The Washington Capitals continue to have a stellar group of prospects, with names like John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Michal Neuvirth, and Mathieu Perreault putting solid work in at the NHL level. In the off-season, the Hershey Bears essentially replaced AHL veteran Alexandre Giroux with Kyle Greentree and continue to build on their back-to-back Calder Cup championships. The Capitals took a few gambles in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, selecting two Russians in the first three rounds, unafraid of potentially losing them to the KHL. As a result, their prospect pool remains relatively stable in terms of talent, with younger, high-skill guys replacing players who’ve made an impression and joined the Capitals’ roster.
While the Capitals’ roster boasts bona-fide stars like Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and gritty, bottom-six guys like Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks at left wing, the prospect cupboard is relatively bare.
The Capitals have a serious competition for every center-ice position behind bona-fide number one center Nicklas Backstrom. Some prospects, such as Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are already in a heated competition to claim a role at center on the NHL roster. Johansson scored his first career goal this season, but has battled a lower-body ailment that has kept him out of the lineup. Perreault was called up to replace Johansson in the lineup and he has acquitted himself well, posting two assists in three games and using his speed to create scoring chances. Expect the battle for time at center to continue for much of the season.
Eakin has been dominant in his fourth season with the Swift Current Broncos (WHL), potting nine goals and adding six assists in 13 games. He was very close to making the Capitals’ roster out of training camp but was sent back to Swift Current as one of the final cuts from camp. With continued development and most likely some time spent in the minors after the junior season ends, he’s well on his way to a spot on with the big club.
Stanislav Galiev has also impressed at the junior level, posting 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 14 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). With a little more seasoning, most likely including some time spent in the minors, Galiev could be contributing to the Capitals in a few seasons.
Anton Gustafsson had suffered through various injuries in the past few seasons, and after playing one pre-season game with South Carolina, informed the Capitals he was no longer enjoying hockey and has headed home to Sweden. The Capitals have subsequently suspended his contract and it looks as if his career with the organization is over.
Jay Beagle was recently called-up to the Capitals and then sent back down to Hershey, where he’s potted two goals in seven games. He had a strong training camp and it looks like he’ll be a factor for the Capitals very soon.
Caleb Herbert has been tearing up the USHL for the Sioux City Musketeers, where he’s posted 10 points in nine games and is third in scoring. He was recently named CCM Offensive Player of the Week. He’s transitioning nicely from the high school circuit to the USHL and will continue to develop at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA) for the 2011-12 season and beyond.
Phil DeSimone is having a great senior season for the University of New Hampshire so far, tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in five games. However, it’s hard to gauge if he can make an impact in the minors, let alone the NHL and will need more time to develop.
Trevor Bruess has been racking up penalty minutes in an agitator role for Hershey, putting up 22 penalty minutes in just seven games. He’s known for his gritty play and has done well for himself so far. However, it’s not likely he’ll crack the NHL roster anytime soon, as the Capitals have a bit of a log-jam when it comes to soaking up bottom-six minutes.
Mikhail Yunkov is having a decent season in the KHL, but it looks like he no longer factors into the Capitals’ plans and likely will never make it to the NHL.
Nick Larson has been barely noticeable for the University of Minnesota, skating on the fourth-line. With his underwhelming play, it’s uncertain if he’ll even play in the minors with the Capitals and is assuredly a long shot to make the Capitals.
While the right wing prospect pool is better than the left wing pool for the Capitals, there is still much room for improvement and the Capitals should address their needs at wing as soon as possible, either via the draft, free agency, or trade.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (KHL), drafted 26th overall in 2010, is off to a great start, nearly matching his point totals from last season in half the numbe
r of games, despite playing fourth-line minutes. He’s the real gem of the Capitals right wing prospects and if he continues to display his offensive talents, he could prove to be an excellent addition to the Capitals roster in the coming years.
Dmitri Kugryshev of the Bears is off to a slow start with only one assist in seven games.
