Numerous Washington Capitals prospects expected to have big seasons in 2013-14

By Chris Phifer

Madison Bowey - Washington Capitals

Photo: Defenseman Madison Bowey has started the 2013-14 season strong, managing 13 points through 13 WHL games. Bowey was selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals prospect pool contains plenty of depth and variety, with players of every make and model. The organization has also done a good job of staggering their talent across many competition levels and has several players at the minor-league level ready for a call-up to the NHL.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect  
Tom Wilson, RW, Washington Capitals (NHL)

The most immediately noticeable thing about Tom Wilson is how strong he is, standing 6'4 and 210 pounds. The 19-year-old was eligible to be sent back to Plymouth of the OHL for the 2013-14 season, but he impressed the coaching staff enough in camp to start the year with the big club. Wilson plays the game on the edge, is willing to drop the gloves with anyone, and with three fights in his first 12 regular season games, he is making sure everyone knows it.

Though Wilson does not yet have a point in the NHL, it took him awhile to find his offensive game at the junior level as well. His second season in the OHL saw him jump from six points up to 27 points, only to more than double that output in his third season, scoring 23 goals and 58 points in 48 games in 2012-13. He will not likely become a prolific scorer at the NHL level, but his combination of toughness and skill could make him a top-six forward capable of creating space for his linemates.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Alexander Urbom, D, Washington Capitals (NHL)

Alexander Urbom will be a very interesting player to watch over the course of the 2013-14 season. Born in Sweden, he was originally drafted 73rd overall in the 2009 entry draft by the New Jersey Devils. He was waived by the Devils to start the 2013-14 season, and claimed by Washington. Urbom plays a solid game at both ends of the ice, and his being waived by the Devils was more a product of a numbers game on the New Jersey blue line.

Urbom is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and it remains to be seen if the Capitals will re-sign him. He brings a steadying two-way presence to the blue line, but his skill-set is not unique to their system.

NHL-Bound
Michael Latta, C, Hershey Bears (AHL)

Michael Latta is a good example of a player doing whatever he needs to do to succeed. At 5'11, Latta is undersized and in junior his calling card was his offense. Now at the pro Level, the 22-year-old has worked on his two-way game and has shown that he is willing to drop the gloves. Latta is at the top of the Capitals call-up list because of his versatility, as he can skate well, play physically, handle the puck, and even pitch in a few goals.

He was already called up for two games early on in the 2013-14 season, where he played mostly on the fourth line between Tom Wilson and Martin Erat. He has since been returned to the AHL, where he has four points and 25 penalty minutes through six games.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Andre Burakovsky, LW, Erie Otters (OHL)

Andre Burakovsky is a scoring winger, with good size and strong hockey bloodlines. His father, Robert Burakovsky, had a very successful playing career in Europe, and also suited up for 23 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators in 1993-94. Born in Austria while his father was playing for Klagenfurt, the younger Burakovsky grew up in Sweden playing for the Malmo Redhawks. He was drafted 23rd overall in the first round of the 2013 entry draft after scoring 11 points for Malmo in Sweden's Allsvenskan league.

For the 2013-14 season, Burakovsky joined a talented young Erie Otters squad. He has tremendous hands, a heavy shot, and is a flashy player capable of drawing fans out of their seats. Suiting up for Sweden at the 2014 World Junior Championships seems very realistic and will give him the opportunity to showcase his talents on a very high profile stage.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Jaynen Rissling, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

At 6'4, 222 pounds, Jaynen Rissling is a very big defenseman who likes to impose his size on opponents. Rissling was originally drafted by the Capitals in 2012, 197th overall, and returned to the Calgary Hitmen for the 2013-14 season, where he was named team captain. Entering his fifth season in the WHL, Rissling has shown great maturity for his age, and his solid defensive play is what he will be need to continue to succeed at the next level.

