Skilled forwards dominate prospect ranks for Washington Capitals

By Patrick Harbolick
Photo: Evgeny Kuznetsov is yet another exceptionally skilled European-trained player in the Capitals’ system. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With the Washington Capitals‘ top-four prospects graduating, there was a lot of movement among the top-20. Evgeny Kuznetsov followed up a fantastic 2011 World Junior Championship (WJC) with a spectacular season in the KHL and has taken over the top spot among the Capitals prospects. There’s been significant movement in the top-10 and some fresh faces join the top-20 this spring. Many of their prospects will see time with the Hershey Bears (AHL) this spring, and will compete for a roster spot in Washington down the road.

1. (6) Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 26th overall, 2010

Among the Capitals prospects who are not currently playing in the NHL, Kuznetsov has been the most impressive. He was putting together a nice campaign for Traktor (KHL) before the 2011 WJC, but it’s there that he really set the world on fire. The youngest player on Team Russia, he finished tied for second in scoring in the tournament, notching four goals and adding seven assists in seven games. He had three assists in the championship game versus Canada, as Russia came back from a three goal deficit in the third period and won 5-3. He was selected as one of the three best players on his team by the tournament coaches and was also named to the tournament All-Star team. Full of confidence, he returned to the KHL and posted 18 points in Traktor’s final 13 games. Overall, he finished the KHL season with 17 goals and 15 assists, leading his team in goals and points. His 17 goals are second-most all-time for a 19-year-old in Russian history. He was named to the KHL All-Star Team, making him the youngest player ever named to the team and while there, won the KHL Breakaway Challenge with some goofy moves. Traktor did not make the playoffs, and he wasn’t traded at the trade deadline, as some expected. Rather, he was retained and continues to be loved in Chelyabinsk.

Of all the Capitals prospects, Kuznetsov may have the most offensive ability and upside. He is a phenomenal stick-handler and passer, which complement his natural goal-scoring abilities. He’s a good skater and is well-known for his competitive fire along the boards, battling for loose pucks. As with most young players, he needs to work on his strength and play without the puck. If he continues to work on these areas, he projects to be a great top-six forward, with the potential to crack the top line.

He still has one year left on his contract with Traktor and is expected to stay in Russia for the 2011-12 season. After that, it’s unclear if he’ll make the trip overseas to North America. He’s said repeatedly that he will not play in the AHL, but he could be playing the NHL as early as the 2012-13 season.

2. (5) Marcus Johansson, C, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 24th overall, 2009

If Kuznetsov’s season has been the most remarkable among Capitals’ prospects, Johansson comes in at a very close second. He made the team out of training camp, and has acquitted himself well as a 20-year-old rookie so far. While his point total (18) isn’t mind-blowing, it’s to be expected for a young player adjusting to the North American game. He’s missed some time this year due to lower-body injuries, and even had a two game conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears, in which he was held off the score sheet. If anything, the most impressive thing about Johansson’s season is his progress. Early in the season, he wasn’t getting that much ice time and looked relatively invisible. Not anymore. He’s getting more ice time, and he’s responded, with 12 points in his last 26 games, as compared to six in the previous 26. His all-around game has improved dramatically, and many believe he’s only a few short years away from centering the second line and contributing on a nightly basis for the Capitals.

Speed is one of Johansson’s greatest assets, especially when combined with his silky-smooth playmaking abilities. His hockey IQ has been praised, and if anything, he needs to work on shooting the puck more. Additionally, he needs to work on his strength, play in all three zones, and consistency, as most youngsters do. He projects to be a solid second-line center, with offensive and defensive abilities. At the very least, he’ll be a good third-liner with some offensive pop.

With increasing ice time, expect Johansson to continue to develop into the all-around player he has the potential to be. Going into next season, it’s very possible he’ll be centering the second-line, leading the way in all three zones for his line.

3. (13) Braden Holtby, G, 6.5B
Acquired: 4th round, 93rd overall, 2008

Holtby has had a spectacular season for Hershey, posting a 14-6-2 record to go along with a sterling 1.98 goals against average, a phenomenal .930 save percentage, and five shutouts. Hershey has battled serious injury problems this season, yet is still second in the league in wins and third in points. Holtby has found his way to injury list as well, missing time with a lower-body injury. He was also named to the 2011 AHL All-Star Team, a year after being named to the ECHL All-Star Team. He’s also earned some time in the NHL, due to injuries to Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. He won his NHL debut in November against the Boston Bruins after replacing Neuvirth in the third period and received his first start two days later, a 3-2 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. After playing a few more games, he was sent down to Hershey. He was re-called in late January, and played three more games. Overall, he’s played eight NHL games this season, posting a 4-2-2 record, a goals against average of 2.47, and a .910 save percentage. Modest numbers, but not too shabby for a 21-year-old goaltender in only his second professional season.