Garrett Mitchell of the Regina Pats (WHL) is off to a decent start, posting eight points to go along with 33 penalty minutes in 15 games thus far. If he can continue to contribute and serve as an agitator, he has a chance to make the Capitals roster as a bottom-six player down the road.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner headline the future of the Capitals defensive core and have acquitted themselves well thus far in the young NHL season. Both have been called upon to perform various roles for the team, including power play and penalty kill time. They are the stars of the defensive core, but outside of those two gems, the Capitals have a serious lack of NHL-ready depth in the minors. This was evident when the organization was forced to recall AHL veteran Brian Fahey. There are a few long-term projects to keep an eye on, but they will need several more seasons to develop. The Capitals need to replenish their defensive core and add high-potential players in the coming draft if they hope to boast a well-rounded stable of defensive prospects anytime soon.
Dmitri Orlov, another smooth-skating, power play quarterback in the Capitals system, has put together a solid season over in the KHL thus far. However, there are still concerns he won’t come to North America and attempt to make the NHL.
Brett Flemming is having a good season for Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL, posting four points in twelve games. What has been really impressive is his defensive play thus far. He’s averaging 20 or more minutes a night and leads the team with a plus-12. He’s also been involved in a fight, and is really showing his gritty, defensive skills so far. With continued development, he could prove to be a diamond in the rough for the Capitals, after being drafted 145th overall in 2009.
The hulking Joe Finley has shown to be an effective defender for Hershey thus far but his upside is limited.
Patrick McNeill has yet to dress for Hershey this season, nursing a shoulder injury. This is bad news for the Bears, as they expected him to take on an expanded role and play more minutes this season and this will certainly hamper his development.
Patrick Wey has had a solid sophomore campaign for Boston College (NCAA) thus far. His name hasn’t shown up on the score sheet that much, but his defensive play has been good. He was expected to take on more of a puck-moving role with Boston this season, but the offense will come with the rounding out of his defensive game.
Samuel Carrier is having another strong offensive campaign with the Lewiston MAINEiacs. However, his defensive game is still somewhat lacking and he needs to round out his overall game if he’s ever going to crack the NHL line-up.
Zach Miskovic is having a solid season in Hershey so far, but he has limited upside and is unlikely to make it to the NHL.
The Capitals’ goaltending prospect pool oozes youth and talent. It could be one of the deepest cores in the NHL.
Semyon Varlamov has struggled through injuries and inconsistency in this very young NHL season. Thus far, he’s only appeared in two games, allowing five goals on 43 shots en route to an ugly 2.90 goals against average and an equally terrible .896 save percentage. Not a very good start for the Capitals’ number one prospect. He needs to improve his conditioning and durability in order to display his NHL-level talents and prove to be the enticing asset that he is.
For all of Varlamov’s early season struggles, Michal Neuvirth has been the polar opposite, keeping the Capitals afloat thus far. In 12 games, he’s posted an 8-3-0 record, a goals against average of 2.31, a save percentage of .920, and recorded his first career shutout. The Capitals have been surprisingly inconsistent in the scoring department this season, after leading the league in goals for last season. And Neuvirth has stepped up to cover their scoring woes, oftentimes willing the Capitals to victory with incredible save after incredible save. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Neuvirth has been the Capitals’ MVP thus far.
Braden Holtby was recently called up to the Capitals from the Bears, where he was dominant early on, posting a record of 4-0-1, a sparkling goals against average of 1.97, and .933 save percentage. With continued development, he could contribute to the NHL in a few short seasons.
Recent draftee (fourth round, 112th overall, 2010) Philipp Grubauer has had a less than stellar season with the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) thus far. He sports a bloated 3.43 goals against average but sports a solid record of 7-4-1. Kingston hasn’t played exceptionally thus far, so it’s to be expected Grubauer will have his share of difficulties.
Article was written by Patrick Harbolick.