Capitals Top 20 prospects

By David Rathbun

The Washington Capitals lost Alexander Ovechkin off their prospects roster, but with five picks in the first two rounds of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, including fourth overall, they have quickly restocked their stable. Six 2006 picks appear on the new Top 20.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Nicklas Backstrom, C, 8.5 B
2. Alexander Semin, LW, 8.5 B
3. Mike Green, D, 8 C
4. Eric Fehr, RW, 7.5 B
5. Tomas Fleischmann, LW, 7.5 C
6. Semen Varlamov, G, 7.0 C
7. Chris Bourque, C/LW, 7.0 C
8. Michal Neuvirth, G, 6.5 C
9. Francois Bouchard, C/RW, 7.0 C
10. Joe Finley, D, 6.5 B
11. Patrick McNeill, D, 6.5 B
12. Boyd Gordon, C, 6.5 B
13. Jeff Schultz, D, 6.5 B
14. Sami Lepisto, D, 6.0 B
15. Jakub Klepis, LW, 6.0 C
16. Sasha Pokulok, D, 6.0 C
17. Keith Seabrook, D, 7.0 D
18. Oskar Osala, LW, 6.0 C
19. Oscar Hedman, D, 5.5 B
20. Andrew Gordon, RW, 5.0 C

Key: Rank, (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Age
How Acquired, Rating

1. (NR) Nicklas Backstrom, C, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 4th overall
Rating: 8.5B

Many believed that Backstrom was the most NHL-ready player in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and could possibly have stepped right in to center the Caps’ top line. However, despite Washington’s efforts to lure him over to NHL for the 2006-07 season, Backstrom determined that he would be better served with one more year of hockey in the Swedish Elite League under his belt.

Backstrom is Washington’s potential franchise center of the future. He has a good combination of speed and grit, and already possesses the hockey sense of seasoned veterans. He also has an above average shot, and his playmaking ability is outstanding. He spent the last year playing against men as an 18-year-old, led his team in scoring and was named the SEL’s rookie of the year. He finished the 2005-06 season with 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) in 46 games.

At this stage in his development, Backstrom has even been compared to Philadelphia Flyers star Peter Forsberg. When Backstrom does finally decide to join the Caps, he is most certainly going to play alongside Caps superstar forward Ovechkin, potentially solidifying what could be the league’s most potent scoring duo. Look for Backstrom to join the Caps in 2007-08.

2. (1) Alexander Semin, LW, 22
2002 NHL Entry Draft, 13th overall
Rating: 8.5B

Although he was bumped from the top spot, Alexander Semin is by no means short on talent. During his NHL rookie season (2003-04), Semin netted 10 goals and 12 assists in 52 NHL games, with the majority of his scoring coming after Washington traded away their star offensive players — thus leaving Semin to play alongside very limited offense talent, while at the same time, trying to adjust to the North American style of play. Despite his limited offensive totals, there were many games during the 2003-04 season where Semin was the best player on the ice. He also single-handedly improved the Washington power play, as Semin is a half-wall specialist that can both shoot and pass from that position with very precise accuracy. He is also very fast and can stickhandle in high traffic areas and at very high speeds.

Washington sued Semin last fall for failing to report to training camp, claiming that Semin’s supposed “military obligations” in Russia were a “sham,” and that playing professional hockey in Russia was a breach of his current NHL contract. However, Washington was unable to force an injunction that would cease Semin from playing in the RSL and he remained there for the rest of the 2005-06 season. In two years since the lockout, Semin has split time between Lada Togliatti and Khimik, and registered 27 goals and 22 assists in 92 games.

Washington and Semin recently came together to bury some very ugly legal issues that only delayed the rest of the league from seeing what the Semin and Ovechkin duo could do. He will be in Washington’s line-up this fall, and will provide a much-needed scoring punch on the second line, and will most assuredly improve the Caps’ stagnant power play.

3. (3) Mike Green, D, 20
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 29th overall
Rating: 8.0 C

After a stellar final season the WHL, Green turned pro and had a very impressive professional rookie campaign while splitting time between Hershey (AHL) and the Caps.

During the 2005-06 AHL regular season, Green finished second on the Bears in scoring by a defenseman, registering 9 goals and 34 assists in 56 games. He was also +1 defensively. Green also appeared in 22 games with Washington last season, and finished his stint with 1 goal and 2 assists. He did, however, finish with a -8 rating, but on one of the NHL’s poorest defenses.

