Photo: Defenseman Nate Schmidt is one of several promising defensive prospects the Washington Capitals have in their system. Schmidt signed with the Capitals in 2013, following his junior season at the University of Minnesota. (courtesy of Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)
The Washington Capitals' minor league pool is full of depth defensemen but lacks game-breaking talent. Among the large group, only Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick look like legitimate top-four defensemen at the NHL level.
Photo: Swedish forward Andre Burakovsky has been very good in his first season of North American hockey, posting 47 points in 31 games with the Erie Otters. (courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals have stockpiled a top-heavy group of prospects featuring forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and Chandler Stephenson. On the blue line and in net, the cupboard is a bit drier, but there still are some promising young players like Philipp Grubauer and Madison Bowey.
Photo: Forward Tom Wilson had a breakout year in the OHL, managing 23 goals, 35 assists, and 104 penalty minutes through 48 games. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)
The Washington Capitals spring top 20 has a much different look than the fall edition. Braden Holtby graduated and Filip Forsberg (NAS), Zach Hamill (BOS), and Kevin Marshall (TOR) have been traded. Riley Barber had a breakout season and debuts in the top 10, while Michael Latta, Casey Wellman, Nicolas Deschamps, and Chay Genoway all were acquired via trade. Recent free agent signing from the University of Minnesota, Nate Schmidt, joins the list and is among the Capitals top prospects.
Photo: Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has missed most of the first half of the season with a broken collarbone, is one of the high-profile prospects making their debut in Houston this season. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Although many people in and around the world of hockey were negatively affected by the 2012 NHL lockout, the Minnesota Wild was no doubt one team that saw a silver lining. With a cluster of players around the same age needing a developmental year or three in the AHL, the lockout saved the team from hard personnel decisions while also giving these young players a great opportunity to learn to play the pro game together at a high level of competition.
Photo: Johan Larsson is one of the many top prospects spending the 2012-13 season with the AHL's Houston Aeros. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
The Wild is still in the midst of a controlled rebuilding process. While the team has added immediate help at the NHL level for some areas of deficiency, most notably an elite top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Suter, an underrated top-four defenseman in Tom Gilbert, and an all-star scoring winger in Zach Parise, a few barren years at the draft kept the team from contention recently. Very strong drafts in 2010 and 2011, punctuated by the trade for Charlie Coyle, have put the team in excellent shape to be contenders soon. The core might be able to take advantage of the NHL lockout to grow together at the AHL level. Part of the Minnesota mentality is knowing there is a long winter ahead to test for weaknesses. With luck, this group of prospects will emerge strong and battle-tested.