Over the past few seasons, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has shown a tendency towards drafting European and college-bound prospects. As a result, the Capitals only have eight prospects competing in the junior ranks, three of which are developing in the USHL before making the jump to college hockey.
Chandler Stephenson, C, Regina Pats
Acquired: 3rd round (77th overall) in 2012
Chandler Stephenson is a two-way center who packs some offensive punch. He is a very explosive skater with great acceleration, which he uses on both the back check and to get involved on the rush offensively. One aspect of his game that is highly underrated is his vision, which he uses to set up his linemates. He also is very strong on the puck and on the forecheck.
Stephenson should be signed to an entry-level contract soon and report to the Hershey Bears (AHL) upon the completion of his WHL season. He projects as a number two or three center at the NHL level in a few years.
Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2013
Madison Bowey is a rock solid blueliner who is strong in all three zones and has a ton of upside. Wearing the 'C' for the Rockets, Bowey is very tough in his own zone and uses his body to knock the opposition of the puck. He also possesses a booming shot from the point and is usually able to keep it low and get it through traffic.
Unfortunately he did not make the Canadian WJC squad this season after making a late push. Next season he should return to the Kelowna Rockets squad thanks to the CHL/AHL agreement. If he continues to progress and develop at this rate he should dominate the WHL and star for Canada at the 2015 WJC.
Jaynen Rissling, D, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 7th round (197th overall) in 2012
Like Bowey, Rissling is also captaining his WHL squad and is having a breakout season offensively. Through 32 games he already has 23 points.
Rissling is a monstrous blue liner standing 6'4 and weighing 220 pounds. Due to his hulking size he has struggled with his skating, but it has improved as he has grown into his large frame. He also is not afraid to engage in the rough stuff and has compiled 416 penalty minutes during his WHL career.
In order for Rissling to be successful at the professional level he is going to need to continue to improve his skating and footwork. It will be very interesting to see what the Capitals decide to do with him at the conclusion of his WHL season.
Tyler Lewington, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 7th round (204th overall) in 2013
Tyler Lewington is another tough nosed defenseman playing in the WHL for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He is experiencing a breakout season offensively with 17 points in 31 games. Lewington is not known for his offensive prowess, but more for his gritty defensive play, which is evident after he recorded 131 penalty minutes last season. The one knock on his game is that he needs to improve his skating ability, which he should be capable of doing as he has another year of junior eligibility.
The Capitals may have found a seventh round gem in Lewington as he has shown a lot of progression so far this season. He is still a long-term project, but he is definitely a guy to keep an eye on as he continues to hone his game in the WHL.
Andre Burakovsky, LW, Erie Otters
Acquired: 1st round (23rd overall) in 2013
When Burakovsky was drafted this past summer, a lot of scouts thought that he would be a long-term project, and that if he did decide to make the jump to play junior in North America, he may struggle at first. He has proven all of these critics wrong by lighting up the OHL alongside phenom prospect, Connor McDavid. Through 31 games Burakovsky has already scored 23 goals and set up 24 others for 47 points. He skates very well and has great release on his shot. He is also very crafty with puck, which allows him to set up his linemates.
Burakovsky will star for a very strong Sweden team at the 2014 WJC and will help them fight for a gold medal. It will be very interesting to see whether the Capitals decide to keep him in Erie next year alongside McDavid, or if they feel he is ready to play with the Hershey Bears. Regardless, he could make his NHL debut as early as next season and projects as a high scoring left winger, which the Caps desperately need.
Zach Sanford, LW, Waterloo Blackhawks
Acquired: 2nd round (61st overall) in 2013
Zach Sanford has finally settled into the USHL with the Waterloo Blackhawks after a rocky start. He has potted nine goals and added 11 assists for 20 points in 24 games. The 19-year-old is a big winger standing at 6'3, but he would not be categorized as a power forward. He plays more of a finesse game and possesses a good shot with quick release. He is also a very good skater for his size.
Sanford will be attending Boston College next season. He is likely a few years away from making the jump to the pro ranks, but he has a lot of potential. He projects as a top-six scoring winger.
Blake Heinrich, D, Sioux City Muskeeters
Acquired: 5th round (144th overall) in 2013
Blake Heinrich is playing in his second USHL season with the Sioux City Musketeers. He is a very scrappy defenseman for his size and is not afraid of the rough stuff. He is not an offensive dynamo but plays a very stable two-way game. He skates very well and has great vision.
Heinrich will join fellow prospect, Caleb Herbert, at the University of Minnesota Duluth next season. He is another long-term project for the Capitals and it will be interesting to see how he progresses
Brian Pinho, C, Indiana Ice
Acquired: 6th round (174th overall) in 2013
Brian Pinho is playing his first season in the USHL after two very successful high school seasons. Through 23 games he has 14 points and has held his own against increased competition. He is very responsible in his own zone and plays a very mature game.
He will make the jump to the collegiate ranks next season with the Providence College Friars. If he continues to progress, he could potentially become a solid third or fourth-line center.