Capitals Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Dan Watkins

Despite being injured for nearly half of the year, Semyon Varlamov remains at the top of the list of Capitals prospects.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Semyon Varlamov
2. John Carlson
3. Karl Alzner
4. Michal Neuvirth
5. Mathieu Perreault
6. Marcus Johansson
7. Andrew Gordon 
8. Oskar Osala
9. Francois Bouchard
10. Dmitri Orlov
11. Dmitri Kugryshev
12. Cody Eakin
13. Stefan Della Rovere
14. Braden Holtby 
15. Steve Pinizzotto
16. Chris Bourque
17. Jay Beagle
18. Anton Gustafsson
19. Joel Broda
20. Zach Miskovic

1. Semyon Varlamov, G — 8.5B
6’2, 209 lbs. 
Drafted: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2006
April 27th, 1988

When the season started, Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore was named the official starter by coach Bruce Boudreau. This did not deter Varlamov though and only seemed to motivate him. Making the team out of training camp, Varlamov was able to rack up an impressive 12 wins in only 15 games. With a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage, the 21-year-old rookie looked to be on the right track to gaining starter status.

But when injuries took hold of his season, he had to miss about two months of action while rehabbing a sore groin and various knee issues. In his first game back against Ottawa, Varlamov looked shaky after an extended break from playing. Despite everything, Varlamov still holds the best athletic ability among goalies that have played for the Capitals this season. Moving side to side with ease, Varlamov simply needs to work on staying healthy and being more consistent. But these concerns are most prevalent among all young goalies, and the third goalie for the Russian Olympic team certainly has time on his hands to develop.

2. John Carlson, D — 8.0 B
6’3, 210 lbs. 
Drafted: 1st round, 27th overall, 2008
January 10th, 1990

After a deep run into the playoffs with the London Knights, Carlson joined the Bears last spring and was a large part of their championship team. The 20-year-old rookie has followed up that performance by registering an impressive +33 in Hershey in only 44 games played. On top of that gaudy statistic, the Massachusetts native has earned four goals and 31 assists on the year, ranking him in the top 10 in AHL rookie scoring.

Carlson has also played a handful of games with the Capitals this season, getting one assist in seven games played while not looking like a rookie whatsoever. He plays a strong overall game and shows no glaring weaknesses. What has been impressive during his stint with the Capitals is his calmness with the puck. Time after time, Carlson has been pressured by a heavy forecheck, but seems to outmuscle or escape the opposition by bulling through or by making a smart breakout pass. This calmness, coupled with a heavy shot and devastating hitting prowess, makes Carlson the Capitals top defensive prospect.

3. Karl Alzner, D — 7.5 B
6’2, 210 lbs
Drafted: 1st round, 5th overall, 2007
September 24th, 1988

In his second full season playing professionally, Alzner must be getting tired of the drive back and forth between Hershey and Washington. Already recalled and sent down around five times this year, Alzner has worked his way into the Capitals line-up for 21 games, registering five assists along the way. Often paired with Carlson while in Hershey, the 21-year-old Burnaby native is +27 throughout 35 games with the Bears.

There is absolutely nothing flashy about Alzner’s game. That said, he is the type of defenseman the Capitals have needed for a long time — someone who is smart with the puck, skates well, has good size, and can chip in offensively every so often. At times in the NHL, Alzner has looked a bit above his league or like he has hit a wall, often reacting a split second too late. But within the next season, look for these issues to be ironed over as he gains the trust of the coaching staff and possibly a permanent roster spot on the big club.

4. Michal Neuvirth, G — 7.5C
6’1, 200 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2006
March 23, 1988

Taken with the pick after Varlamov, Neuvirth has always somewhat been in his shadow during his development. Last spring though, Neuvirth broke out with an MVP performance in the Calder Cup playoffs. The 21-year-old grabbed the chance this season when Varlamov was hurt for an extended period of time. For the most part during his 17 games, Neuvirth looked like he belonged in the NHL. With an incredibly quick glove hand and close to perfect rebound control, Neuvirth looks calm, cool, and in control when he plays the game. Due to these skills, the Czech native was able to earn a .910 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA in the course of this season for the Capitals. Look for Neuvirth to work on his consistency and early in-game focus, something that has hampered him slightly during the season.