With size and solid positioning, Holtby is the prototypical butterfly goaltender. His quick lateral movement allows him to make many pad saves but he’s also known for his brilliant glove hand. His rebound control is good as well, but he does need to work on protecting the upper portions of the net. He’s developed nicely this season, showing his ability to make key saves and playing with a little snarl, which is uncommon for a goaltender. He projects to be a potential starter in the NHL, but is probably better slotted as a back-up.

The emergence of Varlamov and Neuvirth as solid starting options leaves a crowded crease in Washington. Holtby may have to look elsewhere to crack an NHL line-up, but for now he’s shown he can be a spot-starter when injuries arise. He’ll most likely spend next season in Hershey, biding his time until injuries or a trade pushes him into more NHL duty.

4. (8) Dmitri Orlov, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2009

In his third season in the KHL, Orlov strutted his stuff for Metallurg. In 45 games, he posted 12 points to go along with 43 penalty minutes, impressive totals for a 19-year-old defenseman playing in a men’s league. At the WJC, he shined along with Kuznetsov. In seven games, he posted nine points and a plus-10, helping Russia capture gold and being named to the tournament All-Star Team on the way. His KHL team missed the playoff and he hopped across the pond to join Hershey. In his North American debut, he notched his first career point, an assist, in a 4-3 win over Albany. So far, he’s posted two assists in four games for the Bears, and head coach Mark French has said he’s been impressive.

With incredible hockey sense and passing ability, Orlov is the prototypical offensive defenseman. He skates well and has a booming shot from the point. As with most young offensive defenseman, his positioning and defensive acumen need work, but he plays a physical game from the back end. As he gains experience, he’s expected to round out his overall game and projects to be a top-four defenseman with some seasoning.

Orlov signed a three-year, entry-level deal that will kick in for next season. He’ll finish out the season playing in Hershey, a significant addition to their line-up as they gear up for the playoffs. Next season, he has an outside chance of making the Capitals’ roster, but will most likely spend the season honing his game with the Bears.

5. (7) Mathieu Perreault, C, 6.5B
Acquired: 6th round, 177th overall, 2006

The offensive dynamo played his way onto the Capitals’ roster this season, but has been sent down to Hershey frequently. In 35 NHL contests, he’s scored seven goals and added seven assists. In 20 games with the Bears, he’s potted 26 points. Much like Johansson, Perreault hasn’t exactly lit up the NHL score sheets. But much like Johansson, it’s to be expected. Perreault is still young (23) and has plenty of time to gain confidence in his game and bring consistency to the NHL level. Like Johansson, the future is bright for Perreault and it’s all a matter of continuing to grow as he gains experience.

Perreault has great hands and a nose for the net, in spite of his less-than-intimidating size. He’s shown flashes of his immense hockey sense and his superb playmaking abilities this season, and now it’s down to bringing it on a nightly basis. He needs to gain strength, as he’s over pushed off the puck easily, and needs to work on honing his all-around game. More than anything, he needs to find the consistency required of NHL players, or else he’ll never be able to keep a spot in the line-up long-term.

But that’s in the long term. For now, Perreault is currently helping Hershey in the regular season, with the expectation that’ll he contribute offensively as the Bears aim for a third consecutive Calder Cup. However, he may see time with the Capitals in the playoffs, as he’s needed. Next season, he’ll vie for a roster spot along with a plethora of other centers, assuming he re-signs. He projects to be a third-line center in the NHL, but he could crack the top-six or may be moved to wing, where he’ll have less defensive responsibility and more chances to create offensively.

