AHL affiliate for Washington Capitals short on NHL ready talent

By Patrick Harbolick
Photo: Posting a 10-2-2 record in 14 NHL starts, Braden Holtby would have likely spent the entire season in the NHL if he were on a team with weaker goaltending depth. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

If most teams had the seasons Hershey (AHL) and South Carolina (ECHL) had, they would struggle to make the playoffs. Both teams struggled with serious injury problems and bouts of inconsistency from players they really needed to step up. Through it all, they both managed to make the playoffs, but both lost in the first round. Hershey fell to the surprising Charlotte Checkers in six games. South Carolina lost their five-game series against the Wheeling Nailers in four. Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Dmitri Orlov, and Braden Holtby all impressed, whereas the other prospects didn’t prove to be difference-makers.


Forwards

Mathieu Perreault, C, 23

Perreault was expected to help carry the load on offense for the Hershey Bears this season, and that he did, albeit in limited time. In 34 games, he posted 35 points, good for seventh in team scoring despite spending 35 games with the Washington Capitals. In those 35 games with the big club, he managed 14 points. His limited numbers suggest he might not be the missing link that Capitals have been searching for, a second-line center. He notched six points in six playoff games with the Bears, good for second in team scoring, showing a regained sense of confidence after an up-and-down season littered with being called up and being sent down. Next season could be make or break for Perreault, with him either seizing a scoring role in the Show or being stuck as a premier AHL scorer.

Jay Beagle, C, 25

An energy guy who can chip in a bit on offense, Beagle was just that during the 2010-11 season for the Bears, registering 14 points in 34 games. Like Perreault, he also spent time with the Capitals this past season, getting into 31 games, in which he contributed a goal and two assists, in addition to his solid grinding game. He spent the NHL playoffs in the press box, perhaps an indication of his future with the team, or just a reflection of his relative inexperience. He played well as a fourth-liner and he’ll most likely get a chance to win a roster spot in training camp next season. It remains to be seen if he’ll secure a permanent spot in the NHL or if he’ll end up as merely a depth player who sees time due to injuries.

Francois Bouchard, RW, 23

An accomplished scorer in junior, Bouchard struggled to adjust to the rigors of the pro game as a rookie in 2008-09. But he took a serious step forward last season, potting 21 goals and adding 31 assists in 77 games. However, he took a step back in 2010-11, showing flashes of his high-end offensive talent but mostly disappointing due to injuries and inconsistency. In 74 games, he notched a measly 24 points and a minus-five rating. He carried his meager offensive totals into the playoffs, potting a single goal in six games. If Bouchard wants to make it to the NHL as a scorer, he first has to prove he can put up points consistently in the AHL. He’ll likely spend next season with the Bears, honing his play in all three zones as he hopes to crack an NHL roster some day.

Dmitri Kugryshev, RW, 21

Kugryshev’s career has unfolded similarly to Bouchard’s. A primetime scorer in junior, he’s struggled to find his offensive game at the pro level. In his rookie season with the Bears, he posted 14 points in 64 games and was even sent down to play for the South Carolina Stingrays. In three games with the Stingrays, he notched an assist. He didn’t get into playoff action for either Hershey or South Carolina. He certainly underwhelmed in his rookie season, but he’s still young and has plenty of time to refine his game. Look for him to take a step forward next season and try to prove he’s still on the radar for the Capitals.

Trevor Bruess, LW, 25

Bruess was putting together a nice campaign in 2010-11, getting into 36 games, in which he registered five assists and 76 penalty minutes, before he was injured. In February, he suffered a fractured ankle and missed the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. He took a step forward this season, earning a full-time spot in the AHL. But at age 25, he has likely hit a plateau in terms of his development. He’s an effective agitator for the Bears but likely won’t ever reach the NHL.


Joel Rechlicz, RW, 23

A sizable forward, Rechlicz is the enforcer for the Bears. In 28 games with Hershey, he registered 132 penalty minutes, including 16 fights. He didn’t get into any playoff action. He’s seen time in the NHL with the Islanders, but he’s a one-dimensional fighter with little upside. He might earn a permanent role with Hershey next season if he can prove he’s valuable beyond his scrapping abilities. Looking forward, he doesn’t figure to be in the Capitals’ plans.

