Mix of skill and toughness populates Washington minor-league system

By Patrick Harbolick
Photo: In his first professional season, Cody Eakin has already had a sizable taste of the NHL, appearing in 20 games and managing six points in the process. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Washington Capitals currently have 13 prospects who have seen time this season in the minor leagues. The Hershey Bears are one of the better teams this year in the AHL but the South Carolina Stingrays are battling through a disappointing season thus far.

AHL

Braden Holtby, G, 22

The fiery young goaltender is off to a good start with the Bears. In 22 games, he’s posted a record of 12-8-1, a goals against average of 2.64 and a save percentage of .903 to go along with two shutouts. He has also oddly also racked up 22 penalty. Like most young players, Holtby needs to work on his consistency but he’s very close to being NHL-ready. He could be on the Capitals’ roster as soon as next year and he deserves the chance as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world right now.

Dmitri Orlov, D, 20

In his first full season in North America, Orlov has certainly exceeded expectations. He was off to a decent start with four goals and five assists in 15 games with the Bears when he was called-up to the Capitals in late November. He hasn’t looked back since. He’s still looking to score that elusive first NHL goal, but he’s notched six assists in 22 games and has impressed with his physicality and puck skills. He’s still raw in his own end and he needs to get his bomb of a shot on net, but he may be having the most impressive season of all the Capitals’ prospects.

Cody Eakin, C, 20

Eakin is off to a decent start in his first professional season, but it’s had its share of ups and downs. He’s seen time at both the AHL and NHL levels, acquitting himself well. In 17 games with Hershey, he’s posted 15 points and a plus-nine. In 20 games with Washington, he’s chipped in six points to go along with a plus-two. As a young player, he isn’t getting a whole lot of ice time with the Capitals but injuries necessitated his roster spot. With a healthy Washington roster, Eakin would be better off playing top-six minutes in Hershey, rounding out his game. He also needs to add strength, as he simply wasn’t strong enough to compete with NHL defensemen in the corners. He’s still a few years away from being an impact player in the NHL, but he has shown some scoring prowess and a good two-way game.

Mattias Sjogren, C, 24

After signing a two-year deal with the Capitals in the offseason, Sjogren was expected to compete for a role in the bottom-six this year. He lost out to Mathieu Perreault and was sent to Hershey to adapt to the North American game. In 19 games with the Bears, he added five points and brought a physical edge to roster. Unfortunately, he was dissatisfied with being in Hershey and used his out clause to return to Farjestads, his old team in Sweden. In eight games with Farjestads, he’s notched five points. It’s tough to say what his future with the team is moving forward, but hopefully by next season he’ll return to compete for a roster spot and prove that he can succeed at the NHL level.

Patrick McNeill, D, 24

McNeill is turning in another fine campaign for the Bears, scoring eight goals and adding 17 assists in 35 games. He’s known for his offensive game, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed this season. He still needs to work on his play in the defensive zone and with the emergence of Orlov, it’s difficult to see where McNeill fits in the organization’s plans. If he is to get a shot in the NHL, it may have to be with another team.

Garrett Mitchell, RW, 20

After being sent down to South Carolina for two games to start the season, Mitchell was called-up to the Bears and has been with Hershey ever since. In 25 games with the AHL club, he’s scored two goals and racked up 42 penalty minutes, taking on the role of agitator that he plays so well. He still needs to bulk up some and adjust to the professional grind, but the Capitals are pleased with his progress. He’s still a few years away from contributing at the NHL level as an energizing agitator that hits everything that moves.

Zach Miskovic, D, 26

An older defensive prospect, Miskovic has struggled to make his way into the Bears’ lineup, often finding himself a healthy scratch. In 15 games, he’s been held scoreless. It seems some of Hershey’s other defensemen have passed him on the depth chart. It’s been a long road to the professional level for Miskovic, and his limited upside may have finally caught up with him. He may still become a steady, serviceable AHLer, but he may just top out as that.

Christian Hanson, C, 25

Hanson was signed as a free agent after a superlative season at Notre Dame (NCAA) by the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a few years plying his trade with the Leafs and the Marlies (AHL), he was signed by the Capitals to a one year deal. In 36 games with the Bears, he’s notched 16 points and 33 penalty minutes, playing his grinding game and showing some scoring punch. He’s done well as a bottom-six player in the past, and he could see time with the Capitals as an injury call-up this season. He may top out as a minor leaguer, but with some seasoning he could become a serviceable fourth-liner in the NHL.

Tomas Kundratek, D, 22

Kundratek has been nothing short of a revelation for the Bears this season. Coming over in an early season trade from Connecticut for winger Francois Bouchard (NYR), he’s scored six goals in 21 games to go along with two assists and a plus-two. Kundratek was buried behind a veteran-laden defensive core in Connecticut, but with the trade he was afforded a starring role and he’s delivered. He needs to add some strength and improve his play in the defensive zone, but the Bears and Capitals have to be impressed with his production so far. He could serve as an injury call-up this year and could find himself in a depth role on the blue line in the future.

ECHL

Brett Flemming, D, 20

Flemming has had an up and down year in his first professional season, seeing time with the Bears and Stingrays. In 21 games with Hershey, he’s notched four points and added 31 penalty minutes, showing the feisty side of his game. In one game with South Carolina, he’s been held scoreless. Flemming is still adjusting to the pro game and is several years away from contributing as a depth player at the NHL level.

Philipp Grubauer, G, 20

Grubauer is off to a great start in his first professional season, amassing a record of 12-7-2 in 21 games with the Stingrays to go along with a goals against average of 2.27 and a save percentage of .920. A young goaltender like Holtby, Grubauer still needs to work on his consistency, but the Capitals have to be pleased with how he’s rebounded from his bout with mononucleosis last season. As he matures, the hope is he could take over for Holtby as the Bears’ starter as soon as next season and continue to build on the solid start to his professional career.

Dustin Stevenson, D, 22

Stevenson is off to another solid campaign in South Carolina, notching four points and 49 penalty minutes in 35 games with the Stingrays. A big bruiser on the back end, Stevenson has shown off the feisty, physical side of his game. He’s done well at the ECHL level, but he may never crack the Bears’ defensive core nor get his chance with the Capitals.


Danick Paquette, RW, 21

A big scrapper with some skill, Pacquette has scored 17 points and added 118 penalty minutes in 31 games with South Carolina. He’s notched six fights so far, playing the role of enforcer for the Stingrays. He’s yet to crack the Bears’ lineup, and he’ll struggle to make it with the Capitals, who don’t typically use enforcers on a nightly basis.