Washington Capitals getting contributions from several young players

By Ryan Womeldorf

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Washington Capitals

Photo: Rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has managed to stay in the Washington Capitals’ lineup despite several prolonged offensive droughts. Kuznetsov was drafted by the Capitals in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Rob Carr/Getty Images)

 

For the last few years, the Washington Capitals have done a nice job of blending newer, younger talent in with their stalwarts. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom might still run the show, but John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, and Karl Alzner have acquitted themselves nicely.

The 2014-15 season has been no different. The Capitals have introduced a few highly-touted youngsters into the mix and managed to get a look at a few under-the-radar players as well.

Andre Burakovsky, LW, 19

Taken with the 23rd pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Austrian winger has brought with him a boatload of hype ever since. He made the jump to the OHL prior to the 2013-14 season and dominated in his lone season there, scoring 41 goals and 87 points in 57 games.

Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, he was on the short list of Calder Trophy favorites. He began the season on a strong note, picking up points in his first four games but has since tapered off. His ice time has taken a dramatic decline and he’s got just five goals and 15 points through 35 games.

With the Capitals in the thick of the playoff hunt, Burakovsky could find himself minimized as the season goes on in favor of a veteran that can help the team get over the hump. Still, Burakovsky has a tremendously bright future in D.C.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, 22

Burakovsky was not the only debuting Capitals rookie with a ton of hype behind him. The Russian-born Kuznetsov came into this season having made his mark as a teenager in a league of men, playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL.

Like Burakovsky, many felt Kuznetsov could put his stamp on the Calder Trophy race in 2014-15 thanks to his tremendous offensive creativity and ability. To say that he has been streaky would be putting it lightly, as he has gone on several long pointless streaks. It appears he’s coming out of the rookie doghouse that saw him averaging just over seven minutes per night back in November, though his production has yet to pick up. He is currently tied with Burakovsky for the team lead among rookies in scoring with 15 points.

It may still be a while yet before Washington is leaning heavily on Kuznetsov, but with his minutes growing, he should start to find his way back onto the score sheet with more regularity.

Michael Latta, C, 23

Unlike his aforementioned counterparts, Latta did not come to the NHL with a ton of flair or hype. Instead, the 6’0 pivot has made his name at all levels with his intense hustle and ability to do all the little things.

This season, he has registered four assists in 30 games while averaging 8:39 per night. Still, he is managed to find himself as a plus-three and earns positive marks for his effort and sandpaper. Though he might not be the biggest guy on the ice, he goes into the corners and battles for the puck as if his life depended on it.

While he does not project as highly as Burakovsky or Kuznetsov, he could find a future with the Capitals as a high-energy grinder type going forward.

Liam O’Brien, C, 20

Like Latta, O’Brien is not about the flash and offensive flair so much as he is about the energy and grit. In 13 games with the Capitals so far in 2014-15, he has managed just a goal and an assist. That is not all that surprising not only given his game, but his ice time as well: he is averaging just 7:32 per night.

The 6’1 O’Brien has been given an opportunity to cut his teeth on the fourth line, where he can put his energy and physicality—something the Capitals have been sorely lacking—to good use. He has since been reassigned back to Hershey of the AHL, but could get a call back to the NHL in the event of injury.

Chris Brown, C, 23

Brown is an interesting prospect. Acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, he was given a five-game stint back in November to see what he could bring to the table. He managed just one goal over that time, averaging just 6:27 per night.

Still, the team sees him as something of an intriguing prospect. At 6’2 190, he has the size to be an effective power forward. He plays a grinding, physical style and can drive to the net to create chances in the crease. However, there are serious questions about whether or not he can score at the higher levels. He has since been reassigned back to Hershey, where he found his scoring touch to the tune of 10 goals in 26 games.

2015 World Junior Tournament Update

Arguably the best defensive prospect in the Capitals’ system, Madison Bowey got his shot to play for Team Canada and did not disappoint. Not only did he help lead Canada to gold, but he was one of their pillars on defense while being paired with Josh Morrissey (WPG).

Finishing second among defenseman with four points, Bowey was rarely mentioned because he was so consistently good; the sign of a good defenseman. He was named to NHL.com’s All-Tournament team and his efforts were a big reason Canada was able to take home the gold.

Jakub Vrana, the Capitals first round selection in 2014, suited up for the Czech Republic at the WJC’s. Both Vrana and the Czechs had a relatively quiet tournament. The team was eliminated in the quarterfinal round and Vrana had minimal impact, with a pair of goals and an assist in five games.

Vrana’s ceiling is still very high, but he still has growing to do (both literally and figuratively) before he can become the impact-player the Capitals envisioned.

Quiet as Vrana’s WJC stint was, Vitek Vanecek could only hope for it to have gone that well. His three games in net for the Czechs were ugly. Coming into the tournament as one of the more promising goaltenders, Vanecek never really found his footing.

He was shelled for five goals each in losses to Sweden and the Swiss before giving up three in a win over Denmark. That would be it for him in the tournament, bringing him to a 4.31 goals against average and an .829 save percentage, second-lowest in the tournament. In what was a disappointing showing for the Czech’s, Vanecek might have had the most disappointing individual showing.

Washington Capitals Prospect of the Month

Washington Capitals Prospect of the Month - Madison BoweyMadison Bowey continues to impress both in junior and on the international stage. He only had three games with the Kelowna Rockets in December before heading off to the World Junior Championships, but he managed three assists in that span. His first game back with the Rockets on January 10th saw him score a goal and two assists, and he has 39 points through 31 games this season.

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