WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington Capitals were active on the first day of free agency, just a little later than expected. The Capitals signed goaltender Hunter Shepard to a two-year, two-way contract and Lucas Johansen to a one-year, two-way contract, retaining two key players from within the organization. In addition, they added Dylan McIlrath on a two-year, two-way contract and Matt Irwin on a one-year, two-way contract. Both players are defensemen and help further build out the depth at defense within the organization.
The signings of Shepard and Johansen help continue the retention of Bears players from the 2021 season. Johansen was issued a qualifying offer the night before free agency opened up. He spent most of the past season on the injured list and will need to stay healthy and continue his good play. Shepard was coming off of an AHL contract with the Bears in which he had a brief but excellent few games in Hershey. After signing this new contract, he adds some intrigue to Hershey’s crease, joining Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale as candidates for the starting position.
McIlrath is a sound addition as a right-handed shooting defenseman standing at 6’4, 235 pounds. The 29-year-old served as an alternate captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he helped the team win the Calder Cup in 2017. McIlrath went up against the Bears in a few seasons prior to his time in Grand Rapids as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack and had brief stints in the NHL in each of his last few seasons. He’s immediately in the mix as a depth option for the Capitals should the need arise.
Irwin, 33, skated in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres in 2021 and has 383 games of NHL experience under his belt with several different teams. The 6’2, 189-pound defender skated with the Nashville Predators when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017 and has 289 games of experience at the AHL level. He also was an AHL All-Star in 2012 and will also be a prime candidate for recall to Washington along with blue liner Martin Fehervary.
The signings will no doubt help solidify Hershey’s lineup further on the blue line, adding back some of the size that the team had in spades this past season. The moves help fill the void after the departures of Cameron Schilling, Paul LaDue, Reece Willcox, and Rob O’Gara, but it’s safe to say the organization has done its homework in finding replacements.
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