6. (9) Cody Eakin, C, 6.5B
Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2009

Eakin is following up the fantastic season he had in the WHL in 2009-10 with another amazing campaign in 2010-11. In 50 games split between the Swift Current Broncos and Kootenay Ice, he’s notched 31 goals and added 40 assists. If he hadn’t missed several games with Canada at the WJC, he would be on pace to surpass his season-high of 91 points. But boy are the Canadians glad he was with them for the wild ride to the silver medal. In a star-studded lineup, Eakin only managed three points in seven games, but he really showed off his speed and versatility. He played on the checking line for the most of the tournament and was one of the most consistent of Canada’s players. He returned to Swift Current after the tournament, but was quickly traded to Kootenay for five players and three draft picks. Since finding a home with the Ice, he’s posted 32 points in 20 games as his team is gearing up for a run at the Memorial Cup.

With his combination of speed, physicality, and scoring touch, Eakin looks to be the complete package. He’s physical on the forecheck and his quickness makes him a solid penalty killer. It’s unclear if his scoring abilities will translate to the NHL level, but his competitiveness and willingness to do the dirty work make him a valuable asset. With continued development in strength and defensive play, Eakin projects to be the quintessential third-line, checking forward. He may be able to score a bit in the NHL as well, chipping in an offensive bonus that’s unexpected of checking forwards.

After his Memorial Cup run with the Ice ends, Eakin is expected to join the Bears for the playoffs, as he did last season. Moving forward, he’s expected to start the 2011-12 season in Hershey, but he has a chance to crack the NHL roster depending on his play in training camp. More than likely, he’ll spend the year with Hershey, adjusting to the professional game and honing his all-around play, and perhaps see a few call-ups to the Capitals.

7. (12) Stanislav Galiev, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall, 2010

The slick Russian Galiev is scoring at a point-per-game pace in the notoriously high-scoring QMJHL, with 33 goals and 27 assists in 58 games, which is a good follow-up to his solid rookie campaign last year. He’s third on St. John in goals and fourth in points, but scoring sensation and 2011 draft prospect John Huberdeau has really taken over the team. Galiev was expected to ignite the offense for St. John, but a more balanced scoring attack has served them well, as they are far and away the best team in the ‘Q’. This season, they have the most points, have scored the most goals, and allowed the fewest goals. Galiev failed to make the 2011 WJC roster for Russia, but with the politics involved, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Still, he’s failed to truly wow this season and take the next step as the offensive catalyst for the Sea Dogs. Still, he’s only 19 years old and has plenty of time to show off in the playoffs, where he shined last season. And for all the flak he’s received, he’s still posting a point-per-game in a tough junior circuit.

The Capitals tabbed Galiev in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, after he drew comparisons to a current Cap, Alexander Semin. Like Semin, Galiev is known for his sublime skill and slick skating. He’s creative with the puck and can dance around defenders. He’s a great passer, but this season he’s shooting more and being rewarded for it. His effort level is praised, and if he just continues to work on his strength and defensive game, he could prove to be a solid complementary piece down the road, as a second- or third-liner in the NHL.

St. John has a great chance to make it out of the QMJHL playoffs and compete for the Memorial Cup, and Galiev will be there every step of the way. After the season, he may join the Hershey Bears for the run to the Calder Cup Championship. For the 2011-12 season, he’s expected to return to St. John for his last year of junior eligibility.

8. (17) Patrick Wey, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 115th overall, 2009

Moving up nine spots, Wey has shown significant improvement in his second season with Boston College. In 32 games, he potted seven points as a young, developing sophomore. But it’s really at the 2011 WJC where he shined. Although he didn’t register a point in six games, he was very reliable on the back end, playing against some of the best young players in the world. He didn’t play all that much, but he was a frequent, effective penalty-killer and he did his job as a shut-down defenseman. Back with Boston, he’s playing well as the Eagles are gearing up to defend their 2010 National Championship title.

Wey has had an interesting development pattern to say the least. His play in the USHL pegged him as a solid puck-mover from the blue line, but his point totals in college wouldn’t necessarily reflect that. But he showed at the WJC that he uses his size and speed effectively and can be relied on in critical defensive situations. Perhaps he’ll never display his offensive potential at the NHL level, but his ability to adapt to a more defensive game has to impress the Capitals’ brass. With more and more experiencing and likely some seasoning in the AHL, he could prove to be a useful defenseman down the line.

Next season, Wey is expected to return to Boston College for his junior season and will hopefully continue to progress as he matures physically and learns to play in all three zones. Look for him to also spend his senior year with the Eagles, before Washington is forced to make a decision on whether or not to sign him.

