based on what I saw of him at development camp, I would have told you Mattias Sjogren would make the team as the third line center if Laich played wing, but the rookie Swede’s poor preseason has all but ruled that out in my book. Which means that the job is, at this point, Perreault’s for the taking.
Good for him; he’s earned it. It remains to be seen whether it will be good for the team.