Washington Capitals prospects in junior overdue for a restock

By Tony Piscotta
Photo: Colby Williams has been named captain of the Regina Pats during his overage major junior season. (Courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Photo: Previously an alternate, Colby Williams is serving as captain of the Regina Pats during his overage major junior season. (Courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

 

 

The Washington Capitals have a talented lineup at the NHL level, with their sights set on a Stanley Cup run. To supplement that lineup, the Capitals have signed several AHL veterans who are in their late 20’s and early 30’s—both to have experienced players on hand should the need arise, and to allow affiliate Hershey to compete for a Calder Cup.

In terms of long range, high-end prospects, the bulk of the players who show promise are either in their first or second year of pro hockey with either the Bears or Capitals; several offensively-gifted forwards are also playing college hockey.

As a result, the Capitals have just three prospects currently skating in the Canadian Hockey League—two of whom are overage 20-year-olds. Two of those players—Regina Pats defensemen Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams—were selected in the most recent NHL Draft as Washington used three of its four picks on defensemen.

Center Tim McGauley, the Western Hockey League’s third-leading scorer in 2014-15, attended Washington’s training camp as an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and was signed to an entry-level contract in October. Returned to Brandon for an overage season, McGauley suffered an upper-body injury in the season opener and did not make his debut with the Wheat Kings until recently.

Williams suffered an arm injury over the summer that required surgery; preventing him from pushing for a contract with the Caps at training camp and keeping him out of the Regina lineup until mid-November. The 20-year-old has been one of the top offensive defensemen in the WHL the past two seasons and was selected in his third year of draft eligibility.

Williams’ Regina teammate Hobbs, an 18-year-old, was selected one round earlier; being taken with the 143rd overall pick in the fifth round.

Another overage defensemen, Portland’s Blake Heinrich, was drafted by Washington in the fifth round in 2013 but was never signed to an entry-level deal. He re-entered the 2015 draft but was not selected and is currently an unrestricted free agent.

WHL

Connor Hobbs, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 5th round (143rd overall), 2015

Hobbs is a hit-or-miss skating defenseman with some high-end ability. He was selected by the Capitals after playing just 55 WHL games over the course of three seasons.

On the plus side he has skated for the Canada U18 team and began to flourish after joining the Pats in the second half last season. One reason the Saskatoon native may have lasted as long as he did in the draft was his lack of success while with Medicine Hat and concerns about his defensive game.

If the beginning of the 2015-16 season is any indication, Hobbs has begun to put the physical, combative elements of his game together with the scoring, attacking approach he likes to take. After playing with the Washington prospects in the rookie tournament he is back with Regina and trails only 19-year-old Chase Harrison in scoring amongst defensemen—despite playing six fewer games. Hobbs missed five games due to an upper-body injury before returning recently.

In his first 13 games with the Pats he has scored four goals with three assists and is plus-3 with 15 penalty minutes.

Tim McGauley, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent, 2015

The Wheat Kings dominated the WHL’s Eastern Conference last year, so even though he was the Eastern Conference’s player of the year, it would be easy to dismiss McGauley’s 105-point season as a byproduct of playing on a loaded team. Further, it is not uncommon for a player to put up big numbers in his third season of junior hockey but never pan out as an NHL prospect. McGauley’s skating has also been an issue—which was likely the chief obstacle to being selected in his three years of draft eligibility.

With all of those things working against him, the Wilcox, Saskatchewan native has been an impact player at the junior level and is a someone on whom it was worth taking a free agent flier in the eyes of Capitals personnel.

An upper-body injury suffered on opening night with the Wheat Kings had McGauley out of the lineup until late November. He scored a first-period goal in a 2-1 loss to Swift Current in his only game to date.

Colby Williams, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 6th round (173rd overall), 2015

Rather than speculating on the future of a 17- or 18-year-old with their sixth-round pick this past June the Capitals decided to select Williams, hoping the smooth-skating defenseman could put his injury issues behind him.

A veteran of 192 WHL games with the Pats over parts of five seasons, including two games in 2010-11 when he was a 15-year-old, the Regina native had career highs in goals (11), assists (30), penalty minutes (95) and plus/minus (+45) last season.

Williams does not have the prototypical size of an NHL defenseman and his injury history is a concern. But his skill set makes him an ideal quarterback on the power play and he is a defensemen capable of controlling the tempo with his skating and technical skills.

Returning from his off-season surgery in November, Williams scored two goals with two assists and was plus-6 with six penalty minutes in his first three games with the Pats in 2015-16.

Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects

If there is a goalie in the pipeline with the potential to one day be a starter it is Russian 18-year-old Ilya Samsonov. In his first nine games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Samsonov was 3-2 with one shutout, posting a 1.87 goals against and .929 save percentage while backing up veteran Vasily Koshechkin on the Kharlamov Division-leading club.

Riley Barber is Hershey’s sixth-leading scorer on a team with several AHL veterans. In eight October games he scored three goals with two assists with a plus-1 rating. Jakub Vrana was off to a fast start—scoring two goals with four assists in six games—before suffering a wrist injury. He could miss up to two months; preventing him from representing his native Czech Republic at the 2016 World Juniors. Connor Carrick, who appeared in 34 games with Washington in 2013-14, leads all Bears defensemen in scoring with eight points.

Boston College won nine of its first 10 games and sophomore left wing Zach Sanford is the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Playing on the Eagles’ second line with Minnesota Wild prospects Adam Gilmour and Alex Tuch, he scored four goals with five assists and was plus-7; skating in all 10 games. Notre Dame center Thomas Di Pauli, now a senior, is on pace to top the career-high 29 points he had last season. He scored four goals with seven assists and was plus-7 in 10 games.

Prospect of the Month: Zach Sanford

Zach Sanford - Washington CapitalsHad he not been injured Vrana looked well on his way to earning Prospect of the Month honors—and possibly seeing some time with the Capitals. While the setback is not expected to affect his long-term potential, his absence cleared the way for Sanford to capture the honor.

As with many larger, skill players in college—some of his success can be attributed to playing against smaller, less accomplished competition (The early season schedule has also been favorable for the Eagles with the exception of RPI and Denver). Playing with two talented linemates is another advantage for the sophomore.

That being said, after a solid freshman season in which he was tied for fourth on BC with 17 assists, the Auburn, New Hampshire native has taken his game to another level. His combination of size, skating ability and offensive instincts should serve Sanford well when he moves on to pro hockey.

 

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