9. (NR) Samuel Carrier, D, 7.0D
Acquired: 6th round, 176th overall, 2010

Like Wey, Carrier has also seen a huge rise in his stock as a prospect. It’s all due to the fantastic offensive campaign he’s having for the upstart Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL). Right now, he is ninth in league among defensemen with 46 points, despite missing several games due to injury. He’s also tenth in the entire ‘Q’ with a plus-40. Lewiston is having a fine season so far, having already clinched a playoff spot. Although they’re not the most talented team, they have a shot at being a dark horse in the playoffs and potentially the Memorial Cup.

With offensive instincts and a booming shot from the point, Carrier is the prototypical offensive defenseman who can quarterback the power play. He’s a solid skater who’s confident rushing the puck up the ice, but he does need to work on his defensive game. He’s aggressive in the defensive zone, despite being only average-sized, but he needs to work on his strength and positioning. If he continues to develop on the defensive side of the game and his offense continues to grow, it’s entirely possible he could crack an NHL roster and quarterback the power play.

Carrier will likely return for his third season with Lewiston next season, and he’ll be relied on heavily to be an offensive leader and a stabilizing force on the back end with the amount of experience he’s accrued. Down the line, look for him to get some seasoning with Hershey before he’s ready for the Show.

10. (NR) Caleb Herbert, C, 7.0D
Acquired: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010

After a stellar season in high school, Herbert jumped at the chance to play for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. He’s a top-20 scorer in the league this season, with 36 points in 39 games, even though he’s missed several games due to competing in World Junior A Challenge and to injury. Currently, he leads the team in points, in spite of the time he’s missed and his relative inexperience.

Herbert plays a high-skill game, using his speed and hockey sense to make plays and put points on the board. While his numbers are impressive, it remains to be seen if his skills will translate the AHL level, let alone the to the NHL. He has gain more strength if he hopes to compete at higher levels and round out his game. Right now, he’s a long-term project, but his raw offensive abilities leave many salivating at his future. Ultimately, it’ll be top-six or bust for a player of Herbert’s capabilities.

Next season, Herbert is slated to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The Capitals aren’t rushing him and he’ll have plenty of time to round out his game at the NCAA level and hopefully contribute offensively. Expect him to play in college for at least a couple of seasons, if not more.

11. Jay Beagle, C, 5.5B
Acquired: Free agent, March 26th, 2008

The feisty center, Beagle has seen time at both the NHL and AHL levels this season. In 23 NHL contests, he’s potted two goals and added an assist to go along with a plus-one. In 34 AHL games, he’s scored 14 points. Still young, Beagle has impressed with his tenacity on the forecheck and the backcheck. He’s been a physical force in the bottom-six, adding energy to the Capitals line-up. A versatile player, he’s seen time at both center and wing for the Capitals. Currently, he’s with Washington, but it’s unclear how many games he’ll play as the Capitals gear up for the playoffs. He may be better served getting more ice time with the Bears, but for now he’s on Washington’s active roster.

A big, physical player, Beagle is a perfect fit for the bottom-six, with the ability to muck and grind and help the team succeed. His physicality and dedication to the forecheck bring energy to the line-up and serve the Capitals well, as they’ve often been seen as "too soft". There’s isn’t anything soft about Beagle’s game. Right now, his offensive abilities aren’t too impressive, but his combination of size and competitiveness make him a valuable grinder. Now it’s just a matter of continuing to show up to work every day and playing hard when he gets the chance. As it stands, he projects to be a useful bottom-six player for many years to come.

With a complicated off-season ahead of the Capitals, there will likely be some changes to the crowded bottom lines for next season. More than likely, Beagle with make the roster out of camp, probably on the fourth-line. He could be sent down to Hershey for more seasoning, but he’s likely ready at this point for full-time NHL duty, although his upside isn’t very high.

12. (10) Francois Bouchard, RW, 7.0D
Acquired: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2006

Bouchard has seriously underwhelmed in his fourth professional season. He failed to make the Capitals’ roster out of camp, although it was highly competitive. He’s missed some time due to injury, but when he’s been in the lineup, he’s struggled to find consistency. A streaky scorer by nature, he’s been unable to step up to the plate and take the lead of a team looking for an offensive leader. In 57 games, he’s only mustered nine goals and 10 assists. Simply put, that won’t cut it. Bouchard is a one-dimensional player, and if he can’t light up the AHL, what chance does he have of scoring in the Show? However, most young players struggle for consistency in their early years and these growing pains might just be necessary for Bouchard to blossom into a competitive NHLer.

