Talented and versatile forwards highlight Washington Capitals’ prospect pool

By Josh Buckingham

Andre Burakovsky - Washington Capitals

Photo: Swedish forward Andre Burakovsky has been very good in his first season of North American hockey, posting 47 points in 31 games with the Erie Otters. (courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals have stockpiled a top-heavy group of prospects featuring forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and Chandler Stephenson. On the blue line and in net, the cupboard is a bit drier, but there still are some promising young players like Philipp Grubauer and Madison Bowey.

The Capitals also have several defensive prospects, including  Nate Schmidt, Alexander Urbom, and Connor Carrick who have solid NHL potential.

Left Wing

Considering head coach Adam Oates does not like to play his wingers on their off-hand, many of the Capitals forward prospects could find themselves playing a different position than the one they are currently listed at. The Capitals have also shown a willingness to try wingers at the center position.  

Andre Burakovsky, a 1st round pick from the 2013 NHL Draft, has been electric in his first season playing in North America, helping turn his Erie Otter squad from worst to first. Playing alongside Connor McDavid, the consensus number one prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft, Burakovsky has compiled 47 points in just 31 games.

Burakovsky possesses good size, but definitely could add a bit of muscle to his frame. He has high-end skating ability and handles the puck well at high speeds. He also has great release on his shot. In Washington's rookie prospect camp, the Caps experimented with him at center and he played pretty well considering he has played wing for most of his career.  

Last season, Stanislav Galiev entered the professional ranks with very high expectations after recording 34 points in 17 QMJHL playoff games. He started the 2012-13 season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, but failed to register a goal in 17 games and he was sent down to the ECHL to play with the Reading Royals. He has been fairly successful at the ECHL level, averaging about a point per game. He has appeared in six AHL games this season and has three goals and one assist.

Many people had not heard the name Zach Sanford before the 2013 NHL Draft, but he rose up the ranks late and the Capitals moved up to pick him with the 61st selection. Sanford possesses ideal size for a power forward at 6'3 and is still growing into his large frame. He has a very strong shot and is an above average skater for his size. Sanford is honing his skills in the USHL this season playing for the Waterloo Blackhawks before he will attend Boston College for the 2014-15 season. He appears to be a long-term project, but has a lot of upside.

Nicolas Deschamps who was acquired last season in a trade with Toronto Maple Leafs, has fit in nicely with the Hershey Bears. A former second round pick by the Anaheim Ducks, Deschamps appears to be a long shot of becoming a fulltime NHL player, but he could become a very serviceable call up if he continues to improve his offensive game.  

Center

Though often listed as wingers, forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chandler Stephenson are being groomed to one day play center for the Capitals.

Kuznetsov is a reigning KHL all-star and could be considered a veteran serving as an assistant captain in his fifth full season Traktor Chelyabinsk. He has averaged just under a point-per-game the last two seasons, which is outstanding considering his age and the level of competition in the KHL. It has been rumored that he stayed in Russia in order to have a better chance of making the 2014 Russian Olympic Team, and it is possible that he will join the Capitals at the conclusion of his KHL season. If this is true, he could immediately serve as their number two center or, if he has some issues defensively, play on the wing.

Stephenson is off to a great start playing in his fourth full season in the WHL with the Regina Pats. He already has 41 points in just 32 games and is healthy after battling some nagging injuries last season. He is not the biggest player on the ice, but is a very powerful skater and has a great center of gravity. He is also very responsible defensively. The only thing that could possibly hinder him from becoming a fulltime center at the NHL level is his size.

Michael Latta came to the Capitals as part of the return that sent Filip Forsberg to the Nashville predators. He made his NHL debut this season and played admirably on the fourth line. He plays with a lot of energy and is able to fore-check hard thanks to his great speed. He is also not afraid of the rough stuff and will stick up for his teammates. He definitely appears destined to become a productive and serviceable fourth line center with third line upside.

Thomas Di Pauli is another defensive minded prospect honing his skills in his sophomore season at Notre Dame. He has always been a very defensive minded center and productive role player playing in the U.S. National Development Program. For now he will continue to develop while playing in his shutdown center role at Notre Dame. Di Pauli is one of three Capitals prospects with a chance to represent the United States at the 2014 World Junior Championships.

