Solid group of defensemen represent Washington Capitals at junior level

By Ryan Womeldorf
Madison Bowey - Washington Capitals

Photo: Defenseman Madison Bowey is off to a strong start with the Kelowna Rockets, managing seven goals and 19 assists in his first 19 games. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

The junior prospects of the Washington Capitals have been all over the radar to start the 2014-15 season. With just seven names on the list for 2013-14, the ranks have thinned out quite a bit as former junior players Brian Pinho and Zach Sanford have headed to the NCAA to develop their games at the collegiate level. That leaves just five prospects at the junior/CHL level, with varying degrees of experience and success.

WHL

Tyler Lewington, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 7th round (204th overall), 2013

Back with Medicine Hat for a fourth season, Lewington has slowly but surely come into his own offensively. He compiled 31 assists and 38 points in 68 games during 2013-14 and is off to a nice start with eight assists and 13 points in 18 games.

As he wraps up his junior career, it is clear that his path to the NHL is that of a stay-at-home defender. He earned rave reviews during training camp, being called a “meat-and-potatoes” kind of player by Hershey coach Troy Mann. What he does is rarely pretty, but Lewington is progressing into the sort of defenseman that can have a long, quietly productive career.

Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 2nd round (53rd overall), 2013

Of the Capitals’ major junior prospects, Bowey might be the best of the bunch. The 6’2 defenseman enters his fourth full season with the Kelowna Rockets and put up one of the more impressive seasons by a defenseman in the league in 2013-14. His offensive totals were impressive – 21 goals, 60 points in 72 games – but his defensive game appears just as strong.

Bowey, who also saw seven games with the Canada U18 team at the WJC-18 tournament, is off to an even hotter start in 2014-15. He already has six goals and 26 points through 19 games and has all the makings of a solid top-four defender for the Capitals in the future.

He has a big frame, never shying away from the physical aspect of things. He makes strong decisions with the puck and shows good leadership abilities, serving as an alternate for Team Canada and as captain of the Rockets in 2013-14 and this season. He excels at rushing the puck up the ice with confidence and has strong playmaking skills with the puck.

With his junior eligibility set to expire after this season, Bowey could be one to watch heading into camp in the summer of 2015.

Blake Heinrich, D, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 5th round (144th overall), 2013

Heinrich took a bit of detour before ending up with the Winterhawks for the start of the 2014-15 season. He went through the US High School system, playing well for Hill-Murray school before joining the Sioux City Musketeers for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, even captaining the team for the latter.

He is off to an okay start for the Winterhawks in 2014-15, posting six points in 13 games so far, while racking up 17 penalty minutes. He is still in a spot where ice time is hard to come by, so it is a bit difficult to really gauge his progress this early into his WHL career.

Despite standing at 5’11, Heinrich’s game is predicated on being a pain in the rear to opposing forwards. He has a reputation for being a nasty, defense-first defenseman who likes to hit and get in the face of his opponents. Heinrich is a smart defenseman, making the safe play to clear the zone and advance the puck, making few mistakes as he goes.

Though his skating needs work and his size will no doubt always be something of a detriment to him, Heinrich is a no-nonsense defenseman that NHL teams covet. Having a player like Heinrich to go into the trenches and battle with makes any team tougher to play against.

USHL

Shane Gersich, C/LW, Omaha Lancers
Acquired: 5th round (134th overall), 2014

Gerisch is off to a strong start with the Lancers, manaing 10 goals and five assists in his first 14 games. He might not be the biggest or strongest, but he has the kind of talent to get him to the next level, with great speed and agility to go with impressive first step quickness. He will need to develop other moves as he moves up in competition, but he likes to take the puck to the outside and beat defenders with his speed. He also has a rocket of a shot with a quick release, making him extra dangerous on the rush.

One of the younger prospects in his class, Gersich will no doubt get time to develop as he graduates to the NCAA and builds his game there. Still, with that kind of skill set, he will always be one to keep an eye on as he develops.

Steven Spinner, RW, Omaha Lancers
Acquired: 6th round (159th overall), 2014

Joining Gersich in Omaha is Steven Spinner. The winger came up through the vaunted Minnesota high school hockey scene, performing well for Eden Prairie High.

Off to a decent start with four goals and four assists in 14 games, Spinner might be one of the rawest prospects in the Caps’ talent pool. He has decent size and the skills to go one-on-one with just about any defender he comes across. He is also an outstanding passer and smooth stick-handler, giving him the skillset to be an exceptional playmaker.

Like most his age, the University of Nebraska-Omaha commit needs to work on his two-way game. He has also looked to have had issues with strong competition so far, though his efforts in 2014-15 have been much better than his brief spell in 2013-14.

As Spinner progresses and develops his game, he will have to find a way to be dangerous offensively when the checking grows tighter. Not only that, Spinner needs to work on being effective without the puck, something many prospects never really figure out.

Other Notes

Considered one of the best prospects still in the system, Riley Barber is off to a hot start with the University of Miami (Ohio), posting five goals and 11 points through his first 12 games. More known for his two-way abilities than anything else, it is nice to see Barber showing not only strong offensive abilities but confidence in his game to start the year.

Fellow collegiate Thomas Di Pauli is out of the gates with a strong showing after a huge struggle during his 2013-14 season. He has already bested his totals from last year, managing three goals and eight assists in 12 games. He is considered more of an agitator, but he is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Two newbies to the Captials this year, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov, are both off to quality starts with the big club this year. Through 17 games, Burakovsy has 12 points while Kuznetsov has six through 16 games. Both have seen their ice time bounce a bit this year and Kuznetsov seemed to be in the doghouse recently. Still, both have had flashes of excitement this year and should contend for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Madison Bowey - Washington Capitals Prospect of the Month, October, 2014Washington Capitals Prospect of the Month: October

This accolade goes to Bowey, who is hands down the top prospect in the Capitals’ system from the junior ranks. He has shown himself to be a strong defenseman with good size and physical acumen, but his offensive game has made him a dangerous all-around defenseman. He is well over a point-per-game to start the 2014-15 season and that is following a 60-points season in 2013-14. Bowey continues to dominate, both in the WHL and among the Capitals’ junior prospects.

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