2012 Draft class prominent in Fall edition of Washington Capitals’ Top 20

By Eric Scheib

Braden Holtby - Washington Capitals

Photo: The Washington Capitals organization is hoping goaltender Braden Holtby will be able to replicate his strong 2012 playoff performance over the span of an entire regular season. (Will Schneekloth/Icon SMI)

The Washington Capitals used the 2012 NHL draft as an opportunity to restock their prospect pool by adding 10 new players. Among the new additions are a mix of players who should have an impact in the next couple years, along with some longer term projects.

Out of the Capitals 10 draft picks, six make their debut on the organization's Top 20 list. They players are mixed in with NHL ready prospects who will soon graduate off this list.

1. (1) Yevgeni Kuznetsov, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2010

Kuznetsov continues to be one of the top prospects in the world. He showed growth this season with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL, where he scored 19 goals and had 22 assists in 49 games. He is a well rounded player who can shoot or feed the puck. He is a strong skater who must continue to work on the defensive side of his game.

The young Russian could come to the NHL and immediately be placed on one of the Capitals top two forward lines. However, he does not appear to be NHL bound anytime soon, with his plans to stay in the KHL through 2014. Though the continued delay in coming to the NHL should be a concern for the Capitals, the organization seems willing to wait and see on their former first round pick.

2. (2) Braden Holtby, G, 8.0C
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2008

Braden Holtby enters the 2012-13 season as favorite to be the number one netminder for the Washington Capitals. His breakout performance in the 2012 playoffs demonstrated his readiness and poise to play in the NHL.  Prior to his NHL call-up, Holtby was the primary starter for the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

In every level of hockey, Holtby has been able to play a lot of minutes and seems to perform better the more he plays. He will still need to hold off Michal Neuvirth's challenge for playing time this season.

3. (NR) Filip Forsberg, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2012

The Capitals were pleased when Filip Forsberg, the top ranked European skater by Central Scouting, fell to them with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft. Forsberg is a hard working Swedish player with excellent puck-protection ability, soft hands, and a creative offensive mind. Projected to be a power forward, he has drawn comparisons from Brendan Shanahan to Corey Perry. He will however need to add some size and grit to match those comparisons. He also needs to work on skating speed.

Forsberg may not be far away from being NHL ready. He would immediately challenge for a spot among the top six and should feel right at home with fellow Swedes, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. He will play the 2012-13 season in Sweden but could very well land on the Capitals roster as soon as 2013-14.

4. (3) Dmitri Orlov, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2009

Orlov arrived in the NHL sooner than expected last season and responded with three goals and 16 assists in 60 games for the Capitals. Primarily an offensive defenseman with outstanding puck handling skills, Orlov is quick and often able to use this asset to overcome any defensive liabilities. He has shown the willingness to become more physical in his own end too, but must make better decisions about when to go for the hit.

The exit of Dennis Wideman should provide the opportunity for increased minutes and opportunity for Orlov, particularly on the second power play unit. He should also consistently see time in the top-four.

5. (5) Stanislav Galiev, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2010

Though Stanislav Galiev missed most of the 2011-12 season with a broken wrist, he was still able to score 13 goals and six assists in 20 regular season games Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. However, he exploded during the playoffs where he tallied 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points in 17 games. It is this type of performance that has the Capitals excited about the young Russian.

Galiev will go to training camp trying to make the Washington Capitals but is more likely to play most of the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, where he will be able to get accustomed to professional hockey and prepare for the grind of a longer season. The Russian winger has shown signs that he has top six line potential in the NHL and how well he transitions this season will determine how soon he gets there.

6. (NR) Tom Wilson, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2012

Tom Wilson is a high risk, high reward draft pick. He is a big, physical player who is not afraid to throw a hit. Last year for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, Wilson had nine goals and 18 assists along with 147 penalty minutes in 49 games. He also contributed offensively in the playoffs with another seven goals and six assists in 13 games. 

There is little doubt Wilson will make the NHL, however it has yet to be seen if he will be able to add some offensive flare to his grit and be a top six forward or an energetic, hard hitting fourth line winger. He has been compared to Milan Lucic and the Capitals are banking that he will find enough offensive touch to be a similar threat. He will play this season in Plymouth, but could compete for an NHL job as early as 2013-14.