Caleb Herbert failed to improve upon a very successful freshman season at Minnesota-Duluth last year as his point total dropped from 33 to 25. This season he is off to a much better start with 10 points in 16 games. Herbert is a very crafty offensive forward that can also play on the wing, which is where he might be better suited given his offensive prowess. He will impress many when he decides to turn pro as he is under a lot of peoples' radars and he has a very good chance of making an impact at the NHL level.

Travis Boyd, a junior at the University of Minnesota, is showing flashes of offensive improvement so far this season, posting eight points in 16 games. In his first two collegiate seasons he struggled to produce offensively due to his below average skating ability. His skating is much improved this season and hopefully he can continue his offensive success for the rest of the year.  

Brian Pinho will join DiPauli, Herbert, and Boyd at the collegiate ranks next season when he enrolls at Providence College. This season he has made the jump from St. John's Prep, which is located just outside of Boston, to the Indiana Ice of the USHL. He has made a smooth transition to the USHL thus far posting 14 points in 23 games.

Right Wing

The Capitals made a controversial decision in keeping top right wing prospect, Tom Wilson, with the team for the rest of the season, automatically burning a year off of his entry-level deal even if they decide to return him to juniors. He has played in all 33 games on the fourth line and is playing about seven minutes a night. Wilson does not look out of sorts at the NHL level however, and has actually man handled quite a few grown men with both his body and fists. Hopefully this does not stunt his offensive growth, as the Capitals hope he can eventually step into the second line right wing role.

Riley Barber has experienced success at every level he has played including junior, international, and collegiate. In his freshman season at Miami University he lit it up recording 39 points in 40 games earning him rookie of the year honors. He has also won two gold medals representing Team USA in 2012 for the U18 team and in 2013 for the U20 team. He will return to the USA U20 team to defend his gold medal in 2014 and will continue to seek a National Championship with Miami.

Barber is not the fastest skater, but his positioning is impeccable and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He also has great vision and is a great complement on a top line, which he proved while playing with Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) at the WJC. Given his success thus far this season, 28 points in 18 games including 10 goals, he could decide to turn pro at the conclusion of his collegiate season or he could follow in the footsteps of Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) and decide to return to college for his junior season.

Austin Wuthrich was drafted in 2012 following a after a very successful freshman season at Notre Dame, but he failed to carry any momentum into the following season. For the 2013-14 season, he has continued to struggle. He will most likely return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Garrett Mitchell is an energy player currently serving as the alternate captain of the Hershey Bears. He possesses great speed and quickness, which he uses to punish opposing defenseman. He is also not afraid to step up for his teammates. Mitchell has a chance of working his way into a fourth line role with the Capitals if he continues to progress.

Defensemen

Out of all of the Capitals' defensive prospects, Madison Bowey has the most upside. Bowey is a very strong, rock solid defenseman with great skating ability, a powerful shot, and outstanding vision. The 18-year-old took over as captain for the Kelowna Rocket this season and currently has 11 goals and 16 assists through 32 games.

The Caps acquired two very talented defensemen for free in Nate Schmidt and Alexander Urbom.

A highly sought after college free agent, Schmidt has been a very pleasant surprise for the Capitals this season and has played his way into a top four role. He started the season in Hershey, but was quickly promoted due to injuries and has been paired with Mike Green for much of his time with the Caps. In 28 games he has recorded six points and is playing around 19 minutes a night. Every night he seems to become more comfortable and willing to step into the game offensively. In his final two seasons at the University of Minnesota, he compiled 73 points in 83 games, so he has legitimate offensive upside.

Claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils at the start of the 2013-14 season, Urbom is a completely different player than Schmidt. He plays a stay-at-home game, is big, strong, and is good at getting stick on puck. He is also not afraid to throw his lengthy frame around, but could be a bit more physical.

Connor Carrick surprised almost everyone after he played his way onto the Capitals opening night roster and scored his first NHL goal during his three game stint to start the season. After this stint, the 19-year-old was sent back to Hershey to continue his development. Unlike Wilson, he can play in the AHL because he was not drafted out of Canadian major junior hockey. Carrick is an offensive defenseman that possesses great skating ability that allows him to easily jump up into the play offensively. He is small for a defenseman and does need to get a bit stronger before he is ready to play fulltime in the NHL. He, along with Barber and Di Pauli, could represent Team USA at the WJC in Sweden.

