Capitals Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Dan Watkins

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Simeon Varlamov, G 8.5B
2. Karl Alzner, D 8.0B
3. John Carlson, D 7.5B
4. Michal Neuvirth, G 7.5C
5. Oskar Osala, LW 7.0B
6. Marcus Johansson, C 7.0B
7. Chris Bourque, LW 7.0C
8. Mathieu Perreault, C 7.0C
9. Dmitri Orlov, D 7.0C
10. Anton Gustafsson, C 7.0D
11. Francois Bouchard, RW 7.0D
12. Andrew Gordon, RW 6.5B
13. Dmitri Kugryshev, RW 6.5C
14. Stefan Della Rovere, LW 6.0B
15. Joel Broda, C/W 6.5D
16. Cody Eakin, C 6.0C
17. Braden Holtby, G 6.0C
18. Kyle Wilson, C 6.0D
19. Joe Finley, D 6.0D
20. Patrick Wey, D 6.0D

1. Simeon Varlamov, G – 8.5 B
6’1 183 lbs.
Born 4-27-88
Acquired: 1st Round, 2006

After just one season in North America, Varlamov will be battling Jose Theodore for the starting spot in Washington. Varlamov made the most of his opportunities last season, having successful stints with Hershey and Washington during the regular season. But the playoffs were where this athletic and quick netminder found his groove. Backstopping the Capitals to Game 7 of the second round, Varlamov, for the most part, played like a calm and collective veteran.

The young Russian goaltender should benefit from a full year in the NHL this season, which will allow him to finely tune his game while still displaying his raw athletic ability. If he can do these things, he is well on his way to becoming the franchise goaltender that the Capitals so desperately need.

2. Karl Alzner, D 8.0 B

6’2 206 lbs.
Born 9-24-88
Acquired: 1st Round, 2007

When Alzner was drafted at fifth overall in 2007, he was seen as an NHL-ready prospect. After spending only one season in juniors after the draft, he made his professional debut this past season, appearing in 30 games for the Capitals. He spent the rest of his season in Hershey, where he helped them win the 2009 Calder Cup.

Alzner is a steady all-around defenseman with no glaring weaknesses in his game. He is solid at both ends of the ice and is always in position. Only having two penalty minutes in his stint with the Capitals, it is easy to see that his positioning is a key part of keeping opposing players in check. While Alzner did suffer a concussion in the Calder Cup playoffs, he appears to be fully recovered and should take on a larger role with the Capitals next season.

3. John Carlson,  D – 7.5 B

6’3 210 lbs
Born 1-10-90
Acquired: 1st Round, 2008

In his short time in the organization, Carlson has been impressive. Carlson was the London Knights top defenseman, scoring 76 points in 59 games from the backline this year. When his season was over he joined the Hershey Bears, where he helped them win a Calder Cup and played in the top-four rotation. Already a large physical specimen for age 19, Carlson will most likely do as Alzner did last season, splitting time between Hershey and Washington. He will be able to play in the minors at 19 because he was drafted out of the USHL, not the OHL.

Carlson is capable of quarterbacking a power play and racking up points from crisp passes and hard shots from the point. For being so young, Carlson also knows when to pinch in and when to stay back. On top of being gifted offensively, the Massachusetts-born defenseman can step up and make tremendous hits, almost always catching the opposing player off guard. With a little work on his positioning, Carlson could turn into a top NHL defenseman.

4. Michal Neuvirth, G – 7.5 C

6’1 193 lbs
Born 3-23-88
Acquired: 2nd Round, 2006

Neuvirth got a little taste of everything in his first professional season in the Capitals organization. When playing in Europe didn’t work out, he started the year out in the ECHL and made the league’s All-Star Game. When an injury to Capitals backup goalie Brent Johnson occurred, Neuvirth was able to get some playing time in Hershey and with the Capitals. The calm Czech goaltender immediately proved that he could be special. After a short stint with the Capitals, Neuvirth backstopped the Hershey Bears to their 10th Calder Cup victory, earning MVP honors along the way.

Neuvirth has solid form and great positioning. He controls rebounds impressively and seems to remain calm even in the waning moments of a close game. Look for him to return as Hershey’s starter next season and get more time with the Capitals should injuries occur.

5. Oskar Osala, LW – 7.0 B
6’4 225 lbs
Born 12-26-87
Acquired: 4th Round, 2006

Osala had an up and down year in his first North American professional season. He started the year off on fire, even being at the top of the league in goal scoring after a few short weeks. But the grind of the season seemed to wear him down as the year went on. Osala put up a very respectable 23 goals in 75 games in Hershey, also adding six in 22 games during the Calder Cup run.

The one thing that Osala needs to work on above everything else is his consistency. The big power forward will be a force one night and then completely disappear the next. His unique skill set cannot be overlooked though, as he is one of the only prospects in the organization who will crash the net hard. Because of this, he is one of the most valuable prospects currently in the Capitals system. 