7. (10) Caleb Herbert, C, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2010

Caleb Herbert has quietly climbed up the Capitals prospect rankings. Last year, he had a strong freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, finishing fourth in scoring with 14 goals along with 19 assists in 41 games. He will be called upon to take a bigger role in scoring and continue that next step for the Bulldogs. If he can step up, he will continue to climb the Capitals depth chart.

Herbert appeared to be a long term project for the Capitals, but the 20-year-old may be ready sooner than later. He is an offensively talented player who can move the puck well and score goals. He will need to continue to grow with his defensive play and cut down on unnecessary penalties.

8. (7) Philipp Grubauer, G, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2010

Grubauer had a strong rookie season with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL. He was named to ECHL All-Rookie Team, ECHL Goaltender of the Month in November, and ECHL Rookie of the Month in January. He finished the 2012-13 season 23-13-5 with a 2.22 goals against average and a strong .918 save percentage in 43 games.

Grubauer appears to be another strong goalie prospect to come through the Capitals organization. The German is a technically sound goalie who can play bigger than he is. He will likely start the season in Hershey of the AHL where he will look to duplicate the success he had in the ECHL. In each of the last two seasons, Grubauer has missed time with injury or illness. It will be important to see if can manage to say healthy for a full season.

9. (20) Cameron Schilling, D, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 27th, 2012

After completing his senior season with Miami (Ohio) University, defenseman Cameron Schilling signed an entry-level deal with the Washington Capitals, and was promptly assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He was quickly inserted into the Bears lineup and in the seven regular season games played, was among the team leaders in ice-time, something that would continue into the playoffs. After the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs, Schilling was called up to the NHL as part of the 'Black Ace' team their playoff run, but did not dress for any games

Schilling is a skilled two-way defenseman who makes quick decisions with the puck and is good at both ends of the ice. The undrafted defensemen continued to impress the Capitals management during prospect camp and it would not be a surprise for him to see some time in the NHL in 2012-13.

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

In his junior season at Boston College, Wey had two goals and five assists in 32 games. He proved to be a strong defensive defenseman, but the anticipated offensive side has yet to present itself. He will return to Boston College for his senior year and a chance to win his third NCAA title. To do that, Wey will need to increased ice time and finally show some offensive upside.

The biggest issue for Wey might be his injury issues, the most recent occurring last season when he missed two months with a severed tendon on his foot. Headed into his senior season, the defenseman must not only stay healthy, but play at a very high level the entire season.

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

Regina Pats forward Chandler Stephenson experienced a breakout season in 2011-12 where he scored 22 goals and added 20 assists in 55 games. A small forward who has good offensive upside and puck skills, Stephenson is quick and plays well on both ends of the ice. He will be expected to play a bigger role this upcoming season with the Pats which should help his progress.

One area of concern is his size. He is strong for his size and likes to be near the net but will need to bulk up to be able to play this style at the professional level.

12. (9) Tomas Kundratek, D, 6.5C
Trade with New York Rangers, November 8th, 2011

Kundratek was in a rut with the Rangers organization, but broke out after being traded in November for Francois Bouchard. In 55 games with the Hershey Bears, Kundratek had 12 goals and 11 assists. He played with confidence in both ends of the ice and saw time on the power play where he demonstrated a hard and accurate shot. His performance earned him five games with the Capitals.

The Czech defenseman will compete for a spot on the Capitals roster this fall. He most likely will start the season in Hershey, but a regular call up due to injury could be possible. Though he has the size and strength to play in the NHL, it will be important to see if Kundratek can maintain the confidence and strong play he showed with the Bears last season.

13. (13) Garrett Mitchell, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2009

Garrett Mitchell is a hard working grinder who brings energy and hustle to every shift. He plays bigger than his 5'11, 185 pound frame would suggest, particularly in his strong board play. Last season with the Bears, he really found his groove in the second half of the season and finished with 15 points in 65 games, 12 of which came in the last three months of the season.

Mitchell's long term potential would be a bottom-six energy forward. This season he will return to the Hershey Bears where he should see more time on the penalty kill and may be used in more offensive situations. He primarily however will be asked to play in the corners and wear down opponents. It will be interesting to see if Mitchell can add some offensive upside while in Hershey to make him better-rounded.

14. (14) Mattias Sjogren, C, 6.0C
Signed as free agent, June 1st, 2011

Sjogren's future in the NHL is very much in his hands. Last season after being sent to Hershey, he left for Sweden after 19 unimpressive games, much to the chagrin of Capitals management, who felt he needed to develop in North America. Sjogren returned during the Capitals playoff run to practice with the Capitals but didn't dress for any games.

