Defense and goaltending main strengths of Washington Capitals’ minor league system

By Ryan Womeldorf
Nathan Walker - Washington Capitals

Photo: Forward Nathan Walker continues to find a role in the Washington Capitals organization after being selected in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Walker spent the 2013-14 season with the Capitals organization prior to being drafted. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

It has been an up and down season so far for the Washington Capital‘s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Through the first 29 games of the 2014-15 season, they find themselves second in the East Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, sporting a 14-11-3-1 record.

Goals have been a difficult thing to come by for the Bears. Defense and goaltending, on the other hand, have become the Bears’ forte. They have allowed 66 goals on the year, which is among the fewest in the NHL.

AHL

Pheonix Copley, G, 22

Copley has assumed the backup role for the Bears this season. Through eight games this year, the rookie has managed a 5-3-0 record, with two of those victories ending up in shutouts. He has a 1.86 goals against average, a .926 save percentage, and two shutouts.

The 6’3 Copley possesses good size and surprising mobility for his size. He is still a bit lanky, but he is very athletic. He is still learning to properly challenge shooters and utilize his angles as well as learning to track the puck better through traffic. He has the raw skills, it is just a matter of putting them all together.

Philipp Grubauer, G, 23

Grubauer has been excellent so far for the Bears, starting 20 games while posting a 9-8-4 record, a .920 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average. Like Copley, he has also got a handful of shutouts to his name.

Grubauer does not have the size of Copley, but he has a much bigger frame at 180 pounds. He is patient, plays his angles well, and has above-average physical skills. He is still learning to find consistency at the pro level and will have the opportunity to find it in the AHL all year as Washington is set in net on the NHL level.

Garrett Mitchell, RW, 23

Mitchell has spent his time in 2014-15 with the Bears, logging 23 games so far. Offense is certainly not the name of his game, as he has just one assist to date. Mitchell’s role has been simple, provide energy on the third and fourth lines. He does that well, though his size (5’11, 185) is something that could hinder him going forward. A fearless teammate who will come to the defense of his comrades, Mitchell has become a leader for the Bears; something that could help him in his journey to become a full-time NHL player. Energy line leaders do not grab the headlines, but every general manager will attest that teams cannot win without them.

Liam O’Brien, LW, 20

The 6’2 winger has spent the bulk of the 2014-15 season with the Capitals, where he has registered a goal and an assist in 13 NHL games, as well as 23 penalty minutes. The energy forward was recently returned to the AHL, where he has logged five games so far.

Stanislav Galiev, LW, 22

Heading towards his 23rd birthday in January, Galiev has had an up-and-down campaign with Hershey so far in 2014-15. He has played in 21 games with the Bears, notching nine and 13 points thus far. Still, he has remained inconsistent. His defensive play has remained a point of contention, as it was during his time in the ECHL. He has got the skill set to be a quality contributor in the top six, but he has still struggling to consistently play adequate defense while providing the offensive spark he was drafted for.

Chris Brown, LW, 23

Brown has bounced back and forth between Hershey and Washington this season. In five games with the Capitals, he managed a goal. With the Bears, meanwhile, Brown has managed seven goals and four assists in 17 games.

Brown shows the ability to score with consistency on the minor levels, but does not seem to have the tools to become a scorer at the NHL level. He’s got a big body (6’2) to be a quality power forward, but he still needs work in regards to his hockey IQ and struggles to find consistency in his defensive game.

Chandler Stephenson, C, 20

Stephenson, fresh out of the WHL after four seasons with the Regina Pats, is getting his first exposure to pro hockey in 2014-15. He has played in 23 games with the Bears so far, notching a pair of goals and assists in limited ice time.

Stephenson has good potential on the offensive end of the ice, possessing good speed and intelligence when he has the puck. His size is a question mark (5’11, 190), but if he works hard enough, his skill could carry him to bigger and better things down the road.

Connor Carrick, D, 20

The former 2012 fifth round pick has been rising up the ranks of the Capitals prospect pool since his selection and continues to add value to his stock. After splitting the 2013-14 season between the AHL and NHL, Carrick has settled into a role at the AHL level. With four goals and 16 points, he is showing that he can be an effective offensive defenseman in the pro ranks.

Patrick Wey, D, 23

After a nine game stint with the Capitals, as well as seeing time with both Hershey and Reading of the ECHL in 2013-14, Wey was ready to make his mark in Hershey and, eventually, get back to the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, his season has consisted of just three games thanks to an elbow to the head from enforcer Jay Rosehill way back at the end of October.

Cameron Schilling, D, 26

Schilling is a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes kind of defender. Through 27 games in 2014-15, he has one goal and seven points to his name.

At 26-years-old, this is likely one of his last chances to make it to the NHL. He had a pair of one-game call-ups with the Caps over the last two years, but the AHL might be as far as the road leads for Schilling.

Nathan Walker, LW, 20

It has been a tough 2014-15 campaign for the Australian-born Walker. He began the season looking to make an impact for the Bears in his second full AHL season. He managed one goal and four points through 23 games, but was re-assigned to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. He was recently called back up to the AHL.

ECHL

Caleb Herbert, C, 23

After a successful career with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Hebert looked forward to a full-time transition to the AHL for 2014-15. He managed just two assists in a dozen games with limited ice time and has since been re-assigned to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. He has since managed to find his offensive stroke, scoring six goals in his nine games there.

Brandon Anderson, G, 22

After spending some time with the Reading Royals of the ECHL, Anderson has found himself back in the same league for 2014-15, this time with the South Carolina Stingrays. He has seen limited action thus far – just six games – and has struggled in the time he has played. Sporting a 0-4-2 record, his 2.62 goals against average is simply alright, but his .886 save percentage is alarming.

Garrett Haar, D, 21

Haar has been solid so far with the Stingrays. Through 20 games, he has chipped in three goals and 14 points; impressive considering Haar is more of a defensive-defenseman. At 6’0 and 208 pounds, he likes to play an aggressive, physical game in his own end. He has a good breakout pass to get things going in the other direction, but excels in the corners and along the wall where he can hammer opponents.

Non-Minor League Prospect Update

Madison Bowey¬†continues to have an outstanding 2014-15 campaign. The Capitals second-round pick in 2013, the 6’2 Bowey has 33 points through his first 28 games with the Kelowna Rockets. The captain of the Rockets, Bowey has also been selected to Team Canada for the WJC-20 tournament. At just 19-years-old, Bowey already has the looks of a complete package and could be ready for the NHL in the not too distant future.

Washington Capitals Prospect of the Month

Riley Barber - Washington Capitals Prospect of the MonthMiami University forward Riley Barber been very solid through the first part of the 2014-15 season. He has nine points in his last nine games, including a big two goal, one assist effort against Colorado College on November 8th, and a one goal, two assist game versus Nebraska-Omaha on December 5th.

Barber’s contributions have helped the Redhawks jump out to a tie for first place in the NCHC, tied with Minnesota-Duluth at 7-3-0. Barber continues to display excellent two-way play, helping power a Miami offense average 3.25 goals per game.

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