Despite his solid totals all season, it wasn’t until the 2005-06 AHL playoffs that Green solidified his position within the organization. He was the Bears’ best defender, appearing in all 21 playoff games and finishing second in the league in post-season points scored by a defender. In 21 playoff games, Green registered 3 goals and 15 assists, and finished with an impressive +16 rating.

Green is a solid hockey player. He plays a physical game, possesses decent size, and plays his position very well. Despite his young age, Green rarely gets rattled, plays with amazing poise, and as of now, has the makings of one day becoming a top-two defender. He also has a powerful slap shot, and is one of the better skaters in the entire Washington organization.

Unless Washington pulls off a last-minute trade this off-season, it would appear that Green’s days in the AHL are over — other than the occasional conditioning stint. Green is Washington’s lone blue-chip defensive prospect, and if he continues his to progress at his current rate, could eventually become a perennial all-star in the NHL.

4. (2) Eric Fehr, RW, 20
2003 NHL Entry Draft, 18th overall
Rating: 7.5 B

Another player beginning his pro career last fall was top winger prospect Eric Fehr. After two back-to-back 50-goal seasons in the WHL, Fehr turned pro last summer, and like Green, also made a smooth transition to the pro ranks.

Despite a mid-season slump, Fehr was one of Hershey’s best offensive weapons last season, scoring 25 goals and recording 28 assists in 70 games played. Fehr even earned the right to play 12 games with Washington as well. Despite failing to reach the score sheet, Fehr seemed somewhat comfortable with the flow of the NHL game and did not look out of place. Fehr was returned to Hershey at the end of the season to provide him with some crucial playoff experience.

Fehr did regain his scoring touch during the AHL playoffs, and registered 8 goals and 3 assists in 19 post-season contests. He also improved upon his woeful AHL regular season plus/minus rating of -12, finishing with a +2 in the post-season.

Fehr has great hands, terrific size, and is not afraid to go hard into the corners for loose pucks. He does, however, have to work on his skating and his defensive game, and should have the opportunity to do that next season as he is still a year away from becoming a steady NHL contributor. Although he is still a work in progress, Fehr has the makings of a terrific first or second line power forward, and will likely be counted on to pump in goals on the power play as well. Watch for Fehr to play a few NHL games in 2006-07, but make the full-time jump in 2007-08.

5. (6) Tomas Fleischmann, LW, 22
2002 NHL Entry Draft, 63rd overall
Rating: 7.5 C

After a very dismal, injury-plagued first pro season, Tomas Fleischmann rebounded in 2005-06 in a big way, finishing second in scoring for the Hershey Bears during the regular season, and finishing second in league-wide scoring during the 2006 Calder Cup playoffs.

Fleischmann really came into his own this season, and seemed to get progressively better by the week. He registered 30 goals and 33 assists in just 53 regular season contests. But more importantly, displayed his propensity for playing a two-way game as he finished the 2005-06 regular season with the best plus/minus of any Bears forward (+14). He also exploded during the playoffs and led the Bears in scoring with 11 goals and 21 assists in 20 post-season contests, where he was also +14 defensively.

Like several other Caps prospects, Fleischmann also saw some time in the NHL this season. He was, however, played very sparingly and only averaged about 5 to 6 minutes of ice time every game. He did manage to register two assists, but saw his NHL season end after only 12 games with the big club.

Fleischmann has a total package of speed, skating and scoring ability. Although he’s not the greatest puckhandler, he does have the ability to skate in high-traffic areas and possesses some solid playmaking skills as well. He has an above average shot, and his near 200 lbs is a great improvement from the 160 lbs that he weighed just three years ago.

Despite his solid play, Fleischmann is by no means a clear-cut choice to make the Caps’ opening night roster. A natural left winger by trade, Fleischmann may need to learn to play on the right side as the left wing ranks are already filled by seasoned, talented players (Ovechkin, Semin, Matt Pettinger). In any event, Fleischmann will have every opportunity to prove himself this fall. However, even if he does not make the team’s opening-night roster, Fleischmann will likely be one of the first players recalled in the event of injury. Fleischmann is projected to become a scoring second line winger if he reaches his full potential. Should he continue to progress at his current rate, the 2006-07 season will likely be his last in the minor leagues.

6. (NR) Semen Varlamov, G, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 23rd overall
Rating: 7.0 C

Not surprisingly, the Caps took a goalie early in the 2006 draft, selecting Russian standout Semen Varlamov. Varlamov is the first Russian goaltending prospect to be selected in the first round since Boston’s Evgeni Ryabchikov (1994), and joins current Caps’ goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, as the only other goalie ever selected in the first round by Washington.