6. Marcus Johansson, C – 7.0 B
5’11 189 lbs
Born 10-6-90
Acquired: 1st Round, 2009

Staying with the trend of taking Swedish centers in the first round, the Capitals selected Johansson with the 24th overall pick in this June’s draft. Johansson is a well-rounded player who might not have a very high ceiling in his development, but is considered a somewhat "safe" pick at where he was taken. He could turn out to be a future second line center or he could fall into the role of an offensively gifted but defensively responsible third line center.

Johansson has a very fast and accurate shot to go along with above average passing abilities. He works hard every game and doesn’t take many shifts off. If he can stay healthy and concussion-free, he will be ready to make the jump to North America in the next year or two.

7. Chris Bourque, LW – 7.0 C
5’8 180 lbs
Born 1-29-86
Acquired: 2nd Round, 2004

Currently there is probably not a prospect in the system with more pressure on them then Chris Bourque. No longer on an entry-level deal, Bourque most now prove that he is a player, because he has nothing left to show at the AHL level after two Calder Cup victories in his young career. His skill set and work ethic are helping his cause however, because he would be able to play on any line and fit in if he can keep up and not be hampered by his size. If he can make the team, look for the feisty winger to start out as a fill-in or fourth-line player, and then work his way up if any injuries occur. With a strong shot and hockey sense that is well above average, Bourque must make the jump to the NHL this year or might not get another shot at it.

8. Mathieu Perreault, C – 7.0 C

5’9 166 lbs
Born 1-5-88
Acquired: 6th Round, 2006

Smaller players tend to struggle coming into their first professional season. That was not the case with Perreault, who was able to register 39 assists and 50 points for Hershey in his 77-game rookie campaign. A viable option for future second-line center, Perreault displayed his keen hockey sense and superb passing abilities in chocolate town all season. Although he has not received any playing time with the Capitals as of yet, look for him to see some time in 2009-10. His size is obviously an issue, and he must bulk up a little before he is ready for full-time duty in the NHL.

9. Dmitri Orlov, D – 7.0 C

6’0 197 lbs
Born 7-23-91
Acquired: 2nd Round, 2009

Thought to be a first-round pick by some, Orlov, a Russian, fell to the Capitals with the 55th overall pick in the second round. He certainly did not let anyone down at the annual development camp as he was one of the best defensemen on the ice.

Orlov is a slick puck-mover who has a mean streak to his game as well. He is not afraid to step up and make a hit and he will not back down from bigger opposing forwards. With extraordinary stick skills and a hard, accurate shot, Orlov mainly needs to work on his defensive positioning. Orlov may play in North America for Hershey next season.

10. Anton Gustafsson, C – 7.0 D

6’2 194 lbs
Born 2-25-90
Acquired: 1st Round, 2008

Gustafsson has strong passing abilities and a quick, hard, but oftentimes inaccurate shot. His injury problems are a concern, however, as Gustafsson has not been able to play in a full season for a couple of years now. Most recently, he suffered a concussion at the 2009 Capitals prospects development camp.

If he can work on his conditioning and stay healthy, he will be able to potentially fight for the second line center spot in Washington in a few short seasons. There is a small chance that he will come over for training camp and play for the Hershey Bears this next season.

11. Francois Bouchard, RW – 7.0 D

6’1 188 lbs
Born 4-26-88
Acquired: 2nd Round, 2006

After being one of the highest scoring players in the QMJHL the past few seasons, Bouchard turned pro in 2008-09 and enjoyed a somewhat successful rookie campaign, posting 15 goals and 35 points in 64 games. Much like Osala, however, he would seem like a world-beater one night and then play like he wasn’t interested on the next. Moving ahead, playing hard every shift is going to be key in the next step of Bouchard’s development.

A decent sized right winger, Bouchard has all the tools to be a successful second line player in the NHL. His passes are on target and he has an accurate shot to go along with above average speed. His consistency issues might be due to his reluctance to go into the corners and fight for the puck. Many times last season, he was pushed off the puck very easily when he was close to the boards. If he develops further offensively, look for him to possibly get a game or two with the Caps in 2009-10.

12. Andrew Gordon, RW – 6.5 B

6’0 195 lbs
Born 12-13-85
Acquired: 7th Round, 2004

Quite possibly one of the safest bets in the organization to make the NHL one day, Gordon is developing into a perfect third line or energy player who can provide offense when necessary. He works well in the corners, has a highly-tuned hockey sense, and never backs down or takes any shifts off. To go along with his strong defensive awareness, Gordon has some offensive skill to speak of. A quick and accurate release, as well as soft hands around the net, are notable. He could possibly be a third liner who can put up 10 or 15 goals in a season at the NHL. This next season being his third in the organization, he’ll probably see time as a bottom-six injury call-up.

13. Dmitri Kugryshev, RW – 6.5 C

5’11 193 lbs
Born 1-18-90
Acquired: 2nd Round, 2008

After being drafted 58th overall in 2008, the Moscow native left Russia to pursue a North American junior career in the QMJHL. In his first season, he impressed many with his 74 points in only 57 games played. He was also a noticeable force and one of the Quebec Remparts best players in the playoffs.

