The Washington Capitals had just four players competing in the Canadian Juniors this season. Three of the four players will likely make the jump to professional hockey this fall.
Jeff Schultz, D
Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Height: 6’6; Weight: 210 lbs; DOB: February 25, 1986
2004 Draft, 27th overall
After three productive seasons in the WHL, Schultz was rewarded with a contract this past summer and was impressive in Washington’s training camp last fall. He did not look out of place, and although he did show signs of inexperience, he did appear comfortable with the speed of the game and was easily one of Washington’s standouts at camp. However, the Caps felt that Schultz could benefit from one more season in the juniors and assigned him to Calgary for the 2005-06 season.
Despite a slow start to the 2005-06 campaign, Schultz really turned on the offense in the second half of the season and managed to have his most productive junior season to date. In 68 games with the Hitmen this season, Schultz registered seven goals, 33 assists, and rebounded from last year’s poor plus/minus (-7) by finishing the year with a +20 defensive rating.
Schultz was also the hero in Calgary’s recent, overtime series-clinching game against division rival Lethbridge. Schultz also scored another goal in the six-game series, and added four assists for six points, putting him in a tie for fourth place in scoring by a defenseman in the WHL postseason.
This is Schultz’s last junior season, and a lengthy postseason push would help him finish strongly. He is a good passer, and is not afraid to join the rush. He also has a pretty accurate shot from the point, and generally keeps his blasts low as to cause deflections and also to make it more difficult for goalies to see the puck. He is also very responsible with his defensive assignments.
Although Schultz is a towering presence on the ice, he is not an overly physical player. However, he does prefer to play a “stand ‘em-up” method as opposed to seeking to deliver bone-jarring checks that could possibly take him out of position. Schultz also has a very well-timed pokecheck that often catches offensive threats off guard, and is a surprisingly mobile for such a tall skater.
Schultz will be in the Caps camp this fall, but it is expected that he will begin his pro career playing for the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He could crack the Caps line-up from time to time next season, but in order to be effective, he is going to need to add weight to his lanky frame. A season in the minors, especially with the conditioning that the pro game has to offer, will likely do wonders for Schultz’s development. He is projected to become a decent fourth or fifth defenseman with a scoring upside if he reaches his full potential.
Clayton Barthel, D
Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Height: 6’3; Weight: 212 lbs; DOB: April 2, 1986
2004 Draft, 88th overall
Barthel is finishing his junior career with his most productive scoring season to date. In his fourth year as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Barthel finished the regular season with eight goals and 11 assists, but regressed a bit in the plus/minus department as he finished the year with his worst defensive rating at the junior level (-10). However, his defensive rating can be somewhat inflated since Barthel is usually paired up with offensive-minded defense partners, and also sees time alongside less-experienced defensemen. He does, however, play sound defensive hockey, plays the body well, and is very aware of his positional play in his own end.
Barthel has appeared in all five postseason games with the Thunderbirds this year, but has not registered a point and is currently sitting at –1 defensively for the opening round series. The series enters game six on Apr. 4 as Seattle looks to pull even with the Portland Winter Hawks in hopes of forcing a game seven.
Clayton Barthel meets the definition of the prototypical stay at home defenseman. He does not possess an overly flashy style, but does play defense first and only looks to create offensively once his defensive responsibilities are taken care of. He has a decent shot, and possesses an above average outlet pass as well. He also plays the body very well, and is definitely not afraid to mix it up in the corners and along the boards.
It will soon be decision time for the Caps as Washington has only until Jun. 1 to sign Barthel or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Should the Caps exercise their option on Barthel, he could go to either Hershey or South Carolina (ECHL) next fall. Barthel could become a decent fifth or sixth shutdown type defenseman if he reaches his full potential.
Patrick McNeill, D
Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Height: 6’0; Weight: 195 lbs; DOB: March 17, 1987
2005 Draft, 118th overall
A 2005 draft steal?
McNeill’s draft status may have suffered due to the fact that he was on a very bad team last season. However, it appears that this year he has done everything to prove his critics wrong. McNeill finished first in the OHL in scoring by a defenseman with 77 points (21 goals, 56 assists), and helped propel Saginaw to its first postseason appearance in team history. McNeill’s numbers were a far cry from last season’s 33 points (7 goals, 26 assists), and he also rebounded from last season’s woeful plus/minus (-29) by finishing the 2005-06 campaign at +24 defensively.
Saginaw faced a formidable opponent this postseason, as the Guelph Storm swept the series in four games. McNeill did manage to score four points (1 goal, 3 assists), and finished the four-game series with a –1 defensive rating.
McNeill is a solid player and has very few holes in his overall game. Although he does excel at the offensive aspects of the game, his willingness to join the rush does lead to some defensive lapses on his part. However, since defensemen usually take longer to develop than forwards, he still has time to refine the defensive aspects of his game before turning pro.
Although he is only 6’0 tall, he does weigh in at around 200 lbs and is solidly built. He is not known for being an overly physical player, but he does play the body well, and his speed also assists him with his positional play. He has a great outlet pass and a great shot from the point, and displays clever playmaking abilities as well.
McNeill is still several years away from becoming a consistent NHL contributor. However, Washington can’t ignore the pure talent in this young man and will likely be keeping a very close eye on his overall development. Look for McNeill to become a solid, power-play quarterback in the NHL if he can reach his full potential. He will remain in junior next season as he is too young to play in the AHL.
Daren Machesney, G
Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Height: 6’0; Weight: 177 lbs; DOB: December 13, 1986
2005 Draft, 143rd overall
Machesney’s stock in the Caps organization recently went up. Last month, Washington signed him to a three-year entry-level contract which makes it very likely that he will come out of juniors and begin his pro career in the fall.
Although he pretty much split time in net the previous season with teammate Kevin Couture, Machesney has only put up decent overall numbers this season as a starter. He did, however, finish the season ranked 10th in the OHL with a GAA of 3.03, and posted a respectable save percentage of 9.08. In 49 games this season with Brampton, Machesney posted 28 wins (2 shutouts), 17 losses, an overtime loss, and two shootout losses.
Machesney has been very solid for Brampton this postseason, and has helped lead the Battalion past the Belleville Bulls in the first round of the OHL playoffs. In six postseason contests, Machesney elevated his game by posting an impressive GAA of only 2.22, and a save percentage of .916.
Machesney is an average sized goalie with slightly above average ability. Although he does tend to over extend himself at times when challenging shooters, he does have pretty quick reflexes and he uses his angles well to square up to shooters.
It is assumed that since the Caps have two goalies in Hershey over the age of 30, the time has come to promote prospect Maxime Daigneault to Hershey for full-time duty next season. If that is the case, then such a move would likely sure up a spot for Machesney in South Carolina (ECHL). It is possible that he could be returned to Brampton in the fall, but with the lack of goaltending prospect depth in Washington’s system, that scenario seems unlikely.
Machesney is still a project at this point in his development. Given Washington’s history of timelines for grooming goalies, it is assumed that the Caps will likely try to bring Machesney along slowly so he can gain experience and build confidence as well. Look for Machesney to begin his pro career next fall as a member of the Stingrays, but at the very least, remain in Brampton for one more season before making the jump to pro hockey.
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