Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)
Despite having a couple prospects who could become key players for the team in the future, the Washington Capitals prospect pool thins out pretty quickly. Evgeny Kuznetsov has first-line potential, while Braden Holtby has shown throughout this year's playoffs that he could become an elite-level goaltender. Yet, the bottom half of the Capitals top-20 is populated with players unlikely to ever make an impact at the NHL level.
1. (1) Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW 8C
Drafted 1st Round, 26th overall, 2010
One of the top offensive prospects in all of hockey, Yevgeni Kuznetsov is a prototypical Russian forward. He is quick with slick moves in traffic, and creates offense with his creative puck-handling and skating abilities. He's a threat to shoot the puck, but is also one of the more talented playmakers currently not playing in the NHL – offensively, he's the full package. Defensively, he still needs work before becoming a complete player in the NHL; that said, he could still make the jump to Washington next season and be an effective player.
Unfortunately for Capitals fans, the soon-to-be 20-year-old will be staying in Russia for another two years as he recently announced he wasn't ready to leave for the NHL. It is unfortunate because he had his most successful season this past year with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL, scoring 19 goals and adding 22 assists in 49 regular season games to lead the team in scoring. He was also one of the best players in this year's U20 World Junior Championships, adding 13 points in just seven games. In two years time, Kuznetsov should be more than ready to come to the NHL, and could already be a top-six winger.
2. (2) Braden Holtby, G 7.5B
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2008
To many it seems like Braden Holtby seemingly emerged out of nowhere to grab the uninspiring Capitals by the collar and pull the team toward a promising post-season with his stellar play in round one, but the former fourth-round selection has been highly-regarded in the Capitals system for quite some time now, having already played two seasons with the organization.
For 2011-12 he has been solid if occasionally unspectacular for the Hershey Bears, posting just a .906 save percentage through 40 games. He looked more comfortable through a few regular season games with Washington, and of course, this post-season, he has likely cemented himself an NHL job for next season. Since his first year of junior, the Saskatchewan native has grown more comfortable between the pipes, and continued to improve on his numbers from the previous year. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect more of the same next season.
3. (3) Dmitri Orlov, D 7B
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2009
Known primarily as an offensive defenseman prior to being drafted, Orlov failed to post significant numbers in the KHL due to limited ice time, however in his first full North American season, the 6'0 defenseman contributed at both levels. In just 15 games for Hershey, he scored four goals and added five assists. He played the bulk of his season with Washington – 60 games – and finished third in scoring by defensemen with 19 points. His transition to the North American game was fairly smooth and painless, though there are still a few nuances in his game that he must work on in order to take the next step to becoming a solid, consistent top-four defenseman.
While he can play a physical game, he needs to better recognize when to step up and make a hit, and his defensive-zone consistency needs improving; he did, however, manage to finish with a plus-one rating this past season, and looked comfortable logging big minutes, especially on the power-play, in the absence of Mike Green.
4. (4) Cody Eakin, C 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2009
In his first pro season, Cody Eakin made significant strides. A WHL standout for the past few seasons, many still questioned his size – he weighs in just under 180lbs – and his play away from the puck. He proved however this season that he possesses enough talent and drive to become a competent second or third line center in the future.
In 43 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, he looked more than comfortable, posting 27 points in 43 games, while showing a willingness to get to the dirty areas of the ice. His energy and enthusiasm on the ice caught the eye of the Capitals when they needed an injury call-up; Eakin ended up playing in 30 games for Washington, scoring four goals and adding four assists. Nothing is guaranteed heading into next year, but the former third round pick should have the inside track on a bottom-six forward position heading into camp. If he doesn't get it, he'll return to Hershey in an offensive role.
5. (5) Stanislav Galiev, LW 7C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2010
After playing through the QMJHL preseason with complications in his wrist, it was discovered that Stanislav Galiev had a broken wrist. He would end up missing most of the season due to injury, appearing in 20 games, posting 19 points, which, considering he was coming back from a lengthy injury was fairly decent. The Sea Dogs are one of the best teams in the entire CHL, but that doesn't discount Galiev's talent. The former third-round pick could be considered a poor-man's Evgeny Kuznetsov. He owns the same type of skill package, just not as refined, nor is his ceiling as high.
Now fully healthy, Galiev has been playing some of the best hockey of his short career in the QMJHL playoffs, helping lead a powerhouse Sea Dogs team to QMJHL supremacy. Through 17 games, the Moscow-born winger had 34 points. He is already signed to an entry-level deal, and will likely play for Hershey next year while competing throughout the season for a spot in the Capitals lineup.
6. (7) Patrick Wey, D 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2009
After three seasons at Boston College, Wey, who was projected as more of an offensive defensemen, has rounded out his game. While not quite a shutdown-type defenseman, he has proven himself a capable defender in all situations, and has even become a trusted penalty killer for the Eagles. While his offensive promise hasn't quite come to be at this point in his career, his seven points last season was good enough for fourth in team scoring by a defenseman.