Varlamov is a big, athletic goalie with lightning reflexes, and has been referred to by some as a potential game-stealer, and despite being the third goaltender selected at the 2006 draft, appeared at the top of many teams’ goaltending lists. In 2005-06, Varlamov played for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Russian second league. He appeared in 33 games, and posted an outstanding 1.81 GAA. However, like most goalies his age, Varlamov is a bit of a project.

It is likely that the Caps will allow him time to develop in Europe for a season or two before bringing him to North America.

7. (4) Chris Bourque, C/LW, 20
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 33rd overall
Rating: 7.0 C

Bourque, the son of hall-of-famer Ray Bourque, had a very up and down first pro season. After only playing one year at Boston University, Bourque signed with Washington last summer and skated as a member of the Hershey Bears in 2005-06. However, nagging injuries and inconsistent play limited Bourque to only 52 regular season games. He did, however, put up an impressive 36 points (8 goals, 28 assists), but also finished the year with a -5 rating. He appeared in only one post-season game, and did not register a point.

Despite being only 5’7, Bourque is solidly built. He weights a little over 190 lbs, and his low center of gravity makes him very difficult to push around on the ice. Although it’s a little too soon to start making Brian Gionta comparisons, Bourque does have some tremendous skills, and is already one of the finest skaters in the Washington organization. He is also a terrific puckhandler, has dynamic vision and can find the open man using clean, crisp passes.

Surprisingly, Bourque was one of the few Caps’ prospects who did not earn a trip up to the big club this past season. He is likely a couple seasons removed from full-time NHL duty, but don’t be surprised to see Bourque skate in a game or two with the Caps next year.

8. (NR) Michal Neuvirth, G, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 34th overall
Rating: 6.5 C

With consecutive picks in the 2006 draft, the Caps doubly addressed their lack of goaltending depth, tabbing goalie Michel Neuvirth with the 34th overall pick — just 11 spots after selecting Varlamov.

Neuvirth is a butterflier who, like Varlamov, also posted some solid numbers last season. In 45 games with Sparta of the Czech Junior League, Neuvirth had a GAA of 2.02. He also starred on the Czech Republic’s roster in last spring’s World Under-18 Tournament, posting a 2.44 GAA and .927 save percentage in seven games played.

Neuvirth was recently drafted by the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, and should get his first taste of the North American hockey in 2006-07. He too will have a ways to go before making the jump to the NHL, and like Varlamov, the Caps are likely poised to allow him to mature slowly.

9. (NR) Francois Bouchard, C/RW, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 35th overall
Rating: 7.0 C

Bouchard, a recent second-round selection at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, exploded onto the QMJHL this season. In 2004-05, the young center registered only 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 54 games with Baie-Comeau, but rebounded in 2005-06 and more than quadrupled his scoring output from the previous season. He finished 13th overall in league scoring in 2005-06, ending last season with an impressive 102 points (33 goals, 69 assists) in 69 games.

Bouchard, the younger brother of the Minnesota Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, is already larger than his older brother but plays a more timid style of play. He does not always initiate contact when on the ice, and despite his awesome scoring repertoire, he was also -6 defensively too. He will need to work on his strength and defensive awareness in order to make the next step.

Bouchard is a great pickup for Washington. He possesses solid playmaking and skating skills, has a decent shot and is a slick puckhandler as well. It is likely that Washington will allow Bouchard to play out the next two seasons in the QMJHL before looking to bring him into the system. When he does finally turn pro, look for Bouchard to spend at least a season or two in the AHL prior to handling full-time NHL duty. A 60-point, second-line player is definitely not out of the question when it comes to his future potential.

10. (8) Joe Finley, D, 19
2005 NHL Entry Draft, 27th overall
Rating: 6.5 B

With few hardnosed defenders in the pipeline to replace Brendan Witt’s physical play, the Caps will likely look to Joe Finley to eventually fill that role.

“Big Joe” skated as a member of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux last season and quickly established himself as one of the team’s most reliable defenders. He appeared in 43 games for UND, but registered just three assists. He did, however, finish the season at +18 defensively and racked up 96 penalty minutes along the way.

Finley is not flashy. He is a tough, powerful defender who frustrates opposing forwards with huge hits and sound defensive play. In December of last year, Finley fractured his arm during a game and even played a few more shifts before finally coming out of the contest. He then went on to miss only two games after the injury.

