Capitals Top 20 prospects

By David Rathbun

As the 2005-06 NHL season winds down, Washington Capitals management has to be pleased with the development of many of their younger players over the course of this past year. As the Caps look to enter year two of the rebuild mode, many surprising developments fell into place for this young team as many prospects shined when given the opportunity to play at the NHL level. It would appear that the rebuild might not take as long as once thought.

Alexander Ovechkin is no longer considered a prospect based on Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria.

Top 20 at a glance

1.Alexander Semin, LW
2.Eric Fehr, RW
3.Mike Green, D
4.Chris Bourque, LW
5.Jakub Klepis, RW
6.Tomas Fleischmann, LW
7.Brooks Laich, C
8.Boyd Gordon, C
9.Joe Finley, D
10.Jeff Schultz, D
11.Patrick McNeill, D
12.Sasha Pokulok, D
13.Maxime Daigneault, G
14.Sami Lepisto, D
15.Oscar Hedman, D
16.Johnny Oduya, D
17.Joey Tenute, C
18.Dave Steckel, C
19.Travis Morin, C
20.Daren Machesney, G

1. (2) Alexander Semin, LW — Height: 6’0 Weight 180 lbs.
2002 Draft, 13th overall. DOB: Mar 3, 1984

Who knows what the future holds for Caps top prospect Alexander Semin. After a terrific 2003-04 season that saw Semin shine in the aftermath of Washington’s controversial salary purge, the talented yet enigmatic forward chose to stay in Russia and did not report to minor league affiliate Portland in the fall of 2004. In addition, Semin also failed to report to training camp in 2005, citing military obligations and claiming that he was forbidden to leave his native Russia until his two-year military term was fulfilled. Yhe Caps filed suit against Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler, citing that Semin was indeed playing professional hockey in Russia – which is against his contract – and demanded an injunction to force Semin from being able to play for any other team. The injunction eventually failed because the Caps were unable to prove — and haven’t been shown proof to date for that matter — that Semin was not indeed under military obligations. In the meantime, Semin continues to play professional hockey for Khimik of the Russian Super League.

Semin shined during his NHL rookie season, scoring 10 goals and 12 assists in just 52 NHL games. He also did the majority of his scoring after Washington traded away their star offensive players, thus leaving Semin to play alongside very limited offense talent. There were times during the 2003-04 season where Semin was the best player in the building, and his ability to work the half-boards on the Washington power play was also remarkable.

Semin is a dynamic talent. He possesses the overall speed, skill, and offensive awareness of the NHL’s elite, and his playmaking and scoring ability are also equally special. He can fly with the puck, and he also has the ability to undress defenders single-handedly without losing any of his speed. He also has a powerful wrist shot, and his overall hockey sense is incredible. However, the knock on Semin is his defensive play. Although he only finished the 2003-04 season at –2 defensively, Semin was frequently benched by Caps coach, Glen Hanlon, for not picking up his defensive assignments.

Semin has all the tools to be an elite offensive threat in the NHL, and the Caps hope that they can harness that talent in order to provide another weapon to go alongside Ovechkin. Unfortunately for fans and management, the answer to whether or not Semin will come back is still up in the air. Semin has at times proven difficult to coach, and his off-ice antics have been deemed distracting and counterproductive to the team — not to mention his overall development. Should Semin return to the Caps line-up this fall, a much-needed 1-2 punch would be added to the anemic Capitals offense.

2. (3) Eric Fehr, RW — Height: 6’3 Weight: 190 lbs.
2003 Draft, 18th overall. DOB: Sep 7, 1985

After two back-to-back 50-goal campaigns in the WHL, Fehr made the jump to professional hockey last fall and has been impressive. Although the speed of the pro game is significantly faster than what he had been used to, Fehr has had very little difficulty adjusting to professional hockey and has managed to put up impressive rookie scoring numbers. He currently leads the Bears in goals with 25, and is currently tied with newly-acquired center, Kris Beech, for first on the team in over all points 53 (25 goals, 28 assists). Fehr is also currently ranked seventh in overall rookie scoring in the AHL.

