Two skilled forwards highlight Washington Capitals prospect pool

By Josh Buckingham

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Washington Capitals

Photo: Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov made his NHL debut on March 10th following the completion of his fifth season in the KHL. Kuznetsov was selected 26th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals made several trades to bolster their lineup for a late-season playoff push, but the most exciting addition to their lineup came in the form of top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The long awaited arrival of Kuznetsov adds another offensive weapon to a Capitals offense that has struggled to find secondary scoring behind Alexander Ovechkin.

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

At the conclusion of his fifth full KHL season with Traktor Chelyabinsk, Kuznetsov finally made the decision to make the jump to North America. During his KHL tenure he was named to two all-star games and was recognized as one of the league's best players. This most recent season has been a tumultuous one due to multiple injuries and his struggles to contribute offensively. In 31 games with Traktor he recorded just 21 points, which is far below what is expected of him.

The Capitals promptly signed him to an entry-level deal following the conclusion of his KHL season and wasted no time inserting into the lineup on the fourth line for back-to-back games against their rival Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Capitals lack of depth on their left wing, Kuznetsov has recently seen a lot of time in the top nine.

The best assets of Kuznetsov's game are his stick-handling and ability to protect the puck. When he has the puck down low in the offensive zone, he is very dangerous thanks to these skills combined with his great vision, which allows him to find his teammates for easy scoring chances.

He still has to improve his play in his own end and get a little stronger, but he has shown flashes of brilliance in his short time with the Capitals. He has a very high upside and the potential to become a top-line winger.

2. (3) Andre Burakovsky, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 23rd overall, 2013

Burakovsky has exceeded all expectation in his first year playing in North America for the Erie Otters of the OHL. In 57 games, the Swedish sniper potted 41 goals and added 46 assists. He has very quick hands and is particularly good at scoring goals off the rush.

With all of his recent success he may be given a chance to start next season with the Washington Capitals. McPhee has stated that they see him potential top two or three forward with the potential of moving him to center with guidance of fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom. It will be very exciting to see what the future has in store for this very promising youngster.

3. (6) Madison Bowey, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2013

Bowey has captained the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL to the league's best regular season record heading into the playoffs. This has been a breakout season offensively for this promising blueliner as he has doubled his output from last season to 60 points. His rock solid frame allows him to dominate the opposition. He is not the tallest player, but he is build like a truck. This makes him very tough to play against due to his ability to easily knock opponents off the puck. He also uses his strength to protect the puck in his own zone, giving him the time he needs to make an efficient breakout pass.

He plays a very mature all around game that could allow him to make the transition to the NHL level as early as next season. He projects as a two way top four NHL defenseman in the near future.

4. (5) Philipp Grubauer, G, 7.5C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2010

Grubauer has experienced a very eventful 2013-14 season. At one point he played his way into the Capitals number one goaltender spot, but has since returned to his starting duties with the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. In 17 appearances with the big club he recorded very admirable statistics including a 2.38 goals against average and .925 save percentage. During his time with the Capitals he was able to steal a few games and kept them in multiple others with his stellar play. In 24 games with Hershey has recorded a 2.67 goals against average and .913 save percentage.

Grubauer's timeline and future with the Capitals largely depends on whether or not the organization decides to re-sign impending free agent Jaroslav Halak.

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

Barber has been a pleasant surprise for the Capitals since his freshman season with the Miami RedHawks. In his first collegiate he season he recorded 39 points in 40 games and this season increased his production to 44 points in 38 games. He also captained the Team USA U20 WJC team that played well, but unfortunately did not medal.

Barber plays a well-rounded game and is effective in all three zones. His skating is not the best, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He has a knack for finishing around the net and is also capable of setting up his linemates using his puck protecting skills. Barber and the Capitals will soon have to make the decision as to whether he is ready to turn pro as his collegiate season comes to a close. He projects as second line forward at the NHL level.