Finley is a surprisingly good skater for a 6’7 player. He is very agile, and has a very heavy shot, although he rarely gets to use it. Right now in his development, Finley is still pretty raw and the Caps are likely to allow him to play out his collegiate eligibility before bringing him into the system. He could eventually become one of the most fearsome defenders in the league one day. But for now, Finley is still several years from being an NHL player, and will likely develop in Hershey for a season or two once he does turn pro.

11. (10) Patrick McNeill, D, 19
2005 NHL Entry Draft, 118th overall
Rating: 6.5 B

One player who exploded onto the Caps’ prospect radar last season was Ontario native Patrick McNeill. Despite his relatively small size for a defender at 6’0, the Caps may just have located their power-play quarterback of the future.

After a lackluster 2004-05 season in Saginaw in the OHL, McNeill put up some very pedestrian numbers, registering just 7 goals and 26 assists in 66 games with the Spirit. He also had a woeful plus/minus rating of -29. The 2005-06 was a different story altogether though, as McNeill took the OHL by storm. He lead the OHL in scoring by a defenseman with 77 points (21 goals, 56 assists), and rebounded from last season’s plus/minus by finishing the season at +24.

Although McNeill is approaching 200 lbs, he is still not a very physical player for a defender. He can also be caught out of position, as McNeill is primarily an offensive defender and is always looking to join the rush up ice. However, solid positional play is something that can be taught, as is strength conditioning.

McNeill will likely turn pro next summer as Washington’s rights to him will expire. If he continues to develop like he has, he will likely step right in and become one of Hershey’s best defenders, similar to what Green did last season. McNeill is projected to be a power-play specialist at the professional level, but could even turn into a top-four defender if he continues to improve at his current rate.

12. (7) Boyd Gordon, C, 22
2002 NHL Entry Draft, 17th overall
Rating: 6.5 B

Always a threat to score in the AHL, Gordon, a third-year pro, has yet to translate his offensive talents to the NHL level and has seemed to have settled nicely into the role that the Caps have set out for him: penalty killing.

Gordon is another great skater that plays a heads-up, well-balanced game. He forechecks hard, picks up his defensive assignments very well, and is rarely caught out of position. He is so steady that he is frequently the lone forward assigned to 5-on-3 odd-man situations — a testament to his defensive abilities. He can also be counted on to give an honest effort night-in and night-out.

Last season, Gordon split time between Washington and Hershey. In 25 games with Washington, Gordon only mustered one assist. He was, however, -4 defensively, but played on a very bad Caps team — especially in the beginning of the season. In Hershey it was a different story altogether. Gordon was one of the Bears steadiest players when he was there, appearing in 58 games and registering 16 goals and 22 assists with a +9 defensive rating. He also appearing in 21 playoff games, and tallied three goals and assisted on five others.

Gordon will compete for a spot in training camp this fall. However, Washington’s current roster is loaded with one-way contracts, not to mention the fact that the Caps recently re-signed several of their third and fourth line regulars to multi-year deals — making it a tough spot for a player of Gordon’s caliber. It is very likely that he will one day be a full-time NHL regular, and could possibly become one of the game’s premier third line players. Watch for more of the same from Gordon next season as the Caps continue to rotate their prospects up and down throughout the year.

13. (9) Jeff Schultz, D, 20
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 27th overall
Rating: 6.5 B

After a strong performance at the Caps’ training camp last fall, 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 displayed remarkable improvement, picking up his scoring in the second half of the year finishing the season ranked 14th in the WHL in scoring by a defenseman. He registered seven goals and 33 assists in 68 games last season and rebounded from his woeful –7 rating in 2004-05 by finishing the 2005-06 campaign at +20.

However, Schultz’s play in the junior ranks was not his most impressive stat. At the end of the WHL season, Schultz joined the Hershey Bears and appeared in seven playoff games. He even managed to record his first professional goal, and added 3 assists to finish his stint with a +4 rating. More importantly, he did not look out of place in the league.

For someone of his size, Schultz is a fairly timid player. Although he does not shy away completely from physical play, he does however, look to use his long reach to poke check the puck away from oncoming forwards and uses his big frame to get in people’s way rather than delivering big hits that could potentially take him out of position. He is also a very good positional player, and has improved his one-on-one coverage as well.

Schultz is actually a pretty decent player on the offensive side of the puck too. He has a very crisp outlet pass that quite often springs odd man breaks, and he possesses a low, hard shot that could be useful on the Washington power play.