Fehr’s overall solid play has earned him three appearances with the Caps this season. He played very sparingly in his three games, but he did not look out of place as he was even given the opportunity to log some ice time on the top line with Danius Zubrus and Ovechkin. Fehr failed to register a point but did have a few good scoring opportunities in his NHL appearances. However, despite sound performances, Fehr has been reassigned to Hershey in order to prepare for what the Bears hope will be a lengthy postseason run

Fehr is easily the best prospect in the Caps system after Semin. He is a terrific sniper that possesses a strong, accurate wrist shot. Although he could stand to gain a few more pounds, Fehr is still young and will likely add some weight to his lanky frame in the next year or so. He does use his size well, and is very difficult to knock off the puck when he is cycling in the corners.

The downside to Fehr is that he is not a very good skater, and his defense play this season has left a lot to be desired. Fehr ranks near the bottom of the Hershey roster in terms of plus/minus with a –8 rating. However, rookies take time to develop defensively and he is progressing very nicely for a first-year player. Look for Fehr to be on Washington’s opening night line-up this fall, as it is anticipated that he will be with the big club full time after this season.

3. (4) Mike Green, D — Height: 6’1 Weight: 198 lbs.
2004 Draft, 29th overall. DOB: Oct 12, 1985

After two stellar seasons in the WHL, Green made the jump to professional hockey last summer when he agreed to an entry-level contract with the Caps. Since then, Green’s first professional season has been a successful one on many levels as he continues to impress fans and management alike.

Green had a good training camp this past fall, and he made his NHL debut with Washington on Oct. 12, 2005. Since then, he has appeared in 22 games with the Caps this season and has adjusted very well to the speed of the NHL game. Green did manage, however, to register three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in that span, and scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 3 when he one-timed a blast past goaltender Ed Belfour — not a bad first NHL goal. Although he has made some rookie mistakes in his own zone during his brief NHL experience, Green has persevered. He has routinely displayed tremendous poise, toughness, and overall grit, and although he is not a towering defenseman, Green can deliver the big open-ice hit and is very good at using his positional play to diffuse one-on-one situations. He also has a great outlet pass, sound offensive instincts, and displays excellent leadership qualities both on and off the ice.

It is expected that Green will continue to hone his skills in Hershey for the remainder of the year in order to allow for some much needed playoff experience. In 49 games with the Bears this season, Green has registered 34 points (6 goals, 28 assists) and carries a plus/minus rating of +1 defensively.

Even though this season has been a serious of bouncing back and forth between Hershey and the NHL, Green has showed steady improvement this year, and will most likely become a future first pairing defenseman for the Caps. At the very least, Green will be a steady and reliable NHL defenseman with above-average offensive abilities. It is expected that Green will be with Washington full time at the start of the 2006-07 NHL season.

4. (5) Chris Bourque, LW — Height: 5’7 Weight: 180 lbs.
2004 Draft, 33rd overall. DOB: Jan 29, 1986

Chris Bourque has had a very successful first pro season despite some nagging injuries that forced him to miss upwards of about 15 games. In October, Bourque was sidelined for a few weeks after suffering a concussion after a vicious hit from behind against Hamilton. And more recently, Bourque has missed a few games due to nagging “lower body injuries” as well. However, despite his limited play this year, Bourque has put up some pretty solid offensive stats and is steadily climbing the list of the Caps top 20 prospects.

In 46 games with Hershey this season, Bourque has tallied a total of 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists), and most importantly, has even added a few pounds to his frame. Although he stands at about 5’7, he is very tough to knock off the puck, and he possesses terrific hands and solid playmaking ability. However, Bourque’s skating is what separates him from the rest, as he is easily one of the best skaters in the entire organization. He makes it look easy — stopping, starting, and accelerating as he handles the puck through traffic and creates space with his elusiveness and speed.

Bourque also played in the 2006 World Junior Championships this past winter, and finished the tournament with 8 points (7 goals, 1 assist). His seven goals led the tournament in that category, however, USA failed to capture a medal.

In order for Bourque to make the next level, he will have to work on his defensive play. At one point during the season, Bourque held the worst plus/minus on the Hershey roster. And although he has shown signs of improvement in that regard, Bourque still sits as –6 defensively. But all in all, Bourque has the tools to make it to the next level, and can become a great power play man in the NHL someday.

