Washington Prospect Pool Re-evaluated

By Rick Davis
For the first time since I have been Capitals Editor, I had a relatively easy time deciding who the number one prospect should be. After that, it gets a little more difficult and a lot more complicated comparing players who fill different roles and who are at different stages in their development. As I’m sure you’ll see, I’ve taken a relatively conservative approach to ranking most of the new players. After camp, I’ll probably change the rankings again since I will be able to better tell how the prospects stack up against eachother. Thanks again to Caitlin LoCascio for her rankings of Portland’s players to help in my work.

The Rankings:

1. Brian Sutherby (C) – A player who is considered by many to be a better prospect than any of the three prospects included in the Jagr trade, Brian in my opinion is an easy choice to be ranked the Caps’ top prospect this time around. He had a great camp and proceeded to make major strides last year, and may be ready to challenge for a roster spot with the big club this fall. His defensive abilities and work ethic could help him stay in Washington, similar to the way that Trent Whitfield last year and Jeff Halpern two years ago were able to stay with the team. He does have another year of junior eligibility, and in the past the Caps have been very conservative with playing prospects in Washington – so if there is any question as to his readiness, he will likely be in juniors another year.

2. Jakub Cutta (D) – A defensive defenseman who came out of nowhere and made the Caps last season, Jakub has a much better chance of sticking this time around. Another advantage he may have is that he is working out this summer in Washington with Caps Conditioning Coach Frank Costello, along with several Capitals including Jeff Halpern and Brendan Witt. The Capitals love having a veteran defense, so if Jakub does not impress everyone he will play the season in Portland (barring any injuries).

3. Nolan Yonkman (D) – If I lived in Portland, Yonkman would be one of the new guys I would be the most excited about. He won’t put up a lot of points, but is already unbelievably powerful and can destroy people when he hits them. It will still take time for him to round out his game though; I expect Yonkman to make his share of mistakes as he learns the game. However, Portland fans should enjoy the “impact” Yonkman makes and hopefully he will be among their top four or five defensemen by the end of the year.

4. Nathan Paetsch (D) – A teammate of Brian Sutherby’s last year, the Caps expected Paetsch to go in the first round of last year’s draft and were delighted when he fell to them at 58. Nathan would have to play some incredible hockey to make the Caps next year. This is no fault of his – because of the Caps depth in D and his young age, Nathan is unlikely to make the team. He was seventh in the WHL in scoring among defensemen last year with 62 points in 70 games and the Caps have high hopes for him in the long run.

5. Matt Pettinger (LW) – After playing ten games last year with the Caps, Matt may be considered the favorite to earn a full time job in DC this fall. However, nothing will be given to him as I expect the job will be earned and not handed out. Matt did not look too out of place last year with the Caps, and his physical play will definitely help him in his quest for an NHL position.

6.Chris Corrinet (RW) – Chris showed improvement in each of his four seasons at Princeton, and the Caps are hoping he will continue to improve. His being older than many of the other prospects may work in his favor. However, since the NCAA season is not as long as a pro minor or major league season, the Caps may want him to play a full year in the minors just to get used to the new schedule. Certainly he will be given a chance to make the Caps and given his history of streaky scoring, he may earn a couple of recalls to Washington during the year.

7. Mike Farrell (LW) – Mike had a solid year last year in Portland, playing most of the year at forward. If he made Washington next year, he would be a crash-and-bang type of player who could also play defense if needed. He had a spectacular camp last year, and if he shows that he is a better player than he was last year, he could start the season with the Caps or receive a few call-ups during the season.

8. Martin Hlinka (LW) – An older prospect (he will be 25 in September) known primarily for his work ethic, Martin is an early dark-horse candidate to make the Caps out of camp. He is not overly physical, and the Capitals would probably like to see him light the lamp a bit more in the AHL before they bring him up to the NHL. What I think makes Martin attractive to the Caps is his consistency with his defensive play – if injuries hit the Caps penalty killers, Martin would likely be first guy called up from Portland.

