The Washington Capitals season once again came to a premature end in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That heartbreak could lead to NHL opportunities next season for a handful of prospects, including young winder Jakub Vrana.
A naturally-gifted Czech, Vrana highlights the Capitals end-of-season prospect awards, even though he dealt with a wrist injury and surgery this season.
Hardest Worker: Adam Carlson, G, Mercyhurst College (AHA)
One of the newest Washington prospects, Carlson is already a success story after signing his first NHL contract back in March. He was cut from his high school team as a senior and played junior gold (essentially Tier II of junior varsity) and then played two years of Tier III junior before earning an opportunity in the NAHL. Two years in the NAHL turned into a college scholarship and then an NHL contract.
He’s yet to play a game in the Capitals organization, but he’s already proved he’s willing to outwork his competition.
Hardest Shot: Jakub Vrana, LW, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Vrana injured his wrist this season and missed three months, which neutered one of the quickest releases in the Capitals’ system. Vrana doesn’t tee up big slap shots, but his quick release and the force with which the puck comes off his blade fools goalies and helped turn the Czech winger into a point-per-game scorer in the AHL.
Best Defensive Prospect: Madison Bowey, D, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Bowey already had a reputation as an offensive defenseman after his WHL career with the Kelowna Rockets, but he really took strides this season in his own end as an AHL rookie. In 70 regular season games Bowey was plus-22 and he has helped the Hershey Bears to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fastest Skater: Jakub Vrana, LW, Hershey Bears (AHL)
A first round pick, 13th overall in 2014, Vrana is clearly one of the most physically-gifted athletes in the Washington system. While he was nursing his wrist injury he was still able to skate, so he didn’t miss a beat and began burning defenders when he returned to Hershey’s lineup.
Washington’s first-round pick (22nd overall) in last year’s draft made an instant impact as a 19 year old in the KHL this season. Samsonov started the season as a back-up goalie for Magnitorsk in the regular season, but turned himself into the postseason starter.
Add in a strong showing at the World Junior Championships, and those in Washington are starting to see a goalie of the future develop before their eyes.
Breakout Player for 2016-17: Jakub Vrana, LW, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Washington knew Vrana was going to be good, but he wasn’t expected to make this type of impact in his first season in North America. The Czech dealt with adversity when he injured his wrist, but returned as a near point-per-game player in the AHL with 34 points in 36 games.
Vrana is ready to make the jump to the NHL next season and should have that opportunity after a successful, even if shortened, AHL rookie season.
Most Improved Prospect: Chandler Stephenson, C, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Stephenson was a big-riser in Hockey Future’s prospect rankings this year and for good reason. The former third-round pick found an NHL opportunity and played nine games with Washington, answering several questions about what role he could play at the highest level.
He dealt with an injury early in the season that knocked him out of Hershey’s lineup for a month. That could have set him back, but the 22-year-old responded well and put in the groundwork to be a roster consideration for the NHL team next season.
Overachiever: Christian Djoos, D, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Djoos was a low-risk seventh-round pick by Washington in the 2012 draft and made his full-time jump to North America this season. The 21 year old didn’t wear down during the rigors of an AHL season and was consistent in all three zones. It was a surprising success for the Swede and it will be interesting to see if he can take the next step next season.
Underachiever: Tyler Lewington, D, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Lewington was caught in the roster shuffle in Hershey this season and spent time in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. The rookie was expected to have a bigger impact in the AHL after a strong WHL career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, but apparently still needs time to adjust to the AHL. He has found a role with the Bears during their postseason run, however.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Stanislav Galiev, LW, Washington Capitals (NHL)
Galiev spent most of the season with the NHL club, but that meant a ton of healthy scratches and watching games from the press box. What will that do for his development? For some players simply being around the NHL team is step in the right direction. Others have struggled with being stuck in NHL purgatory – the press box.
If he takes the assignment well, Galiev could turn this season into a productive springboard for 2016-17. If not, it could look like a season of wasted development for the Russian.
Prospect of the Month
Vrana has already been lauded at length for his success this season and he’s followed up that regular season campaign with a stellar postseason for the Hershey Bears. In 13 playoff games the Czech has 10 points (five goals, five assists) and is plus-6 as Hershey has advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Marlies.