Bourque has yet to appear in any games for the Caps this season. Bourque will likely challenge for a roster spot at next year’s training camp, but realistically, expect Bourque to remain in Hershey for one more full season before making the final jump to the pro ranks.

5. (6) Jakub Klepis, RW — Height: 6’1 Weight: 208 lbs.
2002 Draft, 16th overall. DOB: Jun 5, 1985

Klepis is another player who made his NHL debut this season for Washington. After starting the season in Hershey, Klepis was called up to Washington in order to fill the void left by some of the Caps injured forwards. Klepis did not disappoint, and scored a highlight reel goal midway through the second period of his first NHL game. He also followed up that performance with an assist in the following game, and helped propel Washington to back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

Although he was quick out of the gate, Klepis did struggle with the speed of the NHL level and had a very difficult time adjusting to Coach Hanlon’s defensive system. He has been bouncing back and forth between Hershey and Washington all season, and some critics believe that may be reason for his scoring inconstancy this year.

Klepis has the tools, there’s no doubt about that. However, consistency and defensive play are the major issues when evaluating this young man. He has the size, shot, and skating ability to be productive in the NHL. But like most European forwards, his physical game and defensive awareness will need some fine tuning if he is going to be a successful NHL player. In 24 games with the Caps this season, Klepis has 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) but is a woeful –11 defensively.

It is assumed that Klepis will be an NHL regular this fall barring a rash of free agent acquisitions by the Caps. And it is also assumed that he will likely see some time on the Caps top two lines and on the power play as well. He is currently with the big club now, but it is likely that he will be reassigned to Hershey at the end of the season in order to get some playoff experience. In 48 games with the Bears this season, Klepis has 11 goals, 17 assists, and carries a plus/minus rating of –10 defensively.

6. (5) Tomas Fleischmann, LW — Height: 6’0 Weight: 190 lbs.
2002 Draft, 63rd overall. DOB: May 16, 1984

At the Giant Center in Hershey, PA, the fans chant, “Flash, Flash, Flash,” every time Tomas Fleischmann touched the puck. A flash is exactly what he looks like when he’s got the puck, as Fleischmann has really learned to develop his great speed in this, his most productive pro season to date.

Fleischmann has been on a tear of late, and is looking to challenge for the overall team scoring lead. He is one of only a few players on the Bears team this season with more points than games played (50 points in 48 games including 22 goals), and his defensive game has also improved dramatically from last season (-5) as he currently carries a +11 defensive rating — tied for highest on the team.

He too has been rewarded with some playing time in the NHL this year, and played in 14 games with Caps this season. However, Fleischmann got very little playing time, and most of his ice time was fourth line duty. Although he did manage to register two assists in his time with the Caps, Fleischmann did show signs of struggle when he battled against much larger and faster NHL defenseman.

Fleischmann has good instincts and has good positional awareness away from the puck. He is very fast, and possesses great playmaking ability as well. He too will benefit from some playoff experience in the minors this spring, as it is not expected that he will be recalled for the short remainder of the NHL season. However, look for Fleischmann to challenge for a roster spot next fall, and at the very worst, see some increased time with the big club next year. He is expected to become a solid, second line scoring winger if he reaches his full potential.

7. (NR) Brooks Laich, C — Height: 6’2 Weight: 210 lbs
2001 Draft, 193rd overall. DOB: Jun 23, 1983

Acquired in a 2004 trade which included local fan favorite, Peter Bondra, Laich knew that he had big shoes to fill, and so far this year, has made the very most of his NHL rookie season. Playing on a very offensively limited Washington team, Laich has managed to chip in a few goals here and there, and has really bought into the Caps “defense first” system. He has shown great poise this season, and is continuing to earn his right to stay up in the NHL.

Usually on third and fourth line duties, Laich has excelled as a two-way player. He has commonly been paired up with other Caps prospects — a testament to his defensive abilities — and also sees a lot of time on the penalty kill as well. Laich does come out of nowhere from time to time with flashes of brilliance. He has good offensive instincts, and seems to always find his way to the doorstep when there’s a scrum for a loose puck in front of the net. He is responsible defensively, plays the body, and is a pretty good playmaker too. Despite the fact that he is usually assigned to fourth line duty, Laich is slowly creeping up on the 20-point plateau for the season (59 games, 6 goals, 10 assists).