9. Nathan Forster (D) – Nathan was expected to play in the ECHL all year, but ended up playing much of the year with Portland in the AHL, and playing well. He doesn’t bring anything fancy to the rink, he is just a hard-working player who earns his paycheck on every shift. I would expect him to play the full year in Portland next year, and he should be in Washington in a couple of years when most of Washington’s current defensemen turn into dust because of their old age.

10. Roman Tvrdon (C) – Roman had an outstanding playoffs last season in the WHL (12 games, 5 goals, 11 assists for 16 points, +10). He is extremely consistent and will play in Portland next year, likely in a checking role. Roman averaged almost exactly a point per game in each of his two years in junior, and the Caps will be looking for him to improve his game (although they won’t expect a point per game in the AHL) over the next season.

11. Krys Barch (LW) – Krys had a strong rookie year in Portland last year, and was voted as the player who best represents the Portland Pirates on and off the ice, the first rookie ever to win that award. He had a good camp last year, and it will be interesting to see how much he has improved. He will be pencilled into Portland’s lineup for next season, and if he continues his improvement throughout next year, he may have a good chance at earning a spot on Washington’s roster for 2002-2003.

12. Stephen Peat (LW) – After missing the majority of last year with a groin injury, the word right now is that Stephen is fully recovered and should be ready for the start of the year next year. Since he missed almost a full year of development, he has to be pencilled into Portland’s lineup. Stephen is still a great fighter and could be called up a couple of times next year if the Caps fail to sign a free agent heavyweight. The Caps want him to work on his skating and skills and they feel that in Portland, he can get more ice time, so he will most likely start the season there.

13. Jeff Lucky (RW) – Jeff has incredible speed, but will need to get much stronger in order to play in the NHL. Fortunately, he seems to realize this and has shown a commitment to improving his strength. Expect Jeff to continue to improve gradually throughout the season. The Caps will almost certainly let Jeff finish out his junior career before he gets a legitimate chance to make the big team, and they will be patient with him given their lack of potential scorers in the system.

14. Owen Fussey (RW) – A hard-nosed player who has offensive talent, Owen missed a lot of time last season due to a major injury (he had his spleen removed), but recovered in time to finish the season. He should get more ice time in Calgary next year, especially with big-name players such as Kris Beech and Pavel Brendl moving on. Like Jeff Lucky, Owen will probably finish out his junior career before he gets a realistic chance to crack the Caps roster.

15. Rastislav Stana (G) – Rastislav had a good year overall last year, despite some periods of inconsistency. He finished with some respectable numbers in the ECHL (.914 save percentage, 2.56 GAA), and may be given a chance to play in the AHL next year. It is likely that the Caps want him to spend another year in Richmond just so that they feel comfortable that Rastislav is steadily improving, as they certainly don’t want to get him in over his head. Besides, at this point he could benefit more from a starting role in the ECHL than he could if he were backing up someone in Portland. So, right now the only way I see him playing full-time in Portland is if he is starting, and I think he’d have to have an absolutely phenomenal camp to win that job.

16. Artem Ternavski (D) – Another new face for the Caps, Artem has a reputation as being a very solid defensive defenseman. I’ll resist the temptation to cmopare him to Jakub Cutta, though I heard he was one of the best defensive defensemen in the QMJHL by the end of last season. He is a big guy who will hit, but like most defensive defensemen won’t put up a whole lot of points. Even if he makes the team, he will probably be sent back to juniors before he plays ten games just because of his age and the fact that he would get much more ice time playing in the Q.

17. Mark Murphy (RW) – Right now, Mark is not signed, although that will probably change soon. He brings scoring to the Caps system, though his lack of size works against him. He was a dark horse to make the team last year, and the possibility is still there for next season. However, the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr by the Capitals eliminates the absolute desperation they had felt in searching for a scorer, and so I would imagine that Mark, if and when he signs, would be used as top-line talent on the Portland Pirates next year.