5. Mathieu Perreault, C — 7.5C
5’9, 166 lbs
Drafted: 6th round, 177th overall, 2006
January 5th, 1988

When injuries ravaged the Capitals early on in the season, an unlikely hero came to the forefront for a few games. Mathieu Perreault got his first crack at the NHL this season and he took full advantage of the opportunity. In 18 games mainly on the third line and the second power-play unit, Perreault scored his first two goals of his NHL career on top of five assists for seven total points. After starting his first NHL call-up strongly, Perreault seemed to fade, and after a nine-game pointless streak, was sent back down to Hershey for more conditioning.

With a little added muscle and more time developing between the NHL and AHL, Perreault could turn out to be a future second line center in the big league. He can skate like the wind and stop on a dime, making his quickness and agility one of his best attributes. With exceptional passing and an underrated shot, the QMJHL graduate could make quite the name for himself in the near future for the Capitals.

6. Marcus Johansson, C — 7.0B
5’11, 189 lbs
Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall, 2009
October 6, 1990

The most recent Capitals first-round draft pick is having a solid season playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League. Playing in 35 games, the Swedish center has eight goals and eight assists to build upon his last season of five goals and five assists in 45 games. The numbers don’t lie when it comes to Johansson. He is a very balanced and well-rounded hockey player. He’s solid if not spectacular in the defensive zone, and his offensive numbers have seen an increase with greater playing time. The captain of the Swedish World Junior team, Johansson is not elite in anything, but he is above average in everything that he does. With a quick release and good awareness in the offensive and defensive zones, Johansson could turn out to be a third or second line player in the NHL.

7. Andrew Gordon, RW — 6.5B
5’11, 180 lbs
Drafted: 7th round, 197th overall, 2004
December 13th, 1985

It has taken a while to develop Andrew Gordon, but the Capitals might have finally found a late-round steal in the draft. Now 24 years of age, Gordon is having his best season in the AHL by far and is in the top 15 in league scoring with a career-high 26 goals and 29 assists in only 56 games. Scoring is not the only thing Gordon does though. He is vital on the penalty kill and plays in all types of situations. Not afraid to get his nose dirty, Gordon has soft hands around the crease and is able to use them effectively, netting plenty of rebound goals during the course of the year.

Gordon has just about proven all there is to prove at the AHL level. A championship trophy, playing time in all situations, and an AHL all-star game experience has turned him into quite the prospect. While he may not have top-end talent to be in the top six in the NHL, Gordon will almost certainly make a perfect third liner. He is someone who is responsible defensively and can chip in some depth points to give the top two lines a break. Look for Gordon to get more time in the NHL next season to prove his worth.

8. Oskar Osala, LW — 6.5 B
6’4, 220 lbs
Drafted: 4th round, 97th overall, 2006
December 26th, 1987

Taking a step back this season in the rankings, Osala has not built on an average rookie campaign that saw him pot 23 goals in 75 games. To this date, he only has 15 goals and 12 assists in 49 games. Consistency looks as though it is always going to be the issue for Osala. A world-beater and budding power forward on one night, he can be completely invisible on the next. This is why he has not seen more time with the big club, despite his other good qualities.

Despite all of the setbacks, Osala’s skill set simply cannot be denied. For a 6’4 winger, Osala has the skating ability to play in the NHL. He also has the shot and the smarts to know where to be on the ice to get the puck. Putting the entire package together though is the problem. If he can finish out the year strong for Hershey, then he might have an outside shot at making the Caps at some point next season.

9. Francois Bouchard, RW — 7.0C
6’1, 188 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2006
April 26th, 1988

There were a lot of question marks surrounding Bouchard at the beginning of the season. Was he going to display the scoring touch that once netted him over 120 points in the QMJHL? Would he work harder to become stronger? How would he fit in with the Bears in his second professional season? Well, the jury is still out on Bouchard, but he is quickly starting to solve some of these questions with a productive season in Hershey.