A shifty skater, Bouchard is known for his creative one-on-one moves and his superior passing abilities, although he does get his shots off quickly. He needs to add more strength if he hopes to compete in the ultra-physical NHL, but more than anything he needs to work on his play without the puck and finding the consistency expected of an NHL player. If he continues to struggle in that department, he may never crack an NHL roster. Alternatively, if he rounds out his game he could be an effective scoring winger.

Hopefully Bouchard can find his game during the stretch drive to the Calder Cup and he can help the Bears as they vie for their third consecutive championship. Assuming he re-signs, watch Bouchard’s performance in training camp next season; it may write his future as a player. If he doesn’t crack the roster, he may have to look elsewhere for another opportunity to play in the NHL.

13. (11) Dmitri Kugryshev, RW,6.5D
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2008

Kugryshev has struggled offensively along with Bouchard. He was supposed to take a step forward and help spearhead the offense with Bouchard, but instead he’s also failed to set the world on fire. In 53 AHL games, he’s put up a meager 14 points. He was even sent down to the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) for a few games, presumably to get some of his confidence back. Like Bouchard, he’s also missed some time due to injury. Hopefully he can find his game and turn it on in the Calder Cup, as the Bears will need all the help they can get in order to make a grueling playoff push.

Projected to be a scoring forward, it’s a little surprising Kugryshev hasn’t been able to follow up his offensively dominant seasons in the ‘Q’ with effective campaigns in the AHL. He competes down low and uses a quick release to score, but he isn’t very fast or creative with the puck. His skill set translates decently to a third-line role, but it’s uncertain if he’ll demonstrate the consistency required of an NHL forward. He also needs to work on his defensive play if he hopes to stick in the Show. It’s hard to say what his future with the Capitals is, but he still has a few years left on his contract to prove himself.

Training camp will be a true test for Kugryshev next season, but he’ll likely spend this coming season in the AHL, honing his game. He still needs some experience and needs to re-gain his confidence if he hopes to make it to the NHL.

14. (19) Patrick McNeil, D, 6.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 118th overall, 2005

McNeil missed the beginning of the season for the Bears, recovering from a shoulder injury. Upon his return, he provided a stabilizing force for the Hershey back end, which has faced a lot of upheaval this season due to injuries. In 34 games so far, he’s posted 14 points and even earned a recall to the Capitals, although he didn’t see any NHL action. He back with Hershey now, and has provided a boost to their playoff fortunes. He may be one of the Bears most key, consistent defenseman, which is admirable for such a relatively young player.

With slick moves and great passing abilities, McNeil is a puck-mover from the back end who can rush the puck up ice. He still needs to work on his defensive positioning and bulk up if he hopes to crack the NHL line-up, but his progress so far is promising. Down the line, with more experience and improved all-around play, he has a chance to make the Capitals.

Next season, McNeil has a chance to crack the Capitals’ roster, but will more than likely play in Hershey, with potential call-ups due to injuries. The Capitals have a fair amount of depth on defense, so McNeil has plenty of time to develop and grow into a all-around player.

15. (15) Philipp Grubauer, G, 6.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 112th overall, 2010

The German goaltender has had an up-and-down season in the OHL for the Kingston Frontenacs. In 38 games, he posted a 22-13-3 record, to go along with an ugly 3.62 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. The Frontenacs were also having an up-and-down season this year, but they’ve since clinched a playoff berth. Unfortunately, Grubauer won’t be there to help them. He has returned to Germany to recover from a bout of mononucleosis that’s knocked him out for the season.

Grubauer plays big in the net and is really good at covering the bottom of the net. However, he can be beaten by shots up high and can be inconsistent at times. After a great season with the dominant Windsor Spitfires, he had a chance to prove himself with a weaker Kingston squad. And the results have been mixed. His record is strong, but his goals against average and save percentage aren’t that impressive. It’s hard to gauge Grubauer’s progress so far. The illness concerns have stolen precious development from him, and he’s battled inconsistency. With more seasoning at the AHL level, he has a chance to earn spot duty at the NHL level. Long-term, he could make it as a starter but is probably more likely to be back-up if anything.