While Laich will never challenge for the Richard or Ross trophies, it cannot be disputed that he is indeed a very versatile player. With time, he could possibly mold into a nice, 20-goal sort if he reaches his full potential. After his solid play this season, it would appear that he just may have found a home in Washington and that he will soon graduate from prospect status.

8. (8) Boyd Gordon, C — Height: 6’0 Weight: 200 lbs.
2002 Draft, 17th overall. DOB: Oct 19, 1983

Many expected Boyd Gordon to have a breakout year with the Caps this season. However, Gordon continues to struggle with offensive consistency at the NHL level despite a history of decent point production in the minors.

Gordon is not a fancy player, but he is a terrific skater — possibly one of the best in Washington’s entire system. He plays a solid, defensive brand of hockey, and he plays the body first and is more concerned with his defensive responsibilities than scoring goals.

Despite only registering 1 assist in 25 games with the Caps this year, Gordon has found a niche that will keep him at this level for many years to come: killing penalties. He is always among the first two forwards assigned to the penalty kill, and he is frequently the only forward on the ice during 5-on-3 shorthanded situations as well.

It’s not that Gordon doesn’t possess the offensive ability to become an effective scorer in the NHL; it’s just that he is yet to display it. This season with Hershey, Gordon is averaging just over a ½ point per game, and currently has 14 goals and 17 assists in 49 contests. Not surprisingly, he is currently rated +5 defensively, and figures to be a cornerstone for Hershey as the Bears look to challenge for the Calder Cup this spring. Depending on what the Caps decide to do with many of their one-year contracts this summer, it is very likely that Gordon may have the opportunity to start for Washington on opening night this fall.

9. (NR) Joe Finley, D — Height: 6’7 Weight: 235 lbs.
2005 Draft, 27th overall. DOB: Jun 29, 1987

Joe Finley was a surprise selection at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Washington traded picks No. 47 and 52 overall (both second round selections) for Colorado’s 27th overall pick. Apparently Washington saw something fierce in the towering youngster as they believe that Finley can one day mold into the shut-down type on NHL defender that the Caps have lacked for so many years.

Finley, the Edina, MN native, started his freshman season this year with the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota. Although he is playing on a team stacked with NHL draftees and potential future first round selections, Finley has really yet to capitalize on any offensive statistics as he has only registered three assists in 40 games this year. However, offense is not Finley’s game. “Big Joe” is a fierce competitor, and has made his presence felt with one big hit after another. He is currently ranked third on the Sioux with 94 penalty minutes, and does have one major penalty to his credit this season. He has sound defensive instincts, and although he is not the greatest skater, he more than makes up for mobility issues with strong positional play. He is not on the ice much when the other team scores, and his +18 defensive rating certainly speaks for himself.

Finley is also a very tough customer as well. His season was briefly interrupted in early December when he suffered a broken bone in his left arm during a game. However, not only did Finley skate a few shifts after suffering the break, but he only missed two games and returned to the lineup less than three weeks after the injury occurred.

Finley is a raw talent at this stage of his development. He does possess the size, strength, and intensity that could one day make him into a solid third or fourth defensive defenseman if he reaches his full potential. Look for Finley to remain at UND for a few seasons.

10. (10) Jeff Schultz, D — Height: 6’6 Weight: 215 lbs.
2004 Draft, 27th overall. DOB: Feb 26, 1986

After a strong performance in Capitals training camp, Schultz was reassigned to the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) for the remainder of the 2005-06 season. Coming off of two solid seasons in Calgary, Schultz has displayed remarkable improvement, and is currently having his most productive junior season to date. Although his goal production has dropped since his first season in the WHL, Schultz has steadily improved, and has been as solid as ever in every other facet of his game. This season, Schultz has picked up the scoring during the second half of the year, and is currently ranked 14th in the WHL in scoring by a defenseman. He has registered seven goals and 33 assists in 68 games this season, and has rebounded from year’s –7 rating, putting up +20 in 2005-06.

For someone of his size, Schultz is a fairly timid player and does not play a very physical style of hockey. However, he does use terrific positional play, and his long reach allows him to create lots of turnovers with his superb poke check. He has a good low shot from the point, and is a prominent fixture on Calgary’s power play. He is very good in his own end, and also has a very crisp outlet pass that quite often springs odd man breaks.