Bouchard has built on his numbers from last season, registering 16 goals and 25 assists in 55 games. The 21-year-old Sherbrooke native appears to be giving a more consistent effort. Playing on a stacked Hershey team certainly can’t hurt his offensive numbers, but it seems as though Bouchard has started to turn the corner. If he can continue to improve his overall game to go with his quickness and offensive abilities, then he might see some time with the Capitals in the near future.

10. Dmitri Orlov, D — 7.0C
6’0, 197 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2009
July 23rd, 1991

And after impressing everyone at Capitals rookie camp, Orlov returned home to the KHL to hone his skill set for another season or two.

Besides an underwhelming performance at the World Juniors, Orlov is well on track to being a successful offensive defenseman. With four goals and three assists in 39 games in the KHL, Orlov is showing that he can get it done with limited playing time from the blue line. What makes Orlov unique is that he plays with a mean streak and is a very capable hitter for his size. If he can stay on track and be lured over from Russia, then the Capitals got a bargain at the end of the second round.

11. Dmitri Kugryshev, RW — 6.5C
5’11, 193 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2008
January 18, 1990

When Kugryshev was drafted, he had every intention of coming to North America to hone his skills, and he has done quite a bit more than just that.

Now in his second year playing for Quebec of the QMJHL, Kugryshev is building on a spectacular rookie campaign with 27 goals and 78 points in only 59 games. These numbers are currently good enough to put Kugryshev in the top five in league scoring, no small accomplishment in the high-scoring QMJHL. While he might not have a lot to prove in juniors anymore, making the next step will be tricky. Kugryshev plays like a young Tomas Fleischmann, who took a long time to break out of his shell and get used to the NHL. The road will be similar for the now 20-year-old skilled Russian forward. Expect a year or two in Hershey before he is ready to take on the NHL.

12. Cody Eakin, C — 6.5C
5’11, 179 lbs
Drafted: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2009
May 25th, 1991

Eakin uses his speed effectively every game to maximize his offensive potential. Already almost doubling his goal total from 24 last season to 41 this season in only eight more games, Eakin is having a breakout year on a lackluster Swift Current Broncos squad. Already signed to an entry-level deal by the Capitals, the fresh faced 18-year-old could turn out to be a steal in the third round. Before going pro, Eakin must add more muscle onto his frame without sacrificing his speed that allows him to blow by WHL defenders with ease.

13. Stefan Della Rovere, LW — 6.0B
5’11, 200 lbs
Drafted: 7th round, 204th overall, 2008
February 25th, 1990

Playing in his fourth season in the OHL, Della Rovere seems to have learned everything he can from junior hockey. The captain of the Barrie Colts has 17 goals and 37 points in 49 games. The important statistic for the 20-year-old though is his penalty minute total of 117. This is what the Capitals were looking for when they drafted the tough-nosed winger back in 2008. Della Rovere will never be a top two line player in the NHL, but with a mix of goal scoring ability coupled with the intense competitive drive that he owns, Della Rovere could be a mainstay on the bottom two lines in the NHL for a long time. For a seventh-round pick, it is a fairly sure bet that the Ontario native will see some time in the Capitals professional system at the end of this season and all of next. He already joined the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays at the end of last season.

14. Braden Holtby, G — 6.5 C
6’1, 202 lbs
Drafted: 4th round, 93rd overall, 2008
September 16th, 1989

Now in his first full year in the Capitals organization, Holtby has been quite the surprise for the Hershey Bears this season. With injuries occurring to Capitals goalies for what seems like all season, Holtby has got his chance to shine in Hershey while the older goalie prospects get playing time in Washington. And shine he has. In 24 games, the 20-year-old rookie has put up 17 wins with a sparkling 2.37 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Holtby is a very technically sound goalie with fast reflexes. He owns Varlamov’s side to side quickness and Neuvirth’s rebound control, along with an above average glove hand. Much like all young goalies, Holtby needs to work on consistency, but due to the fact that the Capitals are so deep with goalie prospects, he will have plenty of time to do so.

