In recent years the Washington Capitals have shown a tendency of drafting college-bound players in the later rounds thanks to their ability to retain the rights of these prospects for longer than if they drafted a player out of Canadian major juniors.
The Capitals had six players competing at the NCAA ranks this past season, with only Caleb Herbert not returning next season after signing a contract. As of now they will have five youngsters returning to play for their respective colleges next season for a total of eight prospects.
It is evident former general manager George McPhee was not been afraid to draft European players in the past, but with Evgeny Kuznetsov recently making the jump to the NHL and others deciding to play in North America, the Capitals left with just one prospect competing in Europe.
Riley Barber, RW, Miami RedHawks (NCHC)
Drafted 6th Round, 167th overall, 2012
Barber has established himself as a top collegiate prospect after building upon an extremely successful freshman campaign. In 38 games this season he potted 19 goals and added 25 helpers for 44 points. He also captained the Team USA U20 WJC squad to an undefeated preliminary round leading the team in goals with four before they were unfortunately ousted earlier than they had hoped.
Barber has become a much more mature player this season and his overall game has evolved. He is very responsible in all three zones thanks to his high hockey IQ. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His skating is not going to blow anyone away, but he is highly effective regardless thanks to his knack for going to the net. He will return to Miami for his junior season where he will most likely assume a leadership role and compete for the Hobey Baker. This was a very smart move to return to the college because the Capitals are loaded with right-wingers at the moment.
Caleb Herbert, C/RW, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (NCHC)
Drafted 5th Round, 142nd overall, 2010
Herbert rebounded nicely from a sophomore slump and put together a very solid junior season for the Bulldogs. In 36 games this season he tallied 12 goals along with 19 assists for 31 points. He is not the biggest player, but he is very gifted offensively. He is an excellent skater that is very crafty with the puck on his stick. When he is on top of his game he can take over a game with his high-end skill.
At the conclusion of his season with the Minnesota-Duluth he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps and joined the Hershey Bears. In seven games with the Bears he scored two goals and assisted on one for three points. He will most likely start next season back in Hershey where he will assume a key offensive role for a team that failed to make the playoffs in 2013-14 thanks to a lack of offensive firepower.
Travis Boyd, C/LW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Drafted 6th Round, 177th overall, 2011
Boyd experienced a breakout junior season helping lead the Golden Gophers to a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the NCAA National Championship Game. In his first two seasons he played in a total of 75 games recording just 24 total points, but in 2013-14 he topped this point total in 41 games by scoring nine goals and setting up 23 others for 32 points.
Boyd's one major flaw in his game has been his lack of breakaway speed, but this season he figured out how to overcome that obstacle and refine his game. He makes up for his lack of speed with strong stick-handling skills and slick passing. These abilities allow him to set up his teammates and make everyone around him better. He will return to the University of Minnesota for his senior season where he will continue to develop while helping his team compete for another National Championship.
Thomas Di Pauli, C/LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th Round, 100th overall, 2012
Di Pauli made some nice strides in his game this season despite experiencing numerous injuries. He competed in 26 games for the Fighting Irish recording just three goals and two assists, but he is not known for his offensive prowess. He showed some flashes of offensive promise while competing on the fourth line for Team USA at the U20 WJC, recording three points in five games. He was very effective in his role, both shutting down the opposition while also creating lots of offensive opportunities.
Di Pauli knows his role as a forechecker and understands what he needs to do help his team win games. He will return to Notre Dame for his junior season where he may inherit more offensive responsibility and it will be very interesting how he performs.
Austin Wuthrich, RW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th Round, 107th overall, 2012
Wuthrich who was drafted seven positions after teammate Tommy Di Pauli is entering his senior season because he was drafted at the conclusion of a strong freshman season with the Fighting Irish. Since this season he has struggled to produce offensively and has settled into a fourth-line grinder role thanks to his size. He is not afraid to throw his weight around and agitate the opposition. It will be very interesting to see if he can turn things around and put together a solid campaign offensively in his final season at the University of Notre Dame.
Patrick Koudys, D, Penn State Nittany Lions (Big Ten)
Drafted 5th Round, 147th overall, 2011
Koudys settled in nicely in his first season with the newly establish Penn State hockey program after two seasons at RPI and one in the USHL. He played in all 36 games with the Nittany Lions and was a defensive staple for the young squad. He is not the greatest skater or the most mobile blueliner, but he makes up for it with his positioning and willingness to engage physically. He will return to Penn State for his senior season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Drafted 1st Round, 26th overall, 2010
Kuznetsov finally made the jump to the Washington Capitals after struggling in the KHL with both injuries and decreased offensive production. Upon joining the Caps he experienced instant success thanks to his strong stick-handling ability and ability to protect the puck. He is extremely dangerous when he possesses the puck down low in the offensive zone thanks to these skills and an uncanny ability to create chances for his linemates when it appears there is nothing he could possibly do. In 17 games with the Caps he scored three goals and assisted on six others for nine points while playing mostly bottom six minutes. He was also lethal in the shootout with his signature deke to his forehand and quick release.
Kuzentsov will most likely start next season in an increased role with the Caps and be relied upon to be a consistent offensive producer.
Christian Djoos, D, Brynäs (SHL)
Drafted 7th Round, 195th overall, 2012
Djoos is a highly skilled defenseman that has been honing his skills competing in Sweden's top professional league. In his second full season with Brynäs of the SHL he assumed an increased role, which allowed him to record 13 points in 47 games and add three more in five playoffs games. He was also a key player for Sweden in the U20 WJC, helping them win a silver medal. In the tournament he played top pairing minutes and produced offensively scoring two goals and assisting on another.
Djoos is a smooth skater and slick puck-mover from the backend. He makes strong breakout passes given his great vision. He does need to improve his two-way game before making the jump to play in North America as well as bulk up. He is set to return to play with Brynäs for his third consecutive season for 2014-15 and he will continue to develop playing against grown men. He has the potential to make an impact with the Capitals in the next few years.