Schultz has not added a lot of weight to his frame over the last year, and he is still very light for his someone over 6 ½ feet tall at 225 lbs. He is, however, aware that he needs to improve his strength, and the conditioning that he will receive at the AHL and NHL levels can only improve his play. He is expected to play in Hershey next season, but is a likely candidate to see some occasional call-ups year should one of the Caps’ regulars go down with an injury.

14. (13) Sami Lepisto, D, 21
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 66th overall
Rating: 6.0 B

Sami Lepisto is arguably one of the best defensive prospects currently playing in the Finnish leagues. Last season as a member of Jokerit Helsinki, Lepisto was the third highest scorer on his team, finishing the season with 8 goals and 21 assists and appearing in all 56 games.

On the smallish side as far as defenders go, Lepisto is still right around 180 lbs, and has not gotten any bigger since he was drafted more than two years ago. He is, however, a very gifted offensive player, and is an excellent puckhandler with superior playmaking ability.

With the new rules the NHL introduced last season that rewards skating and speed, it is fair to say that Lepisto would have a chance at making it to the NHL. However, an NHL defenseman must still be able to compete physically in the corners and along the boards. For this reason alone, it is likely that Lepisto may not have the physicality to become a success at the NHL level — at the defensive position anyway.

15. (5) Jakub Klepis, RW, 22
2002 NHL Entry Draft, 16th overall
Rating: 6.0 C

Tumbling all the way down to 15th is the highly talented yet inconsistent forward, Jakub Klepis.

Klepis was one of many Caps’ prospects that made his debut this season for Washington. After starting the season in Hershey, Klepis was called up to Washington early in the year. He scored a highlight-reel goal in his first NHL game, and followed up that performance with an assist in the very next game, helping Washington to record their first back-to-back victories of the season. Unfortunately for Klepis, it was all down hill from there as the young winger did struggle with the speed of the NHL level and was very inconsistent. In 24 games with the Caps this season, Klepis had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) but was a woeful –11 defensively.

Klepis was also very inconsistent at the AHL level as well and only managed to post 11 goals and 20 assists in 54 games with the Bears. He was also second worst on the Bears in plus/minus with a -13 defensive rating. Klepis was even scratched for six post-season games, and only managed to record 2 goals and 6 assists in 15 playoff appearances. He did improve on his plus/minus though, finishing the Bears’ Calder Cup run with a +3 rating.

Klepis is incredibly gifted, but his consistency and defensive play are major concerns. He has great size, is not afraid to pay the price for loose pucks, and is a great skater with a good shot. He is also a decent playmaker as well.

Washington’s current roster is pretty crowded with forwards and it would be surprising for any Hershey forward to fully crack the Caps’ roster this season. Look for Klepis to continue his development in Hershey next fall and possibly see a game or two at the NHL level next season.

16. (11) Sasha Pokulok, D, 20
2005 NHL Entry Draft, 14th overall
Rating: 6.0 C

A surprise first-rounder in 2005, Sasha Pokulok became the first Connell University player to be selected in the first round of any NHL entry draft — Montreal hall-of-fame goalie, Ken Dryden, was also selected 14th overall, but was a third-round selection due to the fact that there were only six teams in the league in 1964. He recently turned pro this summer after singing an entry-level contract with the Caps, thus foregoing his remaining two years of college eligibility.

At 6’5, Pokulok joins Schultz (6’7) and Finley (6’7) to make up one of the “Triple Towers” on the Caps’ defense. He is arguably a better skater than the other two, and like Schultz, is also a very good passer with a hard, low shot. He does, however, possess a little bit of a “mean streak,” and is not afraid to use his size to his advantage — although he plays a tighter physical game as opposed to a punishing one like Finley does.

In two seasons with the Big Red, Pokulok registered 7 goals and 16 assists in 53 games, and finished his collegiate career with an accumulative defensive rating of +12. He is expected to become a mainstay on the Hershey blue line next season, but may find his way up to the Caps for a game or two as Washington continues to evaluate younger players during the course of their current rebuilding effort. Pokulok may become a steady, fourth, fifth or sixth NHL defender should he reach his full potential.

17. (NR) Keith Seabrook, D, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 52nd overall
Rating: 7.0D

Seabrook, the younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Brent Seabrook, played the 2005-06 season as a member of the Burnaby Express of the BCHL. After a slow start to the season, Seabrook came on late in the year, and emerged as one of the team’s best defenders. In 57 games, Seabrook registered 10 goals and 24 assists, and finished the year with a total of 81 PIMs.

