Washington Capitals’ minor league system deep at defense

By Josh Buckingham

Nate Schmidt - Washington Capitals

Photo: Defenseman Nate Schmidt is one of several promising defensive prospects the Washington Capitals have in their system. Schmidt signed with the Capitals in 2013, following his junior season at the University of Minnesota. (courtesy of Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

The Washington Capitals' minor league pool is full of depth defensemen but lacks game-breaking talent. Among the large group, only Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick look like legitimate top-four defensemen at the NHL level.

On the other hand, a promising young netminder has emerged in Philipp Grubauer. Scouts have spoken highly of him in the past, but he is finally living up to the hype with his stellar play at the NHL level.

NHL

Tom Wilson, RW, 19

Wilson has surprisingly played in all 42 games for the Capitals this season. All of his time at the NHL level has been spent on the fourth line and he is playing just seven minutes a night. He has served as an energy forward dishing out monstrous hits wit his gigantic frame. He is also always willing to drop the gloves and is not afraid to challenge the opposing team's best fighters. Offensively he shown little progress as he is not carrying the puck with confidence and has not driven the net like a power forward should.

Many are wondering if it was the right decision for the Capitals to keep him with the big squad only to play him so sparingly. At the moment, the Caps are loaded at the right wing position so it will be very hard for him to move up the depth chart. Next year he will be eligible to play in the AHL, which is what might suit him best in order for him to develop into a scoring power forward. Hopefully the Capitals have not rushed him and killed his confidence offensively, and he is able to develop into a top-six winger.

Philipp Grubauer, G, 22

Grubauer has been a pleasant surprise for the Caps so far this season. He could very well have taken the starting job moving forward due to his strong play and inconsistency amongst his competitors Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. In 11 starts he has an impressive record of 5-2-3 record, a 2.20 goals against average, and a strong .932 save percentage. He has kept the Caps in every game he has started and they appear to play very confidently in front of him.

He is a steady netminder that is very stingy on low shots, but he does need to improve his rebound control. It will be very interesting to see what the Capitals decide to do with their current goaltending carousel. Grubauer is the only goaltender of the three that does not need to clear waivers to be sent to Hershey, but if he continues to stay hot the Caps appear ready to roll with him if he is the hot hand.

Michael Latta, C, 22

Latta has been very impressive in limited action with the Capitals. At the moment he is currently shelved with an injury and will have to fight for his position back with the Caps upon his return to the lineup. He has appeared in 17 games with the Caps this season recording one goal, which was his first NHL tally.

He is a solid energy forward that possesses great quickness and acceleration. He is also an above average playmaker and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Latta appears to be on his way to becoming a serviceable third or fourth-line center.

AHL

Nate Schmidt, D, 22

Schmidt has played on every Capitals pairing to start the season. He played in the first 28 games with the Caps and was picking up steam before being sent down to Hershey due to the emergence of Dmitri Orlov and the return of John Erskine. In his stint with the Caps he recorded two goals and added four assists while playing about 19 minutes a night. He appeared to be gaining more confidence each game and was a very steady presence on the blue line.

Since his return to Hershey he has been very productive offensively, recording six points in 10 games. He is a well-rounded blueliner that is capable of contributing offensively and is a good puck-mover as well. At the moment, the Capitals have an excess of depth defensemen that need to be moved in order for him to have another chance in the NHL. Overall, Schmidt appears to have a very long and successful NHL career ahead of him.

Connor Carrick, D, 19

Carrick is currently honing his skills in Hershey after his surprising start with the Capitals out of training camp. He has struggled a bit since turning pro due to his smaller stature and inexperience, but is still a very promising prospect. He represented the United States at the 2014 WJC and played quite admirably. In five games he recorded three assists and was one of Team USA's best blueliners.

He makes up for his lack of size with strong skating ability and vision from the back-end. His good speed allows him to jump into the play offensively and his vision helps him make quick transitions and start the breakout. Carrick may be a few years away from being a full time NHL player, but he has the upside of becoming a top-four offensive defenseman.

Patrick Wey, D, 22

Wey has played with all of Washington's affiliates including the top club for one game. All in all, he has played in eight games with the Reading Royals (ECHL), nine with the Hershey Bears and one with the Capitals. He is the definition of a stay at home defenseman and is a good complement to an offensively minded partner. He projects as a reliable depth defenseman who can kill penalties.

Tomas Kundratek, D, 24

Kundratek played in just seven games this season before his season was ended with a torn ACL. He is a small defenseman that is known for his offensive prowess and ability to anchor the power play. His future with the Caps is up in the air as they seem to have a bevy of depth defensemen in their pipeline.

Garrett Mitchell, RW, 22

Mitchell's rocky start to the season was abruptly ended thanks to a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery. He was hoping to make his NHL debut this season to bring some energy to the lineup with his physical presence and ferocious forecheck. His future with the Caps is very cloudy thanks to their depth at right wing.

Stanislav Galiev, RW, 21

The Russian sniper has proven that he can score at the ECHL level, but has been very inconsistent when given the chance to play in Hershey. Galiev was finally starting to get into a groove with the Bears until a high hit resulted in an upper-body injury, which most likely is a concussion.

Hopefully this injury does not set him back too much and he is able to return to full form. He is a very good skater that uses his long legs to his advantage and has a wick wrist shot with great release. He may be a longer-term project than many have thought, and the Capitals should not lose hope just yet.

Cameron Schilling, D, 25

Schilling has been a very steady presence on the blue line for the Bears this season. He is a reliable defensemen that does not make a lot of mistakes and plays a stay at home style. His skating is the one thing that holds him back from cracking the Capitals lineup fulltime.

It appears that Schilling is destined to be a career AHL player who can play in the NHL in a call-up capacity.

Nicolas Deschamps, LW, 24

Deschamps seems to finally have settled in with the Bears this year following a rocky start after being acquired from the Toronto Marlies in the middle of last season. He has netted 10 goals and added eight assists in 26 games. Throughout his career he has shown flashes of promise, but has overall been a very streaky player. If he continues to produce at the AHL level he could get his shot with the big club in the near future.

Chay Genoway, D, 27

Genoway is another prospect that has struggled since joining the Bears. He has posted five points in 21 games with the Bears this season, which is not up to par for an offensive blueliner. He is an extreme long shot to ever make the NHL on a regular basis.

ECHL

Brandon Anderson, G, 21

Anderson is currently playing with the Capital's ECHL affiliate Reading Royals. He has played sparingly this year starting just 12 games and posting a record of 5-6-1 with a forgettable 3.19 goals against average and .879 save percentage. He has been in and out of the starting job due to the recall of the Royal's starter, Riley Gill. Anderson has yet to take control of the starting job in Reading due to inconsistent play and is unlikely to ever make the NHL.

Brett Flemming, D, 22

Flemming has been a consistent defenseman for the Royals this season and was named an assistant captain in the process. He has recorded four points in 20 games this season and is unlikely to every make the NHL.

Other Notes

The Capitals placed defenseman Alexander Urbom on waivers January 7th to create space on their 23-man roster. Urbom was claimed a day later by the New Jersey Devils, the team the Capitals claimed him from earlier this season. Urbom only appeared in 20 games for the Capitals and had not seen any action since November 29th.

Though not yet signed to an NHL deal, Australian-born forward Nathan Walker has been impressive in his first year of professional hockey and only his second in North America. The 19-year-old is a smaller forward with blazing speed and great playmaking ability. He has recorded five goals and five helpers in 25 games with the Bears this season.