The 2014-15 season ended in great disappointment for the Washington Capitals, but the outlook for them is certainly bright. Despite losing a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals appear to have several years of contention left in them.
Alex Ovechkin will be back to lead the team in scoring and take his usual place among the league’s elite scorers. Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson appear ready to take their place as on-ice leaders. Braden Holtby turned in an outstanding season and could be on the cusp of being a regular contender for the Vezina Trophy. Past that, there seems to be better depth on this team than in past incarnations, with a smattering of young talent ready to push to the forefront of the roster.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Madison Bowey, D
2. Andre Burakovsky, LW
3. Jakub Vrana, RW
4. Connor Carrick, D
5. Riley Barber, RW/C
6. Vitek Vanecek, G
7. Nate Schmidt, D
8. Philipp Grubauer, G
9. Chandler Stephenson, C
10. Christian Djoos, D
It is uncertain if the Capitals will bring back long-time star defenseman Mike Green. He’ll likely command a pretty penny on the free agent market. That, coupled with his history of injury issues, could see him out the door. That would leave a hole on the Capitals defense in terms of skating and offensive ability. Carlson stepped up and had his best season yet with 55 points, but he doesn’t have the dynamic offensive ability that Green possesses. There are a few defensemen in the system who could fill the role in a few years (Bowey in particular), but no one who can do so immediately.
Set in goal with Holtby and Justin Peters, the team should look to address secondary scoring issues. Ovechkin and Backstrom produced like the stars they are, but after them came a massive drop off; the next-highest scoring forward was Marcus Johansson with 47 points. Some of this will be resolved with time—Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky will be in their second year and should improve on their rookie year totals—but with everyone getting a year older, we’re likely seeing the ceilings of everyone on the roster. Finding a jolt of offense from other places will be a key for the Capitals.
Without a doubt, the Capitals are deepest in goal. They’ve had a glut of talent in the crease in recent years, but it may not have ever been as strong as it is now. Holtby, the 25-year-old who turned in his best year in 2014-15, will have a lock on the starting job for the forseeable future. Behind him, Justin Peters is a capable backup who won’t be a liability on the odd nights Holtby needs a breath.
Meanwhile, in the AHL, Philipp Grubauer and Pheonix Copley share duties. Though both have performed admirably, Grubauer could be the odd man out due to talent and age. Waiting in the wings is Vitek Vanecek. He may be a few years away, but he has big-time potential and could be a second-round steal by the time he’s ready to take the ice in the NHL.
Though there are holes both up front and on the back end, one thing the Capitals seem to have in spades is high-end talent. The aforementioned Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson are staples on the roster, but Burakovsky and Kuznestov are highly skilled players that should occupy spots on the top two lines for years to come.
In the prospect pool, the team has high hopes for Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber and Madison Bowey. Vrana is an undersized but talented scorer, the type of player the Capitals have seemed to covet in recent years. Barber is the everyman, a hard worker who has exceeded expectations every step of the way and has all the makings of a future leader in Washington. Bowey, meanwhile, is the best prospect in the bunch. He has the size, skating, physicality and offensive ability to be a star, and will likely make his NHL debut within the next two years.
Despite the top-notch talent within the organization, depth is a weak point, especially at forward. Beyond Vrana, Barber, and Burakovsky, there isn’t a ton of NHL-ready talent. The Capitals have steered towards the smaller, speedier forwards, though they have a few players who could provide energy on the bottom six. None of them is a guarantee, however, and the likelihood of a handful of them making it to the NHL seems unlikely.
There are also concerns on defense, where it seems as though they’ll need to start filling some holes soon. Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen and Carlson are the foundations of the current defense, but John Erskine and Brooks Orpik are aging and becoming less effective. Mike Green’s future is also uncertain.
Waiting in the wings is Bowey and Connor Carrick, another slick-skating offensive defenseman, but past that, it’s dicey. Nate Schmidt and Christian Djoos look like solid prospects, but they are both still very much projects, even this late into their development. Tyler Lewington and Cameron Schilling have the look of solid, stay-at-home defensemen but might not have the overall skill set to make it to the NHL. The panic button isn’t necessary, but depth on defense is something the Capitals need to keep an eye on.
In the last several years, the Capitals have experienced enough success to place them in the latter half of the first round of the draft. Their philosophy in those instances seems to be to take the best player available, usually selecting the most talented player with question marks. Vrana, Burakovsky and Kuznetsov have all fit that mold in recent years, though it seems they are all on track to panning out. Generally speaking, they seem to trend towards players of smaller stature who are deemed better skaters; the majority of their center prospects are around the 6’0” mark, but possess good skating ability.
Defensively, they share the same ideology: they skew towards the more mobile, offensive-thinking defender while thinking of size and defensive ability secondary. The Capitals are also very geographically diverse, with multiple foreign players at every position in the organization.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
22. Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad (SHL)
The Capitals will stay true to their draft tendencies while filling an organizational need by selecting Kylington with the 22nd overall selection. Kylington has had a busy year in Sweden, bouncing between Farjestad’s J20 and SHL teams, as well as AIK of the Allsvenskan. In each stop, he’s demonstrated the backend scoring ability that the Capitals seem to covet.
The story on Kylington sounds like a familiar one for your average Capitals’ defensive prospect: very good skater, possesses good offensive skills, though lacks in size and strength. Despite his size deficiencies, Kylington possesses a strong hockey IQ and plays a two-way game. His strengths, however, lay in his skating and ability to quarterback a power play.
Kylington has the playmaking skills to potentially fill the void down the road should Mike Green head for greener pastures. However, it may still be a few years before he makes the jump to North American ice. That, coupled with concerns over his size and strength, could see Kylington fall into the laps of the Capitals at 22. Granted, he has slid down the rankings as the year has progressed and some feel he just won’t put it all together. Still, should he be there, the Capitals will have themselves a quality defensive prospect who should be able to fill a top-four role for the Capitals for years.
Follow me: @tankcity2015