Capitals own diverse mix of prospects in NCAA and European ranks

By Patrick Harbolick
Photo: Pittsburgh native Patrick Wey has gradually turned into a solid two-way defenseman in his three years with the Boston College Eagles. (Photo courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The Washington Capitals have an intriguing mix of prospects currently playing in Europe and at the NCAA level. They have some highly-touted prospects in Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Patrick Wey, impressive youngsters like Caleb Herbert and Travis Boyd, and more veteran role players like Mattias Sjogren. Most of them are still a few years away from joining the professional ranks, either with the Capitals or the Hershey Bears.

Europe

Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2010

In 2011-12, Kuznetsov further solidified his status as a KHL star and top prospect. In 49 games, he led Traktor with 41 points and was named a KHL All-Star. He captained Team Russia to a silver medal at the 2012 WJC, leading the tournament in scoring with 13 points in six games. He notched nine points in a game against Latvia, good for the second highest single-game point total in the history of the tournament. He was named Tournament MVP, Best Forward, and a First Team All-Star. Currently Traktor is in the midst of a heated playoff series against Avangard Omsk, with the winner advancing to the Gagarin Cup Finals. In seven playoff games, he's notched five goals.

Kuznetsov is easily the Capitals' most skilled prospect, with slick hands and an unquenchable thirst to score goals. With some coaching his defensive play can be brought up to a decent level and he could flourish as a first or second-liner in the NHL. However, he's had some serious injury concerns in his young career. He's already had shoulder surgeries and late this season, he suffered a brutal knee injury, which will take time to fully repair. Additionally, he's hinted at never making the jump to North America to play for the Capitals. It makes sense with the level of comfort he has in the KHL and the great exposure he gets there, but it would disappoint many NHL fans. It's unclear where Kuznetsov will be plying his trade next season, but it is clear that he has a great chance of becoming a star with the Capitals if he ever comes to the NHL.

Mattias Sjogren, C, Farjestads BK Karlstad (SEL)
Signed as a free agent, June 2011

Sjogren came to North America at the beginning of the 2011-12 season with high hopes of making the big club. Unfortunately, he failed to impress in training camp and was sent down to Hershey. He was slowly adjusting to the North American game, but abruptly left to return to Sweden after 19 games. In 28 games with his old team Farjestads, he notched three goals and added six assists. In nine playoff games, he scored three points as Farjestads fell to Brynas in the semi-finals.

A big-bodied forward, Sjogren is known to throw his weight around on the forecheck and play a good two-way game. He's has a skill-set suited to playing in the bottom-six with the Capitals, but his dedication to playing the NHL is in question. Like Kuznetsov, he's comfortable in his home country and it remains to be seen if he'll return to North America next season.

Steffen Soberg, G, Manglerud Star (GET-ligaen)
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2011

Soberg had a tough start to the year, as he did not report to Swift Current (WHL) and was stuck looking for a team to play with. He eventually joined his old team Manglerud, getting into 17 games with the club. Manglerud had a rough year, and Soberg's stats reflect that. He posted a 3.86 goals against average and a .901 save percentage, doing his best to keep his team in games. In the relegation round, he came up big, notching three wins, a goals against average of 2.60 and a save percentage of .910 in six games.

A warrior in net, Soberg has kept his team in countless games over the past two years, as they were often over-matched. He doesn't possess great size, but more than makes up for it with his superb reflexes and strong glove hand. He's still very raw, but the Capitals see a lot of room for growth in his game. In the off-season, he signed a four-year deal with Valerenga, one of the better teams in the GET. It remains to be seen if he will come across the pond to play in North America.

NCAA

Patrick Wey, D, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2009

A junior this past season, Wey was expected to contribute on both ends of the ice and bring experience to the Eagles. Unfortunately, he suffered a severed tendon in his foot in October that knocked him out for over two months. He returned to action in December and has proved to be a stabilizing force on the back-end for Boston College. In 32 games, he's potted seven points, helping the team advance to the Frozen Four. They vanquished Ferris State in the finals to win the national championship.