Defensemen

Dmitri Orlov, D, 19

After finishing his season in the KHL, Orlov came across the pond and made his North American debut with the Hershey Bears. In 19 games, he potted two goals and added seven assists. In the playoffs, he registered one assist in six games. In the KHL, he notched 12 points in 45 games, playing against much older and stronger competition. Orlov has a cannon from the back line and a bit of a mean streak to go along with his offensively tailored game. He’ll compete for a roster spot in training camp, but will likely start the 2011-12 season with Hershey. However, he could be pressed into NHL duty if the Capitals suffer injuries on the blue line. He still needs to round out his overall game, but he’s a shining star on the rise in the Capitals’ farm system.


Patrick McNeill, D, 24

An offensive defenseman, McNeill put up 27 points in 51 games for the Bears, missing time recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He scored a goal and added two assists in six playoff games. He was called up several times throughout the season, although he didn’t get into any NHL action. An offense-first blueliner, he needs to round out his all-around game before he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. He’ll likely spend next season with the Bears, but could see time with the Capitals as an injury call-up, much like he did this past season.

Zach Miskovic, D, 26

Miskovic, a steady two-way defender, got into 58 games this past season for Hershey, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists. He missed some time due to an upper-body injury, but was a steadying presence when he was in the lineup. He got into five playoffs games but was held pointless. In May, he was re-signed by Washington to a one-year, two-way deal, giving him at least one more season with the organization. At 26, he probably won’t develop much more and will likely spend his career toiling in the minors.


Dustin Stevenson, D, 21

A big body on the blue line, Stevenson acquitted himself well in his first professional season. In 63 games with South Carolina, he posted 12 points. However, he also posted a minus-16, as the Stingrays struggled to find on-ice consistency. He didn’t see any playoff action this season. Moving forward, he still needs to develop if he ever wants to make it to the NHL. Most likely, he’ll spend his career in the minors. Next season, he’ll try to earn a permanent roster spot with the Bears.


Joe Finley, D, 23

If Rechlicz and Stevenson are big, Finley is a behemoth, standing 6’7, 245 pounds. Like Rechlicz, he scrapped a bit this season, including three fights in seven games with Hershey and seven fights in 26 games with South Carolina. In seven games with the Bears, he posted an assist and 15 penalty minutes. In 26 games with the Stingrays, he posted eight points and 73 penalty minutes. He got into all four playoff contests with South Carolina, going scoreless and registering 10 penalty minutes. Look for him to compete for a full-time roster spot in Hershey next season.

Josh Godfrey, D, 23

After an unimpressive stint with Hershey, Godfrey was sent down to South Carolina for much of the 2010-11 season. In 49 games with the Stingrays, he potted 15 goals and added 12 assists to go along with a plus-seven. For his efforts, he was named a 2011 ECHL All-Star. In a strange move, he was loaned to the Chicago Wolves in exchange for Andrew Kozek. Kozek played well for the Bears but it was odd to see a highly touted prospect sent to another organization. Perhaps he and the team have issues or more likely, Hershey just wanted to bolster their roster for a playoff run. Godfrey didn’t get into any playoff action this season. Next season, he’ll try to crack Hershey’s roster and bring himself one step closer to the NHL.


Goaltending

Braden Holtby, G, 21

Holtby made the most progress of all the prospects in the minor leagues, acquitting himself well in both the NHL and AHL. For Washington, he posted a record of 10-2-2, a spectacular 1.79 goals against average, a sparkling .934 save percentage, and two shutouts. He saw time as Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth struggled through injuries. Holtby led Hershey to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference, with a 17-10-2 record, a great 2.29 goals against average, a solid .920 save percentage, and five shutouts. In the playoffs, he struggled, posting a record of 2-4, a bloated 3.01 goals against average, and an awful .893 save percentage. However, he’s still one of the bright spots in Washington’s system and proved this season he can hang in the NHL. Look for him to try to steal the backup role in the NHL next season. If he can’t crack the lineup, he’ll return to Hershey to hone his already dazzling game.