Schultz has not added a lot of weight to his frame over the last year, and he is still very light for his someone of his size. Since he recently signed a contract with the Caps, he is sure to be playing in Hershey next fall. Schultz may see some sporadic ice time with the Caps next season, but he is likely a few seasons away from becoming an NHL contributor.

11. (NR) Patrick McNeill, D — Height: 6’0 Weight: 195 lbs.
2005 Draft, 118th overall. DOB: Mar 17, 1987

Rocketing up the list is the Strathroy, Ontario native Patrick McNeill. Although McNeill is not a large defender, it is very possible that Washington may have found its power-play quarterback of the future.

After a very mediocre 2004-05 season in Saginaw (OHL), McNeill only registered 33 (7 goals, 26 assists) points in 66 games and had a woeful plus/minus rating of -29. His poor plus/minus, coupled with the fact that he played for a very inexperienced team, likely dramatically impacted his positioning in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft — similar to Green in 2004.

So far this season, McNeill is doing all that he can to prove his critics wrong. He is currently ranked first in the OHL in scoring by a defenseman, and has registered an impressive 21 goals and 56 assists through 68 contests. In addition, he also has a respectable + 24 rating — a difference of 53 even strength points from the season before.

McNeill is not an overly physical player on the ice, and will need to refine his defensive game if he is going to be an impact player at the next level. However, in a new NHL designed for speed and skating, there is no reason why McNeill cannot make it to the next level and possibly turn into a high-scoring defenseman. Strength may be also be a concern too since McNeill is still under 200 lbs; he is still young, and with some solid conditioning, he may be able flourish in the right defensive pairing — alongside a stay-at-home type. With the solid play that he has displayed this year, it would not be shocking to see Washington sign him so he can play in either the AHL or ECHL next fall.

12. (12) Sasha Pokulok, D — Height: 6’5 Weight: 235 lbs.
2005 Draft, 14th overall. DOB: May 25, 1986

Remaining at No. 12 on the Caps prospect chart is Cornell defenseman Sasha Pokulok. After a slow start to the 2005-06 campaign, Pokulok has really picked up his game. He has surpassed his freshman season scoring totals (3 goals, 7 assists), tallying 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) in 25 games. He has also developed a bit of a mean streak as well. He has displayed an increase in his physical play, and he has also surpassed his penalty minute totals from last year (33) as he currently ranks near the middle on Big Red with 49 PIMs.

Pokulok was a bit of a surprise pick at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and was selected 14th overall. The Caps saw something in him that they liked, and have added another towering defender.

Pokulok plays good defensive hockey, but shows a propensity to join the rush and always looks to contribute offensively. Although he is a bit on the slow side, Pokulok does skate with long, powerful strides and is tough to knock off of the puck. He is a decent passer and he has a heavy point shot that could translate into goals at the NHL level.

There have been rumors circulating that Pokulok may want to turn pro prior to finishing out his college eligibility. If he signs this summer, look for Pokulok to make the jump to Hershey of the AHL if and when he does decide to turn pro.

13. (17) Maxime Daigneault, G — Height: 6’2 Weight: 205 lbs.
2002 Draft, 59th overall. DOB: Jan 23, 1984

Daigneault (2002 Draft, 59th overall) is now the lone Washington goaltending prospect playing professional hockey.

Daigneault split time between Portland (AHL) and South Carolina (ECHL) last season. In three games with the Pirates, Daigneault finished with a record of 3 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie, and posted a GAA of 2.91, and a save percentage of .906. He also appeared in 21 games with the Stingrays, winning 11 games with only 6 losses and 1 tie, and had a slightly higher GAA of 3.02 and a save percentage of .904.

This season, he has evenly split time between the pipes with goalie Davis Parley in South Carolina. In 33 appearances, Daigneault has a record of 15 wins and 10 losses, and has a modest GAA of 3.11 and a save percentage of .908. He also appeared in three games for Hershey, and posted 0 wins, 1 loss, and 2 shootout losses, and concluded those three contests with a GAA of 2.33, and a save percentage of .909.

