Good balance and variety highlight Washington Capitals Top-20

By Jason Lewis

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Photo: Selected 16th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, forward Tom Wilson brings a blend of skill, size, and grit to the Capitals organization. (courtesy of Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)

The Washington Capitals have worked hard at retooling their system over the last several seasons and are starting to see the fruits of that labor, with a list of players of all shapes and sizes, from all leagues, and of all different styles.

While the Capitals do not have an excess of blue chip talent, they have a wide range of players and that alone can be a valuable asset. They have a ton of players looking to build on strong performances in 2012-13 and the Capitals are looking for that next wave of talent to come through soon.

1. (1) Yevgeni Kuznetsov, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2010

The Chelyabinsk native is once again tops amongst the Washington Capitals system, and fans have reason to be excited about the crafty young winger. It is not often that any young player can dominate at the top level of the KHL, but Kuznetsov has been doing so since 2010-11.

Kuznetsov stands at 6'3 and around 200 pounds. He is a creative puck-handler and a smooth, crisp skater. His mind for the game is among the best of any prospects currently out there and arguably the best amongst Russian prospects right now. Capitals fans and management have been waiting for years which is frustrating, but when Kuznetsov finally makes the trip to North America, the results should be worth the wait. The actions of the Capitals management also speaks volumes about their investment in Kuznetsov, as Adam Oates personally went to Russia to visit the 21-year old during the offseason. The general belief now is that he should come to the NHL for the 2014-15 season.

2. (2) Tom Wilson, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2012

The nice thing about Wilson is that he brings a much different skill set than the winger ahead of him, but is equally as effective. Wilson, a nasty power forward, is coming off a tremendous season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. He peppered the stat sheet in every way with 23 goals, 35 assists, 104 penalty minutes, a plus-36 rating, and a team high in hits. He also wore an 'A' on his sweater for the Whalers last year and could again for the 2013-14 season.

Wilson is capable of punishing teams both physically and offensively, but is also a responsible defensive player. While his skating could stand to get a little better he has the mold of a top-six power forward in the NHL. In a system like Washington's, the 19-year-old will be a tremendous asset when he does make the jump, which looks to be coming very quickly.

3. (NR) Andre Burakovsky, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 23rd overall, 2013

The most recent first round pick of the Washington Capitals, Swede Andre Burakovsky, slots in at number three in the rankings. Burakovsky is a pure goal-scorer who has the hands and the skills to theoretically put up some big numbers in the future. His size is of NHL caliber at 6'1 and 185 pounds, although he could probably put on a bit of muscle to withstand the rigors of North American hockey. He has been dynamite in the Swedish junior leagues and last year at just 17 years old, played a majority of the season with Malmö in the Allsvenskan against grown men. He will make his way over to the Erie Otters of the OHL for the upcoming season and his adjustment to North American hockey will go a long way in further raising the stock of the young Swede.

4. (3) Tomas Kundratek, D, 7.0C
Acquired in trade with New York Rangers, November 8th, 2011

The Capitals have had to be patient with Kundratek since his acquisition in 2011, but they have been rewarded with a skilled and relatively steady two-way defenseman for their efforts. Playing the better part of the last three years in the AHL, Kundratek has steadily improved his defensive game while still holding a good solid puck-moving and offensive-minded game. Last season he was able to put together 25 games with the Capitals, the longest amount time he has been in the NHL in his career. While his one goal and six assists were not as satisfying as some had hoped, Kundratek is still adjusting to the NHL speed. As he does that and gets more and more games under his belt, he will be more trusted in 5-on-5 situations and may even be considered for some powerplay time on Washington's second unit.

5. (4) Philipp Grubauer, G, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2010

The top goaltending prospect for the Washington Capitals played in all three levels of the professional game in one season, and did quite well actually. From September to October, Grubauer got starts here and there for the Hershey Bears before being sent to Reading of the ECHL for two and a half months where he found great success. He was an ECHL all-star, and was subsequently returned to Hershey in January and bounced between Hershey and Washington til the end of the 2012-13 season.