The Swedish forward has the talent to be a strong defensive presence in North America but he could use some time transitioning to the style of play in the AHL, a commitment there is no certainty he is willing to make. His effort and attitude at training camp this fall will likely determine his future in the NHL. Another return to Sweden will likely eliminate any chance he would play in the NHL.

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

Thomas DiPauli is a high energy player who works and plays hard. While not overly skilled, he makes the most of opportunities because of his hustle on the ice. He is strong on face-offs and defensively sound in his own zone. His long term potential is a bottom six forward, but it remains to be seen if he will bring any offensive upside.

DiPauli is scheduled to attend Notre Dame in 2012-13.

16. (NR) Zach Hamill, C, 6.5D
Trade with Boston Bruins, May 26, 2012

Hamill was traded in the off-season to the Washington Capitals for Chris Bourque in hopes that change of scenery may be what is needed for the former first-round pick to get back on track. He has seen NHL time the last three seasons, but has struggled to impress enough to stick with the club. Last year in 16 games, he had two assists for Boston. Meanwhile, his numbers took a dip while playing with Providence (AHL) where he had eight goals and 13 assists in 41 games. He was limited in games due to a shoulder injury.

The 23-year-old will have a lot of competition to make the Capitals. He is an undersized forward who thinks pass first, but has a good shot. He has a good hockey sense, but needs to stay focused, something that should improve in his new environment. Even if Hamill does not make the Capitals out of training camp, his progress in Hershey will determine what long-term impact he may or may not have in the NHL.

17. (12) Brett Flemming, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2009

Flemming originally played for Hershey last year, but after a short stint was sent down to South Carolina of the ECHL. In South Carolina, he had 13 points in just 41 games. The additional ice time he gained being in the ECHL rather than AHL likely will help his long term development. Flemming is a solid two-way defender who tries to play more physical than he is.

Hershey has a number of projected defensemen next season so Flemming will have strong competition to make the Bears. In addition, other defensemen in the organization are starting to pass him in the depth chart. Flemming will need to play consistent and smart in both ends of the ice to improve his status with the Capitals organization.

18. (NR) Connor Carrick, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 137th overall, 2012

Connor Carrick is a two-way defenseman who plays a parimarily offensively oriented game. He loves to rush the puck up ice, has a strong shot that frequently hits the net, and makes a strong, crisp outlet pass. A smooth, mobile skater, Carrick plays with a lot of confidence and is fairly quick in his decision making. Last season he played for the US National U18 team and scored eight goals and 13 assists in 57 games, along with 46 penalty minutes. He also contributed four points in six games for the US in the U-18 World Junior Championship.

Carrick is a project who eventually could turn into a bottom-four NHL defenseman. He made news over the summer when he went back on his commitment to play for the University of Michigan in favor of joining the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. The decision will likely give him an opportunity to contribute sooner and more quickly prepare for the rigors of pro hockey. 

19. (NR) Sergei Kostenko, G, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2012

Sergei Kostenko has been on the Capitals radar for some time before the 2012 draft. A smaller goalie who is quite athletic, he is solid positionally and reacts well to the play in front of him. In addition, he is likes to compete and has a good attitude – making him very coachable. 

Kostenko's commitment was immediately seen when he signed a contract with the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, the Hershey Bears. He will likely be assigned to the Reading Royals (ECHL) in November to begin his North American career after he returns from shoulder surgery. There are a lot of unknown variables about Kostenko, but his drive and commitment along with the Capitals ability to develop young goalies, makes him an intriguing long term project.

20. (8) Kevin Marshall, D, 6.0C
Trade with Philadelphia Flyers, February 2nd, 2012

Marshall was acquired last season in a trade for Matt Ford. Marshall's style is that of a physical defenseman who is not afraid to land a big hit or drop the gloves. He needs to be faster with the puck, as he often hesitates which greatly reduces his opportunities and leads to turnovers.

Marshall's stock is dropping, but he could fill a role as a bottom-pair defenseman. He needs to improve his puck movement however. He will not contribute much offensively as he scored just one assist in the 31 games he played with the Hershey Bears, but needs to make a good first pass to stick in the NHL. The 23-year-old, former second round pick, still has time to develop, though he may be too far down the depth chart for the Capitals to ever get an opportunity in the NHL.