18. Ryan VanBuskirk (D) – Ryan is another big defenseman who could start in Portland next year. Like many of the Caps’ other defensive prospects, VanBuskirk loves to hit and will happily throw his body around. After splitting last year between the ECHL and the AHL, one would have to imagine that the plan for Ryan next year is to play a full year in the AHL. The Caps will be patient with him, and allow him all the time to develop that he needs before they bring him up to the NHL.

19. Todd Rohloff (D) – A big, tough defenseman, Todd may be one of the first players called up if injuries strike the Capitals blue-line next year. Todd recently received a two year contract with the Caps, but they would prefer to use him in Portland as a veteran defenseman who can help develop younger players such as Yonkman and Cutta.

20. Sebastien Charpentier (G) – It was an up and down year last year for Sebastien as he battled through injuries and lost Portland’s starting job to Corey Hirsch. Both Charpentier and Hirsch are restricted free agents and with possibly Rastislav Stana or Robert Muller getting into the mix, Portland’s goaltending situation is still up in the air. I would imagine that unless he has an absolutely terrible camp, Sebastien will play the full season in Portland next year whether it is as a starter or as a backup.

21. Mike Siklenka (LW) – Mike showed improvement this season, increasing his point production by roughly 1/3 as he moved to forward and played in 65 games for Richmond of the ECHL. His size and work ethic could help him challenge for a job in Portland next year, or the Capitals may let him play another year in Richmond if they feel it would best benefit his development.

22. John Oduya (D) – John is a little older than most 2001 draftees, as he has a 1981 birthday. He averaged a point per game last year playing in the QMJHL, and put up 258 PIM as well. John is primarily an offensive defenseman who has been praised for his passing ability and work ethic. Eliteprospects.com, Hockeyfuture’s sister site for Swedish prospects, reports that Oduya is going to play next year in Sweden for Hammarby in the second tier league.

23. Patrick Boileau (D) – Maybe the best overall AHL defenseman in the Caps system right now, Patrick doesn’t excel at any one particular area but had a solid year overall. With the Caps defensive depth, it is unlikely that he will play in Washington unless there are massive injuries on the Caps blue line. However, Patrick still has a very important role helping to develop other prospects in the Caps system since he is a good player.

24. Kyle Clark (RW) – Kyle could play in either Portland or Richmond next year. The Caps will be patient with his development and play him where they best feel he could get ice time and quality linemates. With Stephen Peat likely taking over the enforcer role in Portland next year, I would imagine that Kyle will play in Richmond, although he’ll probably get a taste of the AHL at some point next season.

25. Curtis Cruickshank (G) – Last season was a nightmare for Cruickshank. Every time I saw him after camp was over, he looked shaky, like he had lost confidence in himself. He is still a talented player, but goalie is such a mental position and I think most of his problems last year were related to loss of confidence. I have that he is signed through 2002-2003, but I think next year could be his last in the organization unless he can show definate improvement during training camp.

26. J.F. Fortin (D) – J.F. had a terrible year last year, and is likely pencilled in to start in Richmond or as an extra defenseman in Portland next year. Like Cruickshank, I have that Fortin is signed through 2002-2003, but I think next year will be a pivotal year for J.F. as well.

Other Caps Prospects News:

As I’m sure most of you know, the Capitals rookie camp is going on this week at their training facility in Odenton, Maryland. For information on who is attending and what time the practices are, please visit www.washingtoncaps.com. I will likely be attending the camp on one day, either Thursday or Friday, so watch for an article on what I see up there.

Several Caps prospects are going to Finland after rookie camp to train with a Finnish team, Lukko Rauman. Ryan Van Buskirk, Stephen Peat, Kyle Clark, Chris Corrinet, and Owen Fussey are all going from July 30 to August 5. Thanks to Battleship (as usual) for the heads up.