Washington Capitals depth chart still brimming with talent

By Ryan Womeldorf
Photo: Madison Bowey's goal and three assists helped Team Canada win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships (Image courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

Photo: Madison Bowey’s goal and three assists helped Team Canada win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships (Image courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

 

The Washington Capitals have promoted a pair of prime-time NHL prospects into their lineup this year, with the highly-touted duo of Evgeny Kuznetsov  and Andre Burakovsky making the team out of camp. Although fluctuating ice time has somewhat limited their overall impact, both were in the early season Calder Trophy conversation—and have continued to produce solid numbers.

Even with these two moving up in the ranks, the organization’s talent pool is still brimming with prospects that could potentially make the nation’s capital their home as soon as 2015-16. There are mobile, smart blueliners, highly skilled forwards and a couple of true impact players waiting in the wings.

1. (3) Madison Bowey, D, 8.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2013

With Kuznetsov and Burakovsky out the door, Bowey takes their place at the top of this list. He has been the complete package for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, playing a physical and smart defensive game while being one of the team’s offensive leaders. He played a key role in Team Canada’s World Junior Championship gold medal win, and continues to dominate back in the WHL. Bowey has the potential to be a complete, top-four defenseman for the Capitals in the very near future.

2. (4) Jakub Vrana, W, 8.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2014

Vrana was considered one of the most naturally gifted offensive players available in the 2014 draft, and the Capitals were happy to snap him up. Though he had a somewhat quiet World Junior Championship effort, he continues to impress in the SHL. He still needs to add some weight, but Vrana has the potential to be a top-line scorer for the Capitals. It will likely be a couple of years before we hear his name in the NHL on a regular basis, but he might have the highest ceiling of any Caps prospect.

3. (7) Vitek Vanecek, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2014

Vanecek has been a rapid riser in the Capitals’ system, and for good reason. Sure, he is on the smaller side of the scale, but his athleticism is off the charts. He is quick side to side, has lightning reflexes and cuts down angles aggressively. His play has been up-and-down this year; he had strong showings in league play, but could not help the Czech national team past the heavily favored countries at the World Junior Championships. If he can mitigate his size issues and maximize his aggression and athletic talent, he could be a very good goalie for the Capitals. He is still a few years away and needs to add a little bit of size, but he is a potentially dynamic talent in net.

4. (6) Riley Barber, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2012

Barber is proving more and more to be the 2012 draft’s diamond in the rough. He’s continued to impress at Miami (Ohio), performing at a near point-per-game pace and playing a focal role for the Red Hawks. A smaller player, Barber has excellent skating ability and offensive instincts, with a growing penchant for defensive responsibility. He’s rapidly becoming a quality two-way player with strong offensive upside. His size will always be something of an issue since he’s not the biggest, but his instincts and high-energy will make him a valuable commodity in Washington as soon as 2015-16.

5. (5) Connor Carrick, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 5th round, 137th overall, 2012

Carrick is the epitome of a Washington Capitals defenseman over the last decade: He is a strong skater with good offensive instincts, but he could stand to improve his play in his own end. Carrick has already had a cup of coffee in the NHL, but he’s been very impressive with Hershey of the AHL during 2014-15. His 30 points in 46 games is outstanding for a defenseman and he looks like he has all the tools to be a quality top-four defenseman for the Capitals very soon. Yet another late-round steal that is looking like a gem for the Capitals.

6. (12) Christian Djoos, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2012

Djoos remains something of an interesting prospect. Yet another potential late-round find in the Capitals system, Djoos still needs to gain weight (he is just 160 pounds), but he has shown good offensive upside on the blueline. He has quietly been very solid for Brynas of the SHL, finding his defensive game little-by-little over the last few years. He is still a few years away from finding a home on the Capitals blueline, but he is looking like a smart, low-risk defender with some mobility.

7. (14) Tyler Lewington, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2013

Lewington’s game is not flashy, but he has adequate size and is a tough customer. He is willing to lay someone out in the open ice, drop the gloves or sacrifice his body to keep pucks out of the net. He returned for his fourth season with Medicine Hat of the WHL this year and seems to be finding his offensive game, posting 35 points in 48 games. His role going forward will be that of a physical, defense-first blueliner. If he continues to produce good offensive numbers, he could be an intriguing option going forward.

8. (11) Patrick Wey, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2009

Wey has had a long road to get to this point, making stops in the ECHL, AHL and NHL. He has been hurt for the bulk of 2014-15, but when he is in the lineup, he brings a no-frills defensive game to the table. He has good size at 6’3 and 207 pounds, and makes simple, smart decisions on the ice. He still has to find some consistency in the AHL before he gets the call-up, but players like Wey are the ones that have the longest careers: solid, smart defensemen who play a simple game and keep their mistakes to a minimum.

9. (9) Nate Schmidt, D, 7.0 D
Signed as a free agent, April 2013

Schmidt is looking to be a steal of a signing. He is not the biggest or most stellar defensive defenseman, but he shows a strong ability with the puck. He has dabbled a little on the power play, and didn’t look out of place in extended stints in Washington over the last few seasons. He doesn’t have Mike Green upside, but he could slide into mid-pairing NHL minutes and not miss a beat. He might finally be ready to stick in the NHL come 2015-16.