Daigneault is a big, strong goaltender with a good glove hand. His lateral movements have improved since coming into the pro ranks last year, and although he is not known for being a great puckhandler, he does assist the defense with quick moves behind the cage to stop dump-ins.

With few promising goaltending prospects in the Caps’ system, it is somewhat surprising that Daigneault has yet to graduate to full-time duties up in Hershey. As of now, the future seems to be uncertain as to where Daigneault will end up in regards to his position in the Caps system. However, it would appear that the Caps are taking their time to bring him along, and it is possible that the Caps will assign him to the AHL full-time next season in order to make room for recently signed goalie prospect Daren Machesney.

14. (14) Sami Lepisto, D — Height: 6’0 Weight: 180 lbs.
2004 Draft, 66th overall. DOB: Oct 17, 1984

Sami Lepisto is currently playing for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish League. He has a great knack for finding open players on the ice, and is one the team’s best passers. He appeared in all 56 games with Jokerit this season, and finished as the third highest scorer on the team with 8 goals and 21 assists.

Lepisto is small for a defenseman. He has not added much, if any, bulk to his frame since he was drafted nearly two years ago, and he is not an overly physical player. He is known more for his offensive flair than his overall defensive abilities, and he is an excellent puck handler with superior playmaking ability.

Lepisto could mold into a very nice winger should the Caps decide to convert him. However, that scenario seems unlikely, and the Caps will likely allow Lepisto to continue to play in Europe for a season or two before deciding to introduce him to the North American game. In order for Lepisto to become a competitive defenseman in the NHL, he will have to add more weight to his frame to compete with the much stronger forwards.

15. (NR) Oscar Hedman, D — Height: 6’0 Weight: 210 lbs.
2004 Draft, 132nd Overall DOB: Oct 17, 1984

Oscar Hedman’s stock shot up over the past year, due in part to his strong showing at the 2006 World Junior Championships. Hedman shined on Team Sweden, registering one goal and three assists in six games. He also led the tournament in plus/minus with an impressive +10 defensive rating.

Overall, Hedman is a pretty solid player with very few weaknesses in his game. Although he is not very tall, he is built like a fire hydrant and is very physically strong. Like most defensemen his age, he could stand to improve on his defensive awareness. However, he does excel at just about every aspect of the game, and will likely score more points in the Swedish Elite League as he matures. He is a two-way defenseman, and although he can join the rush and make good outlet passes, he does tend to focus on defense first. He is not overly fast, and his foot speed and limited reach could be major factors as to whether or not he will be a success in the NHL. Like Lepisto, expect the Caps to take their time with deciding at what pace to introduce him to the North American style of hockey. Hedman has the ability to become a decent fourth or fifth defenseman in the NHL some day. This year in the SEL, Hedman scored 3 goals, and registered 2 assists in 44 games with MODO.

16. (17) Johnny Oduya, D — Height: 6’0 Weight: 200 lbs.
2001 Draft, 221st Overall DOB: Oct 1, 1981

One of the Caps meaner prospects, Johnny Oduya, has been playing in the Swedish Elite League for the past few seasons and is perennially among the league leaders in penalty minutes. Despite the fact that Oduya is one of the tougher guys in the SEL, he can do more than fight, and has put up pretty solid offensive numbers despite the amount of time that he spends in the box. This season, as a member of Frolunda, Oduya scored 8 goals and 11 assists in 47 games. He also has 92 minutes in penalties — a far cry from the last two seasons of 173 and 139 respectively.

Oduya is an energy guy who plays with a lot of intensity. He brings a good package of skill and toughness to the table, and is a pretty decent playmaker as well as a fighter. Should he decide to make the jump back to North America (he had one season in the QMJHL in 2000-01), Oduya would likely find a home in Hershey as Washington continues to rotate young defensemen to the NHL as part of the evaluation of talent consistent with the rebuilding effort.

17. (NR) Joey Tenute, C — Height: 5’9 Weight: 180 lbs.
2003 Draft, 261st Overall DOB: Apr 2, 1983

After two stellar offensive campaigns in the OHL, Tenute made the jump to professional hockey in 2004-05 and played for Washington’s ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. In South Carolina, Tenute had a marvelous rookie season, and registered 75 points (34 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games. He was also named the ECHL Rookie of the Year, and finished fifth overall in the league in scoring.