Wey will return to Boston College next season for his fourth and final year. He'll serve as an assistant captain and get the chance to continue to round out his game before turning pro. He's still a few years away, but he has the talent to become a reliable NHL defender some day.
7. (12) Philipp Grubauer, G 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2010
One of the fastest rising prospects in the Washington organization, Grubauer has become another legitimate goaltending prospect between the pipes for the once goaltender-starved Capitals. He isn't the biggest goaltender at just 6'0 and 180lbs, but the German is great at taking away the bottom of the net. Over the past year, he's worked on stopping high shots that he would once have trouble with, and it's seemed to have been working.
This year, after a successful OHL campaign split between Windsor and Kingston in 2010-11, Grubauer strapped on the pads for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. In 43 games, he posted a 23-13-5 record to go along with a sparkling 2.22 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. With the ascension of Braden Holtby, Grubauer will most likely suit up for the Hershey Bears next season.
Acquired for Matt Ford prior to the trade deadline this past season, Kevin Marshall is considered to be more of a shutdown defenseman. He's known primarily for his physical style of play, but while the former second-round pick was once highly regarded, his stock has faded some in the past year or so.
In 31 games following the trade from Philadelphia, Marshall picked up just one assist, though he did pick up two helpers in just five playoff games for the Bears. He did play in 10 games for the Flyers prior to the trade however, and looked fairly comfortable. He will probably never become a top-four defenseman, but Marshall could provide stable bottom-pairing play, giving the Capitals a solid 10-15 minutes a game in the near future.
Kundratek, a Czech defenseman who spent two seasons playing with Medicine Hat of the WHL, has been playing some of the best hockey of his career following a trade from the New York Rangers; the Capitals sent Francois Bouchard to the Rangers in exchange for Kundratek. In 55 games for Hershey this past season, he scored 12 goals, which led the team's defensemen in scoring, and added 11 assists. He suited up in five games for the Capitals as well, and though he looked uncomfortable at times, it wasn't hard to see the potential the 21-year-old has.
Following his draft year, Kundratek was known more as a defensive defenseman, but playing in Hershey he has seemed to find his offensive game. For 6'2 and pushing near-200lbs, he is fairly mobile, and possesses a great shot, which has made him an effective point-man on the power-play. He could challenge for a spot on the Capitals blue line next season, though with the emergence of Dmitri Orlov, he may be destined for another year in Hershey.
10. (14) Caleb Herbert, C 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010
Another one of Washington's fast-rising prospects, Herbert parlayed a successful 2010-11 campaign in the USHL where he led the Sioux City Musketeers in scoring into an impressive freshman season for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With 33 points in 41 games, the 5'11 forward finished fourth in team scoring on the 25-10-6 Bulldogs. A former fifth-round selection, he was never quite highly regarded, but his play this past season has given notice to the Capitals organization.
He has a great opportunity next season, as well. Out of the Bulldogs top five scorers, Herbert is the only returnee. He'll be relied upon to lead the team in scoring, and if he succeeds, he'll continue to rise up the Capitals prospect ranks. He's also grown more into his 5'11 frame over the past year and if he continues to add size, he could be considered a late-round steal.
11. (10) Samuel Carrier, D 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2010
One look at Carrier's plus/minus in 2010-11 and one would expect the 20-year-old regressed this year. He was a team-leading plus-40 last season with a Lewiston team that finished 40-24-4, while he was a minus-4 Baie-Comeau this year following an off-season trade. The Drakkar, however, finished at just 29-34-5. Without the insulation of a good defensive team, Carrier's defensive play didn't stand out quite as much this season, but he was still one of the Drakkar's top defenseman.
His scoring touch can't go unmentioned either. Despite playing on a much worse team in Baie-Comeau this year, he managed to play at a similar point-per-game pace, leading the team in scoring by defensemen with 43 points in 51 games. Carrier will be turning pro next season where he'll likely be competing for a spot on the Hershey Bears blueline.
12. (8) Brett Flemming, D 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2009
After quickly climbing the Capitals prospect ranks with a stellar final year of junior, Flemming had a rather uninspiring first professional season. While he was expected to compete for a spot on the Bears' blue line all season long, he ended up playing the majority of his games for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.
While playing in the ECHL was a little disappointing for the former fifth-round pick, he did round into form near the end of the season, posting 13 points in 41 games, and was one of the team's better playoff players with five points in nine games. The Hershey blue line could be quite crowded next season, but the 5'11 Flemming seems to have earned a spot.