Kugryshev is on the right track on his development. Already owning a soft set of hands and strong offensive instincts, he needs to work on his overall game. Defensive positioning and getting stronger around the boards are a must if he hopes to one day make the jump to the NHL. He will probably need one more season in the QMJHL and then some seasoning in Hershey before he is ready to step onto NHL ice.

14. Stefan Della Rovere, LW – 6.0 B
5’11 200 lbs
Born 2-25-90
Acquired: 7th Round, 2008

Della Rovere is a unique prospect. Picked in the last round of the draft in 2008, to go along with almost a point per game this past season, Della Rovere also racked up a massive 146 penalty minutes in the OHL. He is not all about fighting though. He was part of Team Canada at the 2009 WJC. At the recent Capitals development camp, Della Rovere stood out as one of the best forwards overall in the entire camp, though an injury cut his week short by a few days. The Capitals have found a potential agitator who can fight, score, and add energy to the bottom two lines. A player like this doesn’t come along every year, and if Della Rovere continues to develop like he currently is, he will be playing in the NHL sooner rather than later.

15. Joel Broda, C/W – 6.5 D

6’0 196 lbs
Born 11-24-89
Acquired: 5th Round, 2008

Broda could be another late-round steal from the 2008 draft for the Capitals. Scoring 53 goals between two teams this past season in the WHL, Broda certainly knows how to put the puck in the net at the junior level. The big question is whether or not he can do this as a pro.

Broda plays both wing and center, and has been successful at both positions. While Broda’s hockey sense and shot are both very good, his passing skills are probably average at best. Most likely a winger at the professional level, Broda will either play another overage year in juniors or move to the AHL or ECHL. Like most young goal scorers, he needs to work on his defensive game and preparing himself for the speed of the professional level.

16. Cody Eakin, C – 6.0 C

5’11 176 lbs
Born 5-24-91
Acquired: 3rd Round, 2009

One of the swiftest players at the recent development camp, Eakin made a very strong first impression after being drafted earlier in the summer. Eakin’ quick feet often allow him to blow by opposing defensemen to the outside. To go along with speed and quickness, he also has an accurate shot and solid defensive awareness. The main thing Eakin needs to work on is his conditioning and weight. He needs to bulk up enough to be able to out-muscle opposing defenders. Eakin most likely will take a couple years to pan out, but if he can fill out with out losing a step, he has a good chance.

17. Braden Holtby, G – 6.0 C

6’1 200 lbs
Born 9-16-89
Acquired: 4th Round, 2008

Holtby had a solid year for Saskatoon of the WHL and was the third string goalie for the Bears Calder Cup run. Now signed to an entry-level deal, he could back up Neuvirth in Hershey this next season, or get his own net in South Carolina.

Holtby is a quick butterfly goaltender who controls his rebounds considerably well. He can get beat upstairs with regularity, however, and must work on positioning if he hopes to be successful on the professional level. His potential is a bit of an unknown at this stage.

18. Kyle Wilson, C – 6.0 D

6’0 200 lbs
Born 12-15-84
Acquired: Free Agent Signing on July 5th, 2007

The former Minnesota Wild ninth-round draft pick has found a home in the Capitals organization at the AHL level with Hershey. Problem is, he is starting to look very comfortable in that role and might not ever take the next step. Given a qualifying offer this summer, Wilson needs to have a strong training camp just to possibly get in to his first NHL game this season.

Wilson has solid offensive awareness and abilities to back up an impressive all-around game. But has he already reached his ceiling, scoring around 60 points in each of his first three seasons with Hershey? This year will be a make or break year for Wilson, and he has to clearly outplay other prospects for a shot at making it to the big show.

19. Joe Finley, D – 6.0 D

6’7 240 lbs
Born 6-29-87
Acquired: 1st Round, 2005

While he has the size and hitting ability to possibly turn into a shut-down defenseman, Finley’s foot speed and passing leaves much to be desired. After four seasons at the University of North Dakota, Finley will be making his full-time pro debut next season.

Switched to forward for the last day of the 2009 development camp, Finley could turn out to be an NHL enforcer. He doesn’t seem to have the stick skills or quickness to clear pucks out of the zone affectively as a defenseman at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see whether he starts on defense for Hershey this season despite their depth at the position, or if he will be converted to a full-time forward.

20. Patrick Wey, D – 6D

6’3 203 lbs
Born 3-21-91
Acquired: 4th Round, 2009

Strong two-way defensemen are always a need for any team, and the Capitals believe they might have found one in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Wey is known for his quick and accurate outlet passes and playing smart in his own zone. He also possesses a strong shot from the point and above average hockey sense.

Wey will be attending Boston College in the fall. After coming off an impressive 34-point, 58-game campaign with Waterloo of the USHL, Wey has to prove himself at the next level before he is considered to be a solid NHL prospect. But if he can pull all of his talents together, he just might make the Caps faithful forget that he is from Pittsburgh.