The Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, did not get as much help as many AHL teams did with the lockout. The team has struggled at times offensively, but has stayed in contention because of the play of goaltender Braden Holtby. With the NHL lockout over, Holtby was recalled to the big club, paving the way for Philipp Grubauer to lead the Bears in net.
Up until recently, Grubauer was the starting goalie this season for the Capitals' new ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals. Reading has benefited from its new affiliate with the Capitals and Bears and as a result has the best record in the Easter Conference with 56 points and a 26-9-2-2 record.
Braden Holtby, G, 23
After an outstanding NHL playoff run in 2012, Braden Holtby all but secured his spot with the Capitals. However, like many players, Holtby ended up in the AHL for another season. He took the opportunity to continue to cement himself as one of the top goaltending prospects in the world. In 25 games with the Bears, Holtby has a .932 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average, both among the best in the AHL. His four shutouts are third best this season in the AHL and he was named the AHL's December Goaltender of the Month.
Holtby consistently has been the best player on the ice for the Hershey Bears and kept the Bears in many games facing an average of over 30 shots per game. His maturity has been the best improvement this season. While in the past, he could lose composure, he has not been rattled in the net. He stays in position and has an outstanding glove. Always a good puck-handling goalie, Holtby has made better decisions when and how to play the puck outside of his crease this season. He has shown he has nothing left to prove in the AHL, and with the lockout over, should be the frontrunner for the Capitals starting goalie job.
Philipp Grubauer, G, 21
Due to the NHL lockout, the Capitals had a backlog of goalies in the minor league system. As a result, Grubauer was assigned to Reading. He continued to excel in his second pro season where in 26 games he has a record of 19-5-1, goals against average of 2.30, and a .912 save percentage. He was named ECHL Goaltender of the Month in November and recently named starting goalie for the ECHL All Star game.
Grubauer's consistent play has solidified him as another goaltending prospect in the Capitals organization that will be worth watching. With the lockout over, Grubauer has been recalled to Hershey where he must show he can produce with the same results as he did in the ECHL.
Cameron Schilling, D, 24
Schilling came out of nowhere last year after finishing his season with Miami University. The undrafted defensemen showed strong defensive play with good puck-moving skills. He quickly moved up the organization depth chart with his play in the AHL playoffs. This season Schilling has quietly played good, consistent hockey. Schilling is defense first style of player, but he is able to move the puck smartly up the ice. He is also able to fill most roles on defense, and can play a lot of minutes. This season for the Bears, Schilling has three goals and four assists in 33 games.
Tomas Kundratek, D, 23
Kundratek joined the Bears last year and brought an unexpected offensive side to his game with him. With strong two-way play, his ice time increased as did his confidence. This season, he came in proving the offensive numbers he put were not a fluke. Offensively, there is no doubt that Kundratek has proven his worth with 12 goals and 12 assists in 39 games. He plays on the top power play and has a hard one-timer. However, the continued growth on the offensive side has come at the cost of his defensive side. Kundratek's minus-12 is a team low. He needs to make better decisions when to step up offensively and when to make a big hit. Too often his play this season puts him out of position and he needs to find that balance. While his offensive output would generate interest at the NHL level, his defensive lapses would be even more exploited in the NHL. If he can find the balance, Kundratek's value will go up and his potential NHL opportunities will increase.
Kevin Marshall, D, 23
Marshall has continued to be a physical defensive defensemen who does not back down from any opponent. His decision making in his own end still needs to be improved, as he often holds on to the puck too long before making the outlet pass. He has played a good part of the season with Steve Oleksy and the pair has developed the reputation as a shutdown pair. Marshall only has five points in 32 games, but he does not back away from throwing the puck on net when in the offensive zone. His physical play is valuable and if he can improve his puck skills, he has a shot as a bottom pairing defensemen in the NHL.
Stanislav Galiev, LW, 21
It has been an up and down year for the Galiev in his first pro season. He started the year with Hershey, but struggled to produce offensively and had too many stick infractions on defense. Instead of reducing ice time, Galiev was sent to Reading (ECHL) where he exploded offensively with six goals and 13 points in 13 games with the Royals. He was recalled and given time on the second line with the Bears. With the Bears, Galiev has just one assist in 17 games this season. He has a quick and accurate shot, but does not seem to be in a position to score and take advantage of his opportunities. He has not backed down from the physical play behind the net. The Bears have used him on the second power play in front of the net, but he would have more of an opportunity to use his skilled shot from the point. Galiev's play is better than his statistics indicate. The struggle appears to be adjusting to the system and finding a productive role.