Grubauer is likely to battle for playing time with the Hershey Bears next season, as he tries to gain experience and learn to be a professional. It’s unclear how much time he’ll get, but he could be a solid back-up for Holtby .

16. (18) Zach Miskovic, D, 6.0D
Acquired: Free agent, March 25th, 2009

The two-way defenseman has had a good campaign for Hershey thus far, putting up 16 points in 51 games. Along with McNeil, Miskovic has been a young, steadying force on the blue line for the Bears. He’s been a consistent player on the back end, helping the Bears on their quest to capture the Calder Cup.

Miskovic plays a solid game in all three zones, relying on good positioning to succeed on defense and confidence to rush the puck to do well on the offensive side of the puck. He needs to bulk up a bit and work on his overall game in order to make it to the NHL. Down the road, he projects as a decent two-way option who can eat up some minutes and succeed in a limited role.

This season, Miskovic will continue to help the Bears as they battle for the Calder Cup. He’ll probably spend next year in Hershey as well, as he continues to develop and learn effective defense at the professional level.

17. (20) Phil DeSimone, C, 6.0D
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2007

The playmaker is having a solid senior season for the University of New Hampshire. He’s the third leading scorer on a strong Wildcats team. He’s potted nine goals and added 27 assists in 34 games. The Wildcats are having a successful season and look to have a chance at winning the national championship.

DeSimone is an older player who shows good hockey sense and uses his speed to create offensively. As with most young players, he needs to round out his game and bulk up if he wants to play at the NHL level.

Following the completion of his senior season, DeSimone may join the Bears for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Next season, he’ll likely compete for a roster spot in Hershey and he’s at least a few years away from sniffing an NHL call-up.

18. (NR) Brett Flemming, D, 6.0D
Acquired: 5th round, 145th overall, 2009

The offensively inclined defender is having a great season with a powerhouse St. Michaels Majors team. In his fourth season with the team, he’s potted four goals and added 35 assists in 61 points, good for 13th in scoring among defenders. Amazingly, he leads in the entire OHL with a plus/minus of plus-50. St. Michaels has been dominant this season, winning with a balanced attack, and looks to be a contender for the Memorial Cup.

The strength of Flemming’s game is his offensive contributions, but his defense has improved this season as well, as evidenced by his league-leading plus/minus. He’s a skillful passer who is adept at anticipating offensive opportunities for his teammates. His defensive game needs some work and he needs to bulk up in order to compete at higher and higher levels.

Flemming has done well for himself this season, but it’s probably to be expected as he’s a much older player on a great team. When St. Michaels’ season is over, look for him to join the Bears at some point. Going into next season, he’ll probably play with Hershey and look to hone his game in the hopes of making the NHL. At this time, though, the chances look rather slim. He could prove to be an effective AHL defender however.

19. (NR) Garrett Mitchell, RW, 5.0D
Acquired: 6th round, 175th overall, 2009

As captain of a struggling Regina Pats team, Mitchell has done well for himself, racking up 47 points and 121 penalty minutes in 65 games. Regina is the second-worst team in the WHL, but Mitchell has strutted his stuff this season, putting up modest point totals and agitating as he does best.

An exceptional leader, Mitchell is known to stick up for his teammates and play physically. He’s great on the forecheck and is a competitive battler out on the ice. He excels doing the "dirty work", using his good speed and determination to pressure defenders and force turnovers. He still needs to build up his strength and learn to play in all three zones before he’s truly ready for the Show.

Look for Mitchell to join Hershey after the WHL season is completed and add a boost of physicality to the line-up. He’ll likely make the Bears next campaign, but he’s still several years away from competing for an NHL roster spot.

20. (NR) Dustin Stevenson, D, 5.0D
Acquired: Free agent, April 5th, 2010

In his first professional season, Stevenson has acquitted himself well so far with South Carolina. He’s notched 12 points in 52 games. The Stingrays are having a good season, and are a legitimate contender for the ECHL championship.

A big body on the blue line, Stevenson is exactly what you’d expect from a shutdown defenseman: imposing and a nasty competitor. He uses his size to crush other opponents, but he has a bit of an offensive side to his game. He can pass the puck and has a powerful shot from the point. He projects as a depth defenseman down the line in the NHL.

Stevenson will be an effective contributor for South Carolina as they battle for the championship. Next season, he has a chance to crack the Bears’ roster and show his stuff at a higher level. He’s still several years away from the NHL, if he’s ever going to make it.