The Washington Capitals have done of lot of building from within over the last few years. As a result, the prospect depth has taken quite a hit. However, there was a bit of a rebuild after the 2012 NHL entry draft. While the Capitals organization has plenty of depth, the number of high end prospects is limited and many other prospects are long-term projects.
Many of the top forward prospects have the ability to play multiple positions on the forward line and there are more prospects ready at defense, even if not high end. The Capitals continue to produce strong goalie prospects who are gridlocked by the NHL lockout.
The Capitals have five prospects on left wing, two of which are top caliber, with one more being a long term project. Filip Forsberg was taken 11th overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft and is proving this fall that he will be ready to make the jump to the NHL. The skilled winger will play this season in Sweden, but should have a good chance of nailing a spot on the Capitals roster in 2013-14. The Capitals seem to have versatility at moving their wings on either side, and Forsberg could play either wing.
Stanislav Galiev has a great upside, but could take a little longer than Forsberg to break into the Capitals roster. After some struggles early this season in Hershey (AHL), Galiev has been dominant in the ECHL with the Reading Royals. Galiev has the tools of an NHL forward, but just needs the time and experience of playing at the pro level.
Regina Pats winger Chandler Stephenson is clearly the next best left wing prospect for the Capitals. Stephenson is a smaller winger who continues to develop in juniors and is still a few years away from competing for a spot on the Capitals roster. Stephenson has been playing a lot more center which will help his long term chances with the Capitals. Stephenson is strong in his own end which makes it a natural fit for him to play center. With the depth in center thin, this transition can only improve his chances of cracking the Capitals roster.
The remaining prospects at left wing, Greg Burke and Taylor Stefishen, are long shots to reach the NHL level. Burke is already 22 years old, but could be given a minor-league deal. His development still seems too far away from having any impact on the Capitals roster.
While the Capitals have six prospects at center, their top prospect at this position is still a bit of a long term project. Caleb Herbert is a sophomore at Minnesota-Duluth and has shown to be a talented offensive player who moves the puck well. Herbert has struggled to score goals this year with just three goals in 18 games after scoring 14 in 41 games last year.
Mattias Sjogren has the most likelihood to break into the Capitals lineup. Sjogren has shown to be a defensive forward, who is strong on the faceoff as well as the penalty kill. Sjogren was signed in 2011 by the Capitals, but returned to Sweden after a short stint with the Hershey Bears.
Michael Carman has a similar skill set of that of Sjogren, but does not quite have Sjogren's size. Carman is checking forward who joined Hershey late in 2011-12.
Zach Hamill, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins for Chris Bourque, has played well early this season for Hershey. He has played a role on the power play and the penalty kill, both roles that will make him more attractive for a mid-season call-up. While Hamill hasn't lived up to the billing of the eighth overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, he has shown more promise this season in his short stint with Hershey.
Thomas Di Pauli and Travis Boyd round out the center prospects for the Capitals. Both are competing at the collegiate level and are longer term prospects that still need more time to develop to be on the Capitals radar.
If Yevgeni Kuznetsov was committed to playing in the NHL, he would immediately be the top line right wing for the Capitals. An argument could be made that Kuznetsov is the best player in the world not in the NHL, but the uncertainty of his future is going to require the Capitals to look at other options to fill the voided on the right side.
The Capitals depth on right wing is thin in the NHL and the most likely solution is to shift some forwards to the right side. At this time, it appears likely that Tom Wilson will be lining up on right wing before Kuznetsov. Wilson is a hard-hitting right wing who has shown growth and improvement with his offensive side of the game. This development is important if Wilson hopes to be more than a checking forward for the Captials. Currently, things are looking promising for the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Wilson has already signed an entry-level contract and could be in the Capitals lineup as soon as 2013-14.
Garrett Mitchell has quietly developed into a promising prospect for the Capitals. The 21-year-old is a gritty winger who plays a physical game, but has shown some offensive upside at the end of 2011-12 and continuing into the young 2012-13 season. While Mitchell's potential is more of a checking forward or penalty kill specialist, the recent surge in offense should keep him from being looked at as a one dimensional player.
Austin Wuthrich and Riley Barber are both playing at the college level this season. Wuthrich has not matched his freshman season for Notre Dame and remains a long-term project. Barber is off to a terrific freshman season for Miami University in which he has already been named CCHA Rookie of the Month twice. Barber was recently selected to represent the United States at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
The Capitals have more prospects at defense than any other position, but lack high end prospects. However, the positive part of the Capitals defensive depth is there are more players that are ready for a taste of the NHL.
Cameron Schilling and Tomas Kundratek are the most NHL ready prospects in the Capitals organization since the graduation of Dmitri Orlov. Schilling is a solid two-way defensemen who is currently in his first full professional season after a strong college career at Miami University. The undrafted defenseman has shown enough upside early in his tenure with the Hershey Bears to be considered an option as bottom-pairing defensemen this season.
Kundratek joined the Bears last season after a trade with the New York Rangers and since the move has re-established himself as a true NHL prospect. The most unexpected development for Kundratek has been his offense. Last season he scored 12 goals in 55 games with the Bears and already has nine in just 28 games. Kundratek has good size and has been strong in his own end. His surge in offense made him much more comfortable with the puck. He still needs to use better judgment when to join the rush and when to stay back.
Kevin Marshall is next on the current Capitals depth chart, but has less upside than some younger prospects that have not turned pro. Marshall is a defensive defenseman that likes playing the puck on offense. Marshall is gritty, but needs to be more decisive about making the quick pass out of his own zone.
Overall, Patrick Wey is still the highest long-term prospect. The Boston College senior was asked to play a better role, especially on the offensive side in 2012-13 and so far has. In 14 games, Wey already has nine points, which surpasses his career high at the college level. Expect him to sign an entry-level contract at the conclusion of this season and potentially even see some pro action this year.
Of the remaining defensemen prospects, Garrett Haar, Brett Flemming, Connor Carrick, Jaynen Rissling, Christian Djoos, Dustin Stevenson, and Patrick Koudys, Carrick should have the most upside, but is a longer term prospect. Flemming and Stevenson are both pro players with Reading.
Braden Holtby is the most proven of the Capitals goaltender prospects and would immediately compete for the starting goaltending job in Washington if there was an NHL season.
Like Holtby, Philipp Grubauer's growth is stalled by the lockout. Grubauer is once again dominating the ECHL and is ready to be promoted to the AHL. However, it is unlikely he will see time in the AHL until the lockout ends or there would be an injury in Hershey. Grubauer's prospect status has grown, but remains long-term. Extended time in the AHL should indicate how soon he may be ready to compete in the NHL.
Steffen Soberg has rebounded and this season in Norway has put him back on the prospect depth chart. After a disappointing 2011-12 season, Soberg is putting up the best numbers he has ever had. Soberg will need to translate those numbers in North America to move up the Capitals depth chart.
Sergei Kostenko is a relatively unknown prospect that has been injured. He will make his North American debut for Reading.
Also on Reading's roster is Brandon Anderson. Anderson has struggled early in his professional career and could see even less time if the lockout remains and Kostenko sticks with Reading.