Seabrook also had an impressive post-season as well, and was one Burnaby’s key players during the team’s Doyle Cup championship run. He finished the playoffs as the leagues highest scoring defender, registering 9 goals and 10 assists in 20 postseason games.

Seabrook has tremendous offensive upside. He is a great passer and is a versatile power play quarterback as well. Although he can at times be out of position due to the fact the he thinks offense first, Seabrook will have the opportunity to learn better defensive awareness in the NCAA as he recently accepted a scholarship to play at Denver University.

Seabrook has the tools to possibly become one of the Caps’ best prospects over the next few seasons. Although his impressive numbers in the BCHL would not necessarily have translated to the more premier Canadian Junior leagues, Seabrook would not have been eligible for a collegiate scholarship if played in the CHL last season. However, he is a great talent, and could emerge as one of the NCAA’s premier offensive defenders.

18. (NR) Oskar Osala, LW, 18
2006 NHL Entry Draft, 97th overall
Rating: 6.0 C

Osala got his first taste of North American hockey last season playing for the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL last season. Despite the Finn’s slow start, Osala had a much better second half of the season as he appeared more comfortable with the team’s system. He finished the year with fairly decent states, registering 17 goals and 26 assists in 68 games played. He was also a prominent fixture on the Mississauga power play.

At 6’4 and already hovering around 220 lbs, Osala is a huge presence in a league dominated by teenagers. Although he’s not a relatively physical player, he does use his size and frame to his advantage, especially the way that he shields the puck away from defenders. Another trait that he has is that he likes to crash the net hard — a trait not usually common in European-born players. He also possesses a decent shot, and can skate very well for a player of his size.

Osala is a project at this point in his development. However, a player possessing the size and skill of a player like Osala will definitely get every opportunity to see if he can make it to the next step. A point-scoring, second or third-line winger is not out of the question in terms of long-term potential. He will likely remain in the Canadian Juniors for two more years to continue his development.

19. (14) Oscar Hedman, D, 20
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 132nd overall
Rating: 5.5 B

Once pegged as a sure second rounder at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Oscar Hedman fell all the way to the Caps at 132nd. However, the young Swede’s stock has risen considerably over the last year, largely in part due to his strong performance at the 2006 World Junior Championships. At the 2006 WJC, Hedman was one of the steadiest defenders in the tournament, and finished with a tournament high defensive rating of +10.

Hedman is a pretty solid defender that possesses few weaknesses in his game. At only 6 feet tall, Hedman is not a very big player, but he does posses tremendous size and smarts. He is right now weighing in the neighborhood of 215 lbs, and is very physically strong. He does use his body well, and wins his fair share of battles in the corners. In 44 games this season as a member of MODO in the SEL, Hedman scored 3 goals and registered 2 assists.

It is surprising that the Caps have yet to bring over their two best European defenders, Lepisto and Hedman. Perhaps Washington is content with allowing them to mature in Europe and continue to develop in their respective professional hockey leagues. But, with a plethora of defensive prospects selected over the past two seasons, it is assumed that the minor league system will eventually be somewhat crowded. However, the cream always rises to the top, and Hedman will have the chance to prove that he belongs in the NHL. Hedman is projected to become a decent fourth to sixth defenseman if he reaches his full potential.

20. (NR) Andrew Gordon, RW, 20
2004 NHL Entry Draft, 197th overall
Rating: 5.0 C

And rounding out the top 20 is second-year collegiate standout, Andrew Gordon.

After a productive, but not stellar, freshman campaign with the St. Cloud State University Huskies, Gordon rebounded in a big way, leading the Huskies in scoring, and registering his first 20-goal college season. In 42 games, Gordon tallied 20 goals and added 20 assists for 40 points. He was also a tied for the team high in plus/minus with a +19 rating.

Gordon has improved his size over the last year, and is apparently a big time weight room presence. Ay 5’11 and 195 lbs, Gordon possesses great size for a winger. He is also very strong and possesses decent speed and skating ability. He is also a playmaker in his own right, and picks up his defensive assignments very well.

Gordon is an intriguing player that has flown under the radar until recently. He could become a solid two-way player that can chip in the occasional goal at the NHL level some day. However, time will tell. Gordon has two more years left of eligibility and expect Washington to allow him to use that time to continue his development. A third-line scoring winger is Gordon’s projected future potential.

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