13. (14) Garrett Mitchell, RW, 5.5C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2009
Mitchell, who captained the Regina Pats in his final year of junior, spent his first pro season with the Hershey Bears, getting into 65 games, recording 15 points. He beat out players like Flemming to earn a full-time spot with Hershey, and he'll likely spend the next year or two in Hershey rounding into form.
Not known so much for his offense, his 15 points were a pleasant surprise. Instead, Mitchell has great leadership qualities and plays a rough-and-tumble game. He's not afraid to drop the gloves in support of a teammate, and if he is to ever make the NHL, he'll have to continue playing that style of game, sticking to what he's best at.
14. (6) Mattias Sjogren, C 6D
Signed as a free agent, June 2011
A free-agent signing last summer who came off a successful campaign in Sweden with Farjestads, Sjogren appeared to have a chance to make an impact in the Capitals organization. Yet, after playing in just 19 games for the Hershey Bears, the 6'1 center bolted back to Sweden.
He already has the size to compete in the NHL, but needs more seasoning playing the North-American game to become a legitimate NHLer. Though he did leave on bad terms this past season, he does plan to return to North America for the 2012-13 season. If he can make some waves in Hershey – and stay there, for that matter – he could see some time with the Capitals.
15. (9) Steffen Soberg, G 6D
Drafted 4th round, 177th overall, 2011
Soberg had a fairly uninspiring year this past season with Manglerud in Norway. In 17 games, the lanky goaltender recorded a 3.86 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. Despite not taking up much of the net at just 173lbs, the Norwegian is quick in between the pipes and is known as a battler – he doesn't like to give up bad goals.
After leaving the Swift Current Broncos last season before even playing in a regular season game, it appears Soberg will be staying in Norway yet again next season. Perhaps unfair considering he's still a kid, Soberg's commitment has to be brought into question. At this point, it appears unlikely he'll reach the NHL. At the very least, he'll need to leave Norway to advance his career.
16. (15) Brandon Anderson, G 6D
Signed as a free agent, September 2010
Despite being regarded for his athleticism and his ability to compete and fight through traffic to stop the puck, the signing of Brandon Anderson still hasn't quite made much sense. The Capitals organization was flushed with young goaltenders at the time – Semyon Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby – and Anderson's WHL numbers were, and still are, rather mediocre.
A trade to the Brandon Wheat Kings didn't change much for the soon-to-be 20-year-old goaltender. In 31 games, he posted a 13-14-2 record to go along with a .889 save percentage and a goals-against pushing four. The team's starting goaltender, Corbin Boes, by comparison, fared much better, giving up a goal less per game. Anderson, who is already signed, will almost assuredly start his professional career in South Carolina with the Stingrays next season.
17. (NR) Patrick Koudys, D 6D
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2011
A smart defenseman with staggering size – he's currently 6'4, 210lbs – that moves fairly well for a big man, Koudys was drafted after an impressive freshman season at R.P.I in which he became one of the team's top defensive defensemen. Despite being quite mobile, he'll likely never be one of the faster players on the ice, so he relies on his physicality and positioning to keep players to the outside and away from scoring areas.
In 27 games this year, Koudys scored just one goal and added one assist; however offense is not his game. If he is to ever find a spot on an NHL blueline, it will be in a bottom-pairing role.
18. (NR) Garrett Haar, D 6D
Drafted 7th round, 207th overall, 2011
One of the last selections in last year's entry draft, Haar looked fairly comfortable in his first year at Western Michigan University, which is normally the goal for any freshman defenseman. In 36 games, the California native scored one goal and added eight assists.
More importantly, he surprised many in his first Capitals prospect camp with his skill level and strength. He should also continue to benefit from playing under former NHL head coach Andy Murray. Next season will be crucial in terms of his development, and if he takes the right steps over the off-season, he could become one of the team's top defensemen.
19. (NR) Travis Boyd, C 6D
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall, 2011
A playmaking center with above-average two-way abilities, Boyd had a pretty decent freshman season with the University of Minnesota. In 35 games, he scored one goal and added eight assists while playing limited minutes.
He'll play a bigger role next season, particularly with the departure of Taylor Matson (VAN), who was ahead of him on the depth chart. He has the skill set of a third line center, and must continue to work on his two-way game if he is to reach the NHL.
20. (NR) Cameron Schilling, D 6D
Signed as a free agent, March 2012
The undrafted Schilling capped off a successful four-year career with Miami University (Ohio) this past season, posting 14 points in 39 games to finish second in team scoring by a defenseman. The 23-year old possesses decent size, and can play both ends of the ice fairly well.
He scored his first two goals as pro in Hershey's first round playoff loss to Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins, and seemed to settle in well during the four games he played. He'll return to Hershey next year where he'll play his first full professional season and adjust to the pro game. A late-bloomer, Schilling could become an NHLer one day. Next season will be telling as to his ceiling.