Tomas Kundratek is another offensive defenseman currently playing with Carrick in Hershey. He has proven that he can play in the NHL while appearing in 25 games for the Caps last season. Like Carrick he is a bit soft and is not a very physical blue liner. He also lacks speed and quickness, but is an ample skater. Considering there is a log jam of right-handed defenseman in the Caps system, he is going to have to pick up his play if he is going to be given another shot with the big club. He suffered a lower body injury in the middle of November and has been out of the lineup ever since. On the season, he has a goal in seven AHL games.

The Capitals may have themselves a late-round steal in Christian Djoos. A seventh-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft, Djoos is currently playing in his second full season for Brynäs in Sweden's SHL. Like Kundratek and Carrick, Djoos is undersized and lacks physicality. He is very smart however, and moves the puck well from the back end. For the time being, he will continue to play in Sweden and will represent his country at the 2014 WJC.

Cameron Schilling is another player the capitals acquired for nothing when they signed him at the conclusion of his senior season at Miami University in 2012. Since turning professional, he has struggled to impress at the AHL level and has only appeared in one NHL game. He is a big stay-at-home defenseman that lacks the foot speed to be successful at the NHL level.

After being declared ineligible for the first half of the season, Garrett Haar decided to leave Western Michigan and join the WHL where his rights would be traded to the Portland Winterhawks. Since joining the defending WHL champion Winterhawks, he has fit right in and recorded 26 points in 34 games. Haar is a very well-rounded defenseman that has great vision.

Tyler Lewington, a seventh round selection in 2013, is a rough and tough defensemen currently playing in his third WHL season for the Medicine Hat Tigers. So far this year he has increased his offensive output with 17 points in 30 games. Lewington is an average skater with decent size, but he is tough as nails. He loves to drop the mitts and will back down from no one.

Jaynen Rissling is another WHL defenseman in who is having a big season offensively, with 23 points through 32 games. At 6'4 and weighing well over 200 pounds, he is an imposing defenseman who is not afraid to punish an opposing forward with his hulking size. His skating has improved immensely, which is the main reason for his offensive success this season.

Blake Heinrich is a smooth skating defenseman playing in his second season for the Sioux City Muskeeters. He is an undersized offensive defenseman that will join fellow prospect, Caleb Herbert, at Minnesota-Duluth next year. At this time he is a long-term project for the Capitals.

Patrick Wey, a Boston College graduate, has played in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL so far this season. This is not surprising given that this is his first professional season. He is a solid stay-at-home defensemen that plays a very conservative style, making him a good complement to an offensive defenseman. He has the upside of a depth defensman at the NHL level in a year or two.

Chay Genoway was acquired from the Minnesota Wild last season and has fit in nicely with the Hershey Bears. He is a highly undersized blue liner standing at just 5'8, but he is very agile. At this point it appears unlikely he will ever become a full time NHL player.

Patrick Koudys has bounced around in the past three seasons from the NCAA ranks to the USHL and now back to NCAA ranks with the Penn State Nittany Lions. He started his collegiate career with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but decided to leave after his sophomore season. He is a big defenseman who lacks foot speed.

Brett Flemming is an offensive defenseman that appears to have settled in at the ECHL level with the Reading Royals. He was recently recalled to the AHL. At this point, he appears to be a long shot to play in the NHL.

Goaltending

Phillipp Grubauer was great in Hershey last season and proved he could perform at the NHL level in two appearances with the Caps. He is a big goaltender that who is very patient and uses his size to his advantage.

Brandon Anderson, an undrafted goaltender from the WHL, is finally settling into the ECHL this season. Like Grubauer, he is a big goaltender, but he has a much more standup style. He is a long shot to ever become an NHL goaltender, but he could become a very serviceable AHL goaltender in the future.

The Capitals also have Sergei Kostenko in the system. Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Kostenko played the 2012-13 season with the Capitals organization before leaving them last May. Kostenko reappeared in the Caps 2013 prospect camp but has once again fallen off the radar.