Injuries have hampered Wey's budding career, but he's progressed nicely on the defensive side of the puck. He hasn't been put into an offensive role on the team, but keeps developing as a mobile, positionally sound defender. With more development time, he could prove to be an effective bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL. He'll likely return to Boston College in the fall and exhaust his college eligibility.

Caleb Herbert, C, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010

A gifted scorer at the USHL level, there were questions about whether Herbert's offensive game would translate to the NCAA level. Those questions are a thing of the past now as Herbert notched 33 points in 41 games as a freshman with the Bulldogs. That was good for fourth in scoring on a strong team that fell to Boston College in the NCAA tournament.

With the ability to skate, stickhandle, and pass the puck effectively, Herbert is the complete package in the offensive zone. His play without the puck needs work and he needs to mature physically, but the Capitals must be impressed with his seemingly seamless transition to the college level. Considered a project when he was first drafted, he has developed nicely thus far, but will likely need a few more years with the Bulldogs before he's ready to debut professionally.

Travis Boyd, C, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall, 2011

A freshman on a national powerhouse, Boyd didn't see a ton of ice time in his first year with the team and wasn't put into a whole lot of offensive situations. In 35 games with the Golden Gophers, he scored nine points. Minnesota fell to Boston College in the Frozen Four.

Boyd was the youngest player on the team, and it's no surprise he lacked consistency and the defensive awareness to merit an increased role. He projects as a skilled two-way play who can think the game at a high level all over the ice, but he needs to add some strength and improve his overall game more. He will return to Minnesota next season and is at least a few years away from making the jump to the professional level.

Greg Burke, LW, New Hampshire Wildcats (Hockey East)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2008

An older role player, Burke slotted nicely in New Hampshire's line-up this season, after missing much of last season due to shoulder problems and mononucleosis. In 34 games with the Wildcats, Burke managed 11 points. New Hampshire made a successful run to the NCAA Tournament, but fell in the second round.

Serious shoulder injuries have hampered Burke's development. He has size and a scoring touch, but it has failed to translate to the NCAA level. He was expected to develop into a good power forward, but he's lost crucial development time. He will return to New Hampshire for his senior season, but likely doesn't figure into the Capitals' plans.

Garrett Haar, D, Western Michigan Broncos (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 207th overall, 2011

Western Michigan had a pretty good year in 2011-12, making it to the NCAA Tournament before falling in the first round. As a freshman, Haar contributed to that success, suiting up for 36 games and managing eight points.

Like Boyd, Haar was the youngest player on his team and wasn't given as much playing time as some of the more veteran members of the Broncos. He plays a solid two-way game, characterized by good decision-making in the defensive zone and in transition. He doesn't shy away from contact and is known for his sound positional play. He's more of a defensive defenseman, but can move the puck up ice with crisp outlet passes when he gets the chance. He'll return for his sophomore season with the Broncos and is a few years away from being ready for the professional grind.

Patrick Koudys, D, R.P.I. Engineers (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2011

After a solid freshman campaign, Koudys was expected to anchor the Engineers' blue line with his pro-style frame and two-way abilities. He struggled from the get-go, battled knee injuries, and ultimately found himself a healthy scratch towards the end of the season. In 27 games with RPI, he added two points. They did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.

A project on the back end, any year in which Koudys regresses isn't good news. He has good size and reach, but needs more experience in order to grow as a defender. With an off-season to recover and train, hopefully Koudys can make the most of his development time at RPI to become the player the Capitals thought he could be. He's a few years away from making the transition to the professional level.

Nick Larson, C, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 185th overall, 2007

In his senior season, Larson oftentimes found himself riding the pine on the stacked Golden Gophers team. In 24 games, he scored three goals and added an assist. A big forward with some finish, he was primarily used in a checking line role and never blossomed offensively. After exhausting his college eligibility, it's uncertain if Larson will continue his hockey career or move on. He doesn't seem to be a factor into the Capitals' plans.

 

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