6. (NR) Chris Brown, LW, 7.0C
Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, March 4th, 2014

Brown, a proud Texan, was acquired in the deal that sent Martin Erat to the Phoenix Coyotes. While playing for the Phoenix organization, many believed he was not given the chance at the NHL level that he deserved given his success at the AHL level. While a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization, he appeared in just 11 games with the big club recording no points. Since joining the Capitals he has been given a chance to shine and has caught the attention of his new team by scoring his first NHL goal to go along with one assist in six games.

In his short stint with the Capitals he has proved to be a versatile forward playing both on the wing and at center. He is a big-bodied forward that plays with a lot of determination. He is good skater for his size and is relentless on the forecheck. If he continues to develop he has a good chance of becoming a solid third line NHL forward with the upside of becoming a second line forward.

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

Carrick has been busy this season playing in Hershey, Washington, and for Team USA at the WJC. He also has battled multiple injuries that he has overcome. He has had flashes of brilliance while playing with the Capitals, but for the most part has struggled to keep up with the physicality of the NHL. He is a very small defenseman that uses his skating ability to compensate for his lack of size. At times he has held onto the puck too long and has paid the price. He has great speed and vision, which allow him make effective breakout passes. He also is not afraid to jump into the play offensively.

The Capitals may have rushed Carrick into NHL play, as he appears to need a year or two more to develop at the AHL level. If he can bulk up and get stronger he will have a very long successful NHL career ahead of him. He projects as a top four defenseman in the next year or two.

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

Schmidt has shown a lot of promise in his first full professional season. He started the season with Bears, but was quickly called up by the Capitals, where he played 29 games. He spent a lot of time on the third pairing, but also played a good amount with Mike Green. As he got more comfortable, he became more confident offensively and began to start jumping into the play and shooting the puck more.

Schmidt is a heady defenseman that does not try to do too much with the puck. He is not the biggest guy out there, but he is not afraid to mix it up with opposition. He has an above average shot from the point. His skating is average and is one thing he will need to improve if he wants to become a full time NHL defenseman. Schmidt will continue to develop his skills in Hershey and will look to battle for a spot with the Capitals at the start of next season. He projects as a depth defenseman in the NHL as early as next season.

9. (10) Michael Latta, C, 6.0B
Trade with Nashville Predators, April 3rd, 2013

Latta has shown flashes of offensive prowess in his first full season with the Capitals. With the Bears he has recorded 12 goals and added 19 assists for 31 points in 46 games. He was very successful offensively at the OHL level scoring 247 points in 241 games, which proved he could put the puck in the net. Since joining the AHL ranks, he created a new identity as an agitating forward rather than being a dual threat like he was in junior.

At the beginning of the year he was given a chance to center the Capitals' fourth line and played very well. In 17 games he scored one goal and assisted on three others. Unfortunately he sustained an injury, which allowed Jay Beagle to replace him in the lineup, and he has been unable to regain his spot. While playing with the Capitals, Latta was very responsible defensively and used his strong skating ability to disrupt the opposition. Latta has a bright future ahead of him and most likely will be the Capitals fourth line center to start next season.

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

Wey has made significant strides forward this season moving from the Capitals ECHL affiliate Reading Royals to the Hershey Bears and now to the big club. After impressing at the AHL level, Wey was given a call up by the Capitals and his steady play has been huge for a team lacking defensive consistency. He is a stay at home blueliner that is not afraid to throw his big frame around. Hopefully he can keep up his high level of play and stick with the Capitals full time. He projects a second or third pairing defenseman.

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

Stephenson managed to stay healthy this season and it paid huge dividends. In 69 games with the Regina Pats, he scored 30 goals while picking up 59 assists for a total of 89 points. He is a versatile forward that is capable of playing both center and wing. He is a strong skater that can handle the puck with ease at very high speeds. Though he is not the biggest guy, he is very hard to knock off the puck. Not only is he a great offensive player, he is also a capable two way forward.  All signs point toward Stephenson joining the Hershey Bears after signing with the Capitals at the conclusion of the WHL playoffs

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

Sanford is a lanky forward that is bound for Boston College next season. His stats in both the EJHL and the USHL will not blow anyone away, but Sanford has loads of potential. He is by no means a power forward, but has the potential of becoming one with a few more years to grow into his big frame. The best asset of his game is his speed, which is outstanding for his size. The next few years he spends at Boston College under head coach Jerry York will be very important in his development. At this point in time he is a long-term project that the Capitals will keep a close eye on.