Offensive Breakout
Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

The Kelowna Rockets have long been known for producing great defenseman, such as Luke Schenn (PHI) and Shea Weber (NAS), and the Washington Capitals are hoping that Madison Bowey's name can be added to that list in a few years. Drafted 53rd overall in 2013, Bowey is a two-way defenseman with good size, great skating, and is mature beyond his years. The Rockets are always in the playoff hunt and with Bowey leading the charge from the point, that should not change in 2013-14.

Bowey scored an impressive 30 points in 69 games in 2012-13, but he is still just scratching the surface of his potential. He should be in the conversation for possible defenseman for Team Canada at the 2014 World Juniors, but as a 1995 born player, he may have to wait until the following year to make his mark at the WJC.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Riley Barber, LW, Miami RedHawks (NCHC)

The Washington Capitals selected Riley Barber 167th overall in the 2012 entry draft, and likely did not foresee him doing as well in his freshman season at Miami as he did, where he managed 39 points in 40 games. The speedy winger possesses average size, but his offensive game and determination have brought him to center stage among the Capitals' prospects.

Before going to Miami, Barber was a member of the USNTDP in 2011-12 and was one of their top offensive players. That season, Barber and his USA teammates claimed the gold medal at the IIHF U18 Championships. In 2012-13, Barber's impressive start earned him a spot at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championships with the USA and the result was the same, a gold medal for Barber and the Americans. Now he has the opportunity to return to the tournament in 2014 as a returning champion and looks to become a go-to guy at the international level.

Offensive Breakout
Austin Wuthrich, RW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)

Austin Wuthrich is hoping that last year was just a minor speed bump in what will ultimately be a successful hockey career. Having spent two seasons with the USNTDP, Wuthrich established himself as a hard-working player capable of producing some offense, and carried that momentum into his freshman season at Notre Dame, registering 17 points in 36 games. But in 2012-13, Wuthrich's offense took a step back as he failed to improve on his impressive rookie stats, nine points in 33 games as a sophomore.

The California native possesses good size at 6'1 and 194 pounds and has shown that he can play with an edge. He needs to continue to improve his skating, but his level of determination and willingness to play physically will help him succeed at the next level. He has two more seasons at Notre Dame and his play will be a good indicator of whether he's capable of becoming a top-nine winger or an energy forward.

Bounceback Prospect
Caleb Herbert, C, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (NCHC)

Herbert is an average sized center who possesses great skating ability and plenty of offensive talent. In 2011-12, he made a big splash at the NCAA level as a freshman registering 14 goals, 19 assists and a plus-16 rating in 41 games. But in 2012-12 his number dipped to six goals, 19 assists and a minus-11 rating in 35 games.

Now in his junior season with the Bulldogs, Herbert will look to return to his freshman form. The Bulldogs have been a strong team the past few years, and with an influx of new talent in 2013-14, Herbert should have a good core of players to work with. His strong skating, ability to think the game at a high level, and very skilled hands will help him succeed at the next level, if not as a scorer, than as a solid two-way energy line player.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)

Yevgeni Kuznetsov is widely considered the best player outside of the NHL, and the only question that remains about his game is whether or not he will cross the pond and join the Capitals lineup. His contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk expires at the end of this season, bringing hope that he may finally make the move to North America.

In 2012-13, Kuznetsov had his best season to date, scoring 44 points in 51 games and helping his team advance to the Gagarin Cup Final before ultimately losing in six games to Dynamo Minsk. He also earned a place at the KHL All-star game for a second straight time.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Christian Djoos, D, Brynas (SHL)

Christian Djoos is steady, two-way defenseman whose father, Par Djoos, had a brief stint in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. While he is not as offensively gifted as his dad, the younger Djoos is very good in his own end, and is has shown some offensive ability at lower levels of competition.

Now in his second full season of SHL play, Djoos has one assist through 16 games. The Capitals will have to make a decision by the end of the 2013-14 season on whether or not to sign him. Their system has numerous defensemen with similar skillsets, so Djoos will have to distinguish himself this year in order to earn a contract.