Todd Reirden has a history with newly acquired Brenden Dillon

Chris Lingebach
February 20, 2020 - 2:26 pm

Newly acquired Brenden Dillon will man the top defensive line with John Carlson in his Capitals debut against Montreal Thursday night.

"The plan is, if we can, we'd like to see him in a Caps jersey this evening," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said during his bi-weekly appearance with The Sports Junkies Thursday morning, presented by Sheehy Auto Stores.

"Let's get a good look at him right away," he said. "He's an experienced guy who's been through something like this before. I think just his energy and some of the things he's gonna bring to the table – physicality and just overall ability to defend – will help us in any game, let alone tonight after coming back from a road trip."

The Caps went 1-2 on their three-game road trip through Colorado, Arizona and Vegas and are stumbling in general as of late, going 10-10 over their last 20 games. Defensive help couldn't come at a better time in the form of Dillon, acquired in a trade with the Sharks on Tuesday. In that 20-game funk, the Caps have averaged 3.4 goals against while allowing four or more goals nine times.

Washington GM Brian MacLellan has made a habit of acquiring defensive help before recent trade deadlines, with the Caps adding Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017, Michal Kempny in 2018, Nick Jensen in 2019, and now Dillon.

"Yeah, I mean it seems like you always feel like you need more defensemen going into the postseason and going into the end of the year, when it seems like more injuries are mounting up," Reirden said. "It's been something that he believes strongly in, and trying to find the right guy is important."

"Obviously we had a lot of success with Michal Kempny and we're hoping for the same this year with Dillon as well," he said. "A different type of player than Michal, but is a guy that's gonna really not be very fun to play against, and has playoff experience, which I think is important now with us no longer having (Matt) Niskanen and (Brooks) Orpik back on our blue line. As we needed to add some playoff experience.

"It's a totally different game then, in terms of the intensity. So a guy that's been to the Final and a guy that's played in a lot of those situations. So we got an experienced guy to help us along. We did a lot of research on him and, like I said, watched him play before acquiring him and liked the things that he can bring to our team."

Reirden was familiar with Dillon's skill set before the trade, with a history that dates back to his time as head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate, in 2009. Reirden first saw Dillon come through their system as an undrafted prospect straight out of the Western Hockey League.

"In Pittsburgh and in Washington as well, we have rookie camps and there's two different forms of them," Reirden said. "One is like a development camp where the players come in and they practice, and then from there, the players that are able to, go to a tournament. And we've done that here in Washington, gone down to Florida and different spots with another free team."

"That's a good way to evaluate players and be able to see where they're at and how they can fit into your system," he continued. "Not only do you get to see 'em practice, but you get to see 'em play games, right? So I saw him – he was actually not able to come to our development camp when I was coaching in Pittsburgh, but he did come and play in the rookie tournament with us there, because he was still gonna go back and play in junior hockey. He was just a very young player."

"It was in 2009," he recalled. "I coached that team that was of the rookie tournament in Pittsburgh and he came and played on that team for three games. I got a chance to meet him back then and obviously we really liked him when we were in Pittsburgh, and we weren't able to sign him because we didn't have enough contracts left. And then he was able to sign with Dallas for that next year.

"He was a good player and it was funny to talk with him and have him remember that and talk about it. A little bit of past history, but it's been a while and he's obviously gotten a lot better since then and hopefully I have as well as a coach, so we're looking forward to connecting."

"Coach, did you remember him," Reirden was asked. "Or he just remembered it?"

"No, no. I remembered him," he said. "Because it was someone that we were making a choice on as well. He brought it up to me. I wasn't sure at that point. He's just a young guy, he's got a lot going on. How it works for those players that are not playing college is that he can go back and play one more year of junior hockey, or he can take a minor-league deal, which is what we were prepared to give him in Pittsburgh at that time.

"And he obviously deserves an NHL deal, so he said, 'I'm just gonna wait, then.' And sure enough, his patience paid off. He went to Dallas' farm team for a little bit and then has been great in San Jose for the last six years. We're really luck to have him."

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