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

Lewington is a tough defenseman currently playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. He is not a flashy defenseman, but one that is highly reliable. He is also not afraid of the rough stuff and is willing to drop the mitt with anyone. This season he has shown some offensive promise by increasing his point total from 26 to 38, which is no too shabby for a stay at home blueliner. He will most likely return to Medicine Hat next season to continue his development. He has made some nice strides in his first season as a Capitals prospect and could make an impact down the line.

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

Djoos has settled in nicely as a sophomore in the SHL, Sweden's top professional league. In 47 games with Brynäs he scored one goal and added 12 assists, which is admirable for a 19-year-old defenseman playing again grown men. He also helped his native Sweden win a silver medal at the 2014 WJC with his strong play. He is an above average skater with an active stick, which he uses to separate opposing forwards from the puck. He still needs to get stronger and improve his overall defensive game before making the jump to play in North America. He is under contract with Brynäs for next season where he will continue to develop. He is a long-term project that the Capitals will continue to monitor.

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

Di Pauli is another American born prospect of the Capitals that played for their home country in the 2014 WJC. He played very well in the tournament in a fourth-line shut down winger role. His game is built around his ability to be effective in all three zones and shut down the opposing teams top players. He just finished his sophomore season with Notre Dame and will most likely return to college next season, where he will benefit from increased responsibility and playing time.

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

Herbert recently made the decision to sign with the Capitals at the conclusion of his junior season at Minnesota-Duluth. He is a crafty forward with great quickness. He sees the ice very well and is great at setting up his linemates. He also knows how to bury his chances. He is a bit undersized, but bulked up during his three years at Minnesota-Duluth.

Herbert will most likely start next season with Hershey until he proves he is worthy of a chance with the big club. Herbert is a high risk/high reward prospect and it will be very exciting to see how he pans out.

17. (NR) Brian Pinho, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2013

Pinho has quietly put together a stellar rookie season in the USHL playing for the Indiana Ice. He has appeared in 59 games for the Ice scoring 28 goals and assisting on 28 others. These are great numbers given he was playing high school hockey last season. He is a bit undersized, but has good skating ability. He is an above average stick-handler that is capable of slowing the game down and creating chances for his linemates.

Pinho will be making the jump to a very talented Providence Friar squad next season where he once again will face increased competition. If he can adapt the way he did in his first USHL season, he will be just fine. Pinho is definitely a guy to keep an eye on as he will likely continue to fly under the radar.

18. (13) Cameron Schilling, D, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent, March 27th, 2012

Schilling is a big blueliner that plays a stay at home role. He has experience two successful seasons in Hershey serving as a stabilizing factor on their back-end. Last season he appeared in just one game with Capitals and he appeared in just one more this season. The one big knock on his game is his skating ability. He has slow feet, which makes it tough for him to handle the quicker game at the NHL level. He will continue to play in Hershey and will serve as a call up with the big club when they need a healthy defensive body.

19. (4) Tomas Kundratek, D, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2008

Kundratek played just seven games with the Bears before suffering a torn ACL that ended his season. He was very productive offensively in Hershey last season scoring 16 goals and adding 15 assists in just 49 games. He also played in 25 games with the Capitals. He is a smallish puck-moving defenseman that relies on his high hockey IQ to make smart plays. This significant injury made him the biggest dropper on this list as other defenseman playing in Hershey were able to pass him while he was unable to play. He has one more year left on his contract with the Capitals, which will most likely decide his fate with the organization.

20. (9) Stanislav Galiev, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2010

Galiev is the second biggest dropper on this list thanks to his struggles again this season. Many thought he was just having a tough time transitioning to his first full professional season, but he struggled again this season. He has split time once again between Reading and Hershey. He has played minimal minutes in Hershey scoring just three goals while assisting on three others in 16 games. He was once a sniper in junior, but has not found his groove since. At this point in time, his future with the Capitals organization is unclear.