Garrett Mitchell, RW, 21
Mitchell has picked up from where he left off in the second half of the 2011-12 season. A hard-working gritty player who has played strong along the boards, Mitchell has good bursts of speed to make things happen offensively. This season in 39 games, he has nine goals and seven assists. He has played much of the season on the top line as a power forward with more offensively skilled forwards. In addition, Mitchell is a key player on the team's penalty kill is a plus-11. His best value is his ability to play any role on the team. A look at the NHL level is not far off for the former sixth round pick.
Zach Hamill, C, 24
The change of scenery for Zach Hamill appears to be just what the former Bruins first round pick may have needed to revitalize his career. In 2011-12, Hamill had just 21 points in 41 games. This season for the Bears, Hamill has 11 goals and 22 points in the first 36 games. His plus-nine is among the team best.
Hamill came to Hershey known to be a playmaking forward, but has brought more to the table. His goal production is a pleasant surprise as has been his defensive play. He has been featured on the first power play as well as on the team's penalty kill. His versatility has been the biggest factor of his success and should be appealing for the Capitals if a recall is needed.
Mattias Sjogren, C, 25
Sjogren has played a steady role this season for Hershey even if he has yet to earn the fans' support this season. Bears fans soured on the Swedish forward after he bolted the Bears last season to return to Europe. Sjogren has proved to be a defensive specialist who has good size and improved his physical play. He is strong on the faceoff and a regular on the penalty kill. His eight points in 27 games does reflect his value as a checking line center. He should get some looks from the Capitals because he can fill a low line role if needed in Washington.
Michael Carman, C, 24
Like Sjogren, Carmen has been featured on the checking line and penalty kill. He is a grinding forward who shows decent speed. He has played with players like Sjogren, Boyd Kane, and Alex Berry to provide the energy on the grinding line. Carman has five points in 33 games this season for the Hershey Bears. He has not been asked to provide offense, but could move up lines if there are recalls or injuries.
Sergei Kostenko, G, 20
The seventh round pick of the 2012 draft had surgery in the off-season that kept him out of action until December. Since returning from injury, Kostenko has struggled. In four appearances, the Russian goalie has a 4.30 goals against average along with a .863 save percentage. With Grubauer recalled up to Hershey, the Royals brought in veteran Drew MacIntyre. MacIntyre's arrival likely means Kostenko will be eased into his starts and not be asked to take on the role of being the number one goalie.
Kostenko continues to be a long-term project and should show improvement during the second half of the season.
Brandon Anderson, G, 20
Anderson struggled this season with Reading. In seven games, Andreson had a 3.57 goals against average and just a .870 save percentage. In December, Anderson left the team for what was reported as personal reasons. It is unclear if or when he plans to return. The Royals signing of Drew MacIntyre would indicate he is not due back with the Royals in the near future.
Dustin Stevenson, D, 23
Stevenson was signed by the Capitals as a project and because of his offensive upside and physicality. Through two and a half seasons, he has not shown enough at the ECHL level to merit a recall. This season Stevenson has eight assists and 65 penalty minutes in 35 games.
Danick Paquette, RW, 22
Paquette started the season injured when he broke his arm in a pre-season game with the Bears. Once recovered, the agitating forward was assigned to Reading. While in nine games he does have a goal and three assists, Paquette's offense is not what stands out. Instead, the 48 penalty minutes, including two game misconducts, in those nine games is a better indicator of the type of player Paquette is on the ice. He could fill the role of an agitator or enforcer, but also is not an offensive liability.
Brett Flemming, D, 21
Flemming has spent most of his season with Reading with a couple short recalls to Hershey. In 35 games, Flemming has 11 points and 62 penalty minutes. He plays as a physical defensemen and is not afraid to drop the gloves. However, the acquisitions over the last year of Kundratek, Schilling, and Marshall continue to push Flemming down the organizational depth chart. With the lockout over, Flemming should see more time in Hershey.
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