15. Steve Pinizzotto, C — 6.0C
6’1, 195 lbs
Signed: March 17th, 2007 as an undrafted free agent
April 26th, 1984

While Pinizzotto is an older prospect, the 25-year-old Mississauga native has finally found his role. Pinizzotto is the Bears pest, and he plays his role incredibly well. Getting in the faces of the opponents on a night in, night out basis is what he is best at. On top of those duties, Pinizzotto has seen his role and playing time increased from previous seasons. He is now playing even strength and some power-play time. That said, his best efforts are on the penalty kill, where he has scored three out of his nine goals in 52 games played.

Pinizzotto may be a late bloomer, but he has the chance to make it to the NHL in the near future. If he is qualified over the summer by the Capitals, look for him to gain some NHL playing time next season to see if he can hold his own. With a nice skating stride and killer instincts on the penalty kill, Pinizzotto should be able to fit in just fine.

16. Chris Bourque, LW — 6.0C
5’8, 180 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2004
January 29th, 1986

Bourque, once thought of as a top prospect in the Capitals system, is now more of an afterthought. After leaving the team at the beginning of the year when claimed by Pittsburgh, Bourque bounced around on all four lines of the Penguins, producing on none of them. When he was assigned back to the AHL, he was reclaimed by the team who drafted him and sent to Hershey.

Bourque produces at the AHL level, 48 points in only 32 games with the Bears this year. The problem is he is completely invisible at the NHL level. His forechecking abilities, passing, and quick shot are almost rendered useless. Bourque might just end up being a classic AAAA player — someone who can be an AHL all star every year, but for whatever reason, their skills just don’t translate to the NHL.

17. Jay Beagle, C — 6.0D
6’3, 201 lbs
Signed: March 28th, 2008 as an undrafted free agent
October 16, 1985

One of the hardest working Capitals prospects, Jay Beagle continues to give his all year in and year out. That effort has yielded time with the Capitals this season and Beagle was able to cash in on his opportunities, netting one goal and two points in six games.

Not thought of as an overly offensive player, Beagle excels in the corners and getting the dirty work done. He will never be confused with a top-six forward, but could be a solid contributor on the bottom two lines and on the penalty kill.

18. Anton Gustafsson, C — 6.0D
6’2, 194 lbs
Drafted: 1st round, 21st overall, 2008
February 25, 1990

The newly turned 20-year-old is spending his season playing for Bofors of the second tier Swedish league. His numbers are quite modest though for a first-round pick, only getting six goals and four assists in 25 games.

During training camp his efforts were nearly invisible and showed no display of standing out or skill. While he could not make a deep Hershey Bears roster, Gustafsson couldn’t make a Swedish elite league team either. There is still room for improvement since he is young, but as it is now, Gustaffson is not starting off his pro career well.

19. Joel Broda, C/W — 6.0D
6’0, 203 lbs
Drafted: 5th round, 144th overall, 2008
November 24th, 1989

Now in his fifth season in the WHL, the 20-year-old has nothing left to prove in juniors. Scoring 31 goals and 60 points in 57 games, the natural goal scorer is playing for the Calgary Hitmen for the rest of the season before possibly joining one of the Capitals minor-league teams for a playoff run.

Broda is trying to earn an entry-level deal. He knows how to find the net and owns an incredibly accurate shot. But can he translate his skills to the NHL? Despite having average size, Broda often plays like a small player. He can be pushed off the puck easily and appears to not be giving a solid effort every night. With improvements over these factors, Broda could make a nice niche for himself in the NHL. There are a ton of question marks though, and Broda will have many hurdles to overcome.

20. Zach Miskovic, D — 6.5D
6’1, 185 lbs
Signed: March 25th, 2009 as an undrafted free agent
May 8th, 1985

A surprise contributor on the Bears this season, Zach Miskovic is in his first professional season. Starting off slowly, the 24-year-old rookie has begun to get used to the speed and pace of the AHL, registering 14 assists and 16 points in 44 games.

Miskovic was an offensive defenseman in college for St. Lawrence, and looks to have rounded out his game well at the AHL level. He is never caught too far out of position, and plays a safe overall game. He makes the smart passes and shoots when he needs to when he gets time on the power-play unit. His ceiling is somewhat unknown though.