Despite traveling a great deal, he was able to stay focused and put together a save percentage between. .910 and .920 in all three places he played. He got two NHL starts last year, including a 45 shot barrage at the hands of the Islanders for his first career start. However he will have his work cut out for him if he wants to usurp Michal Neuvirth for the backup job. At the least, Grubauer will be laying claim to the starting job in Hershey for 2013-14

6. (NR) Madison Bowey, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2013

It seems like the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL have a penchant for churning out talented defenseman these days. While Madison Bowey's name might not stand out now amongst the likes of Luke Schenn (PHI), Duncan Keith (CHI), or Shea Weber (NAS), he is a big and mobile minute muncher for the Rockets right now. While his 30 points may not stand out in the 2012-13 season with Kelowna it is the little things that the 18-year old has shown that make him a promising talent. He is a willing shot blocker, a battler along the boards, and is confident enough to carry the puck and jump into the offensive zone. He has respectable size and has all the tools to be a top-four pairing defenseman. He is, however, a tremendously raw talent, and he will need time to develop. Purely based on his wide ranging skill set, Bowey slots in just outside the top five for the Capitals' prospects.

7. (8) Riley Barber, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2012

In 2012-13 Riley Barber was a massive offensive contributor to a successful NCAA campaign by the University of Miami (Ohio). Barber turned enough heads last year to even make the leap to the U20 US World Junior Championship squad. During the tournament Barber had six points in seven games and helped the US earn a gold medal. He is a high-flying offensive talent and has excellent instincts with the puck. This is part of the reason why he was a near point-per-game player with Miami last season with 39 points. Not only does he provide offensive skill, he was on the top penalty kill unit for Miami. His defensive game still has growing, and he needs to keep filling out physically, but for a sixth-round pick, he is looking like a diamond in the rough.

8. (9) Nate Schmidt, D, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, April 2nd, 2013

The Caps were wise to jump on the talented puck-mover when his career at University of Minnesota ended in April. Schmidt jumped into the top-10 in the Spring rankings after his signing, and with a good 13 game showing for Hershey last year, and a whole season of AHL hockey ahead of him, he should only get better. While Schmidt has a lot to learn at the pro level, and his defensive game could use work, he is of great necessity right now in a system that is somewhat void of high-skill puck-movers at the NHL. He will have to compete with Kundratek, but it would not be out of the question to see Schmidt get some spot call-ups throughout the year for Washington.

9. (5) Stanislav Galiev, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2010

While the Caps list is seemingly filled with players on the rise, Stanislav Galiev has struggled to find himself on the upswing of things. Inconsistencies have plagued the young forward since his transition out of junior hockey, and he was demoted last season to the ECHL after registering a solitary point in 17 AHL contests with Hershey. It was not all bad for Galiev though, he seemed to take the demotion in stride and was a point-per-game player with the Royals. He still has the offensive skills to be an AHL, and maybe even an NHL player, but he has to find his form at the next level of pro competition.

10. (6) Michael Latta, C, 6.0B
Acquired in trade with Nashvile Predators, April 3rd, 2013

Latta is another player on the list to fall, but his fall comes of a very different design. The former Guelph Storm player had a huge 2010-11 in the OHL where he put up 89 points. It set a bar for the gritty forward, and after two years in the AHL it is safe to say that Latta will not come close to emulating said goal scoring form. However, he should still be a useful player for the Caps moving forward, which is partially why they got him from Nashville. He has all the makings of a solid bottom-six grinder and should be one of the first call-ups for Washington during the 2013-14 season. He is going to need to adjust to his first full year in a new system with Hershey and Washington, but he fits a need for responsible bottom line centers who are hard to play against.

11. (7) Chandler Stephenson, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2012

The 19-year-old Stephenson has continued to grow with the Regina Pats of the WHL and is looking to have a big final year with them before heading to Hershey. He's a creative and skilled offensive forward who is still growing into a smallish frame of 5'11 and 195 pounds. He has started to come into his own as a skilled passer with Kelowna, however his stats have not reflected his skill as the team does not have any real scoring threats outside of 2013 Calgary first-round pick Morgan Klimchuk. He should see his numbers jump up a bit as both he and Klimchuk will be a year more experienced, but Regina is not going to be a power. That being said Stephenson has the potential to put up a good solid final year and boost his confidence as his pro career approaches.

12. (10) Patrick Wey, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2009

Pittsburgh native Patrick Wey still looks to be the best shutdown defenseman option currently in the Washington Capitals system. With a solid final season at Boston College, Wey now moves on to the AHL where he will need ample time to adjust his game to the pro level. Speed is obviously going to be the number one factor as Wey relies on positioning and reads. He has already got good size at 6'3 and a solid reach with his stick, all he needs is a little bit of AHL seasoning to challenge for a bottom pairing job in the NHL. He is not going to dazzle anyone with offensive skills, but he will get the job done, as he did over the past four seasons with Boston College in the NCAA. Being named defensive defenseman of the year was also the nice parting gift for the 22-year-old as he concluded his NCAA career.