Washington rewarded Tenute’s outstanding play by signing him to a multi-year contract this past fall. Scoring consistency has followed him everywhere and Hershey is no different. Tenute currently ranks fifth in overall scoring for the Bears, and has registered 16 goals and 28 assists in 55 games this season.

Tenute also made his NHL debut this season with the Caps. He played very sparingly in his debut, but did manage to register a shot on goal. He did struggle a little bit in the corners and along the boards, but played his position well as his line generally controlled the flow of the game when they were on the ice.

Although Tenute is small in stature, he is pretty tough to knock off the puck and he uses good speed and elusiveness to get away from defenders when he is working down low and along the boards. He can also take care of himself, as Tenute historically puts up just about as many penalty minutes as he does points. There are very few holes in Tenute’s overall game, and there is no doubt that he is an offensively gifted player with sound playmaking and scoring skills. However, if Tenute is going to make to the next level, he will have to find ways to compensate for his size when he battles the much larger defensemen of the NHL. Expect to see Tenute continue to mature in the AHL for a few seasons.

18. (NR) Dave Steckel, C — Height: 6’5 Weight: 220 lbs.
2001 Draft, 30th Overall. DOB: Mar 15, 1982

Add Steckel to the still-growing list of players who made their NHL debuts for the Caps this season.

Steckel, a former first round pick of Los Angeles, was a surprise free agent acquisition for Washington last summer, and to date, he has yet to disappoint as he has emerged as a leader on the Hershey Bears squad. Steckel excels at the defensive side of the game. He is a prominent fixture of the Bears’ penalty kill, and like Gordon, can also put the puck in the net as well. Although he is not the overpowering physical presence for someone his size, he does play the body well and also rarely gets caught out of position. So far this season, Steckel has registered 13 goals and 20 assists, and has appeared in 69 games for the Bears.

Steckel looked good in his five appearances with the Caps this season. Like the majority of the aforementioned players who made their NHL debuts this year, Steckel also played very sparingly, but was very noticeable when he was on the ice. He made some very creative plays that seemed to fool defenders, and although he failed to register a point, Steckel was not on the ice for any goals against.

Steckel has the size, skating ability, defensive awareness, and playmaking skills that should transfer to the NHL level. He could be a terrific third or fourth line center. With lack of talent at the Center position in Washington, look for Steckel to possibly make the Caps’ roster next fall. However, a few more seasons in the AHL would not hurt his development.

19. (NR) Travis Morin, C — Height: 6’2 Weight: 200 lbs.
2004 Draft, 263rd Overall. DOB: Jan 9, 1984

Travis Morin has been one of the most consistent scorers for his team ever since his freshman season in 2003-04. This season, Morin led the Minnesota-Mankato Mavericks in goals (20), and finished the season tied for first on the team in with points (42). He is also a prominent fixture on the Mavericks power play, and plays a pretty sound defensive game for a scoring line center. He is also rarely penalized and finished the year with only 16 PIMs.

Morin is a fair skater with very good hands. He protects the puck with his body very nicely, and is very good at using the cycle either down low or along the half-wall. He also possesses a hard, accurate wrister as well.

Morin is coming up on his senior year, and soon it will decision time for the Caps as to where he continues his hockey career. If he decides to turn pro, Hershey would likely he be first destination. A decent third line scoring forward would be the best way to forecast Morin’s future success as an NHL player. However, only time will tell. Look for Washington to allow Morin to complete his full eligibility before making the jump to the professional hockey.

20. (NR) Daren Machesney, G — Height: 6’0 Weight: 180 lbs.
2005 Draft, 143rd Overall. DOB: Dec 13, 1986

Rounding out the top 20 is recently-signed goalie prospect Daren Machesney. Just last week the Caps signed the young netminder to a three-year, entry-level contract. It is expected that Machesney will play in the ECHL next season.

Although Machesney has good skills, he is young and will need a good bit of seasoning in the minors. In 29 games this season with Brampton of the OHL, Machesney has recorded 28 wins and 20 losses. Although he could stand to improve his 3.03 GAA, he does have a respectable save percentage of .908, and did record three shutouts this year – a season best for him.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.