10. (10) Philipp Grubauer, G, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2010

Not overly big or athletic, Grubauer has steadily climbed up the Capitals rankings, thanks to solid efforts at every level of hockey. He has been quite good in the starting role for the Hershey Bears this season, posting a 2.06 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. With Braden Holtby in the NHL and Vanacek waiting in the wings, it might not be in Washington where Grubaer gets his chance to shine—but that chance will come at some point.

11. (8) Chandler Stephenson, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2012

Stephenson is an interesting prospect and possibly has the most room for movement within the Capitals’ prospect system. Unfortunately, his results have been less than stellar in Hershey this season. Granted, his ice time has fluctuated, but five goals and nine points in 41 games isn’t what either he or the Caps had hoped for. Still, he displays a very high hockey IQ and has the potential to be a very good third-line center at the next level.

12. (NR) Zach Sanford, LW, 7.0 D
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2013

Sanford was an interesting case coming out of his draft year. He was committed to Boston College and he had an intriguing package of size and skill. At 6’4  and 192 pounds, he already has exceptional size—though he could stand to add strength in the future. He hasn’t looked out of place during his freshman season at BC, notching 19 points in 28 games and showing good vision and playmaking skills. He is still as raw as it gets, but his upside is almost as big as he is.

13. (13) Chris Brown, LW, 6.0 C
Trade with Arizona Coyotes, March 4th, 2014

Brown came over in the deal that shipped Martin Erat out west. He remains an interesting case in that he has shown the ability to be a consistent scorer on the lower levels, but has yet to put it together in brief stints in the NHL. He has not accomplished much during brief call-ups to the Capitals, but he has shown a goal-scoring knack in Hershey, scoring a dozen goals in 36 games this year. He has the size and tools to be a productive power forward, but he is running out of time to show that he can do it at the NHL level.

14. (17) Travis Boyd, C, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall, 2011

He does not get the most press clippings, but Boyd continues to be an effective center for the University of Minnesota. He returned for his senior season in 2014-15 and is well over a point per game, with 25 in 19 games. His abilities do not jump off the page, nor does his size (5’11), but he has good vision and smarts. He has flown under the radar since being drafted and could be a surprise bottom-six contributor for the Capitals if he continues down this path. He will need at the very least a year or two in the AHL before he sees any time in Washington, but he is one to keep an eye on.

15. (NR) Nathan Walker, LW, 6.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2014

Walker has a bit of intrigue surrounding him. The first Aussie-born player to be selected in an NHL draft, he made a good impression on the Capitals in camp, though he didn’t stick when the season began. He has had a frustrating 2014-15 season, playing 28 games in a diminished role in Hershey before being sent down to South Carolina of the ECHL. He has a high-energy game and does all of the little things a bottom-six player does. He might not ever do much offensively, but he’s willing to stick up for teammates, get into the dirty areas and muck it up—an important skillset to have.

16. (NR) Garrett Mitchell, RW, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2009

Mitchell’s ceiling is very low, as his offensive abilities have never been the strong point of his game. The same can be said of his size, standing at just 5’11. He returned this season for yet another stint with Hershey, playing an energy/grinder role. The clock is ticking for Mitchell to make the jump to the Capitals, but he could be an effective fourth-line hustler if thrust into the role.

17. (16) Brian Pinho, C, 6.5 D
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2013

Pinho, despite not being terribly big, had been dominant at every level heading into his freshman season at Providence College. He has not looked out of place since his arrival, posting 12 points in 26 games. He has decent size at 6’1 and 185, and is a very strong skater with good offensive skills. His production will likely taper off as he continues to climb the steps, but he could wind up being a quality supplementary offensive winger on the third line going forward.

18. (19) Caleb Herbert, C, 6.5 D
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010

Hebert was a good find after he finished up his career with Minnesota-Duluth, where he was a quality offensive player and focal point of that team. Unfortunately, his stint in Hershey this season was a relatively short one (12 games) before being sent to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. He has been solid there, and has used his quickness and vision to be effective—scoring 12 goals and 17 points in 24 games. He has got to learn how to do it at the next level, but the potential to be an effective bottom-six center is there.

19. (20) Shane Gersich, C, 6.5 D
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2014

Gersich is one of the younger members on the list, playing for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL in this season before making his collegiate debut next fall for the University of North Dakota. He has shown nice offensive skills in Omaha, with 22 goals and 37 points in 35 games. He is on the smaller side of the scale, but he has game-breaking speed and first-step quickness. He also has a quick release to go with that—making him dangerous each time he comes down the boards. He has got all the talent to shoot up this list, but we will not know more until he debuts in college.

20. (NR) Thomas Di Pauli, C, 6.5 D
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2012

When DiPauli was drafted, he was set to make his debut later in the year with the University of Notre Dame, but has since been very quiet. His role didn’t become clear until this season, where he has finally stepped up to become a relevant part of the Irish attack. He has posted 22 points in 29 games, showing a high motor and a fearlessness when going into the dirty areas of the ice. With his improved offense, DiPauli could become an effective third or fourth-line center thanks to his hustle and skating ability.

 

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