13. (11) Cameron Schilling, D, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, March 27th, 2012

A product of Miami (Ohio), Schilling was a defenseman who focused more on the defensive side of things over his NCAA career, and in 2013 with Hershey he showed he could put it together at the pro level as well. He even threw up some offensive numbers in a 16 point rookie AHL season, which was a nice surprise. He has got a big year ahead of him, though as he will be in a contract year and is currently down deep on the depth chart of Caps defenseman. A big season could force a move from the organization in terms of a contract or even some NHL playing time.

14. (12) Connor Carrick, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 137th overall, 2012

Carrick has risen fast in just a year. As a product of the US National Development Program he did not go into college but instead opted to go to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, where he had a phenomenal year as an alternate captain. At the young age of 19, and just a year removed from his draft year, the offensively gifted Carrick is on the cusp of professional hockey and has just recently signed an entry-level deal with the Caps. He has been great in training camp and it will be interesting to see how he progresses in his first year as a pro, but all signs point to him being a potential riser in the rankings moving forward. He is good on both sides of the puck and makes sure that his transition to offense does not come as a risk defensively, and when you do get him on offense, he can command the zone very well. As a fifth round pick, Carrick is really panning out for the Caps and could potentially be a steal if he continues to impress and work on his all-around game.

15. (13) Garrett Mitchell, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2009

A forward with natural leadership ability, Mitchell will not necessarily be relied upon to provide a gritty, sandpaper game which includes fights, hits, and blocked shots. He doubled up his AHL totals from 2011-12 to 2012-13 and if he can further shape those skills he could be a nice complementary winger to the top-nine, although he will probably remain a targeted bottom line grinder. At 22 years old, Mitchell is getting to a point in his age where he needs to make some sort of stab at NHL probability, and a good start to his AHL season might see him get that chance during the year.

16.  (NR) Zach Sanford, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2013

The 2013 second round pick for the Washington Capitals, winger Zach Sanford, is a raw talent who has big potential. The 18-year-old has all the tools to be a power forward but is still growing into his 6'3 frame and learning how to use it better to put himself at an advantage over other players. He has been a standout in midget and high school and entered into both the USHL and QMJHL drafts. He opted for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL in his final season before heading to Boston College in 2014-15. He has ample time to develop his game at the NCAA level and that has to please Washington management. Sanford will be better suited to adjust his game to the older and more physically mature players of the NCAA rather than the QMJHL.

17. (NR) Tyler Lewington, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2013

Lewington brings a really interesting package to the table. He is a 6'1 and 190-pound defenseman with a nice offensive upside to him, but a need for work in both skating and defensive zone play. What makes Lewington interesting though is that of all the prospects in the 2013 draft, the Alberta, Canada native blew away the competition in the NHL scouting combine. He was first in push ups, bench press, push strength, and sixth in pull strength. In fact, Lewington was the only player to place first in more than one category. With that in mind a seventh round pick is a fair flyer to take on a player who oozes physical potential and is already showing a solid work ethic and commitment to the training side of the game. His play with Medicine Hat in 2012-13 improved tenfold over the previous year, and this could be a potential steal if that sort of curve continues and he can improve on some of the deficiencies in his game.

18. (NR) Christian Djoos, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2012

Djoos is a nicely developing offensive defenseman in the Caps system. He is a bit undersized, and despite suffering a knee injury early last year, played at the top level of Swedish hockey with Brynäs of the SHL. That sort of quality should not be overlooked, particularly from an 18-year-old. He will spend another year on the blue line with Brynäs, quarterbacking their powerplay and hopefully improving on his offensive numbers and his defensive zone play. If he can focus on the latter, as well as bulking up his smallish frame, he could make a pretty easy transition to North America when the time comes.

19. (14) Thomas Di Pauli, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2012

DiPauli saw a very limited use last year in a stacked University of Notre Dame team and will have to deal with similar circumstances as very few players on the team graduated. He has made the most of his opportunities but moving forward he is definitely in a position where ice time will be hard earned. He is maturing physically and as that happens his grinding style will earn him a more favorable spot. As it stands currently, he is up for a stiff challenge with the Fighting Irish.

20. (15) Caleb Herbert, C, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010

Caleb Herbert rounds out the top-20 despite having what could be considered a down year in 2012-13 with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With a young team, Duluth is going to be ripe with competition and Herbert has a lot to prove in terms of 2012-13 being a blip on the radar. He was impressive as a freshman and hopefully in his junior year he can get back to playing that mean yet responsible style of hockey that made him a noteworthy prospect a few years back.