Throughout their history, the Washington Capitals have been a team able to identify talent in the NHL Entry Draft and the current pool of prospects shows that. In this article, NoVa Caps’ Luke Adomanis looks at the Caps’ 30 best prospects and breaks his analysis down, position by position.
It took a while, but after going through all of the Capitals’ 30 prospects from different age groups and leagues, the list has been condensed down going from “best” to “worst” at each position. These lists always cause a bit of a ruckus with the fans because it’s either the writer values someone too much or not enough, or they seem to be crazy for saying something about one and not the other, or so on and so forth. This list is as objective as possible. I try not to get too hyped or too down on players. I watch the ones I can and compare stats to come up with the best analysis. That’s not saying it’s perfect, but it is put together the best it could be. There are some things that must be considered before reading on.
First, the list can vary not just on how skilled and talented players are, but who is closest to making a definite impact for the Capitals at the NHL level. For instance, Nathan Walker is ranked higher than Beck Malenstyn, but that’s only because Walker is likely to start playing for the Capitals and seems more definite to become an NHL player as a fourth-liner. But Malenstyn, if he continues to develop properly, has all the tools to potentially be a better player than Nathan Walker, but he’s too far off to say he’ll be a definite, impactful NHL player. There’s going to be a lot of those on this list and it is expected a lot of players will jump over others by summer.
Something that will be a topic of debate is the “ceilings” predictions listed after each player summary. It is not saying a certain player will be something (except Ilya Samsonov), but simply saying with their skill level and their individual play in their respective leagues, they have the ability to reach certain heights. It does not mean they will reach that level, most players don’t ever reach it. It is simply saying they can get there, it’s up to them to actually get there. Heck, maybe there are some that will go through the ceiling that it’s thought they can reach, none of this is definite, just speculation.
This is the position that the Capitals are the most thin in terms of prospect depth. They don’t have any prospects that jump out as a future top 6 player or at least top-line and that’s a problem. The Caps will get a lot of years from established stars Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, but still need to have a backup plan, a trust that if they lose one they will have someone there for the future. It’s extremely difficult to find top 6 centers outside the first two rounds and that’s a problem for the Caps since they don’t have a pick until the fourth-round this summer and don’t have a second-round pick next summer. They need to start addressing this need soon.
Travis Boyd – 23-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2011 – AHL
Looking as though he could be a late-round steal, Boyd has been fantastic in his AHL career. In 152 games played, he’s potted 37 goals and 79 assists for 116 points. He’s not really a goal-scorer, but he is known for his big game heroics. However, if he really wants to take that next step, he needs to be shooting more. Boyd finished seventh in AHL scoring and had the lowest shot total of the top 20 scorers (except defenseman Christian Djoos). He finished with 118 total shots, that’s far below two shots a game. That simply won’t cut it in the NHL if a player wants to be really impactful. An underrated gift Boyd has is health. He has played two fully healthy AHL seasons for the Hershey Bears, which is saying a lot since it seemed everyone on the Bears was hurt at some point this past season.
Ceiling: He reminds me a whole lot of former Capital Mathieu Perreault. Both are smaller players (both 5’10” around 185 lbs), but play hard and smart. If Boyd can turn out anything like Perreault did for the Caps, it would be fantastic. Matty P has played in a top 6 role with the Winnipeg Jets and put up 45 points in 65 games played this past season; that’s 57 points in an 82-game season, but he did that playing on the wing. Some expect the same thing to happen with Boyd. He can be a strong third-line player, but might be able to play top 6 at a wing position.
Chandler Stephenson – 23-years old – Third-round pick in 2012 – AHL
Being a very speedy, two-way center, a team can always rely on Stephenson to make the right choice. His issue lies in consistency, as his head coach in Hershey, Troy Mann, has pointed out. He is the type of player who can go five games and put up five points, but then go the next five putting up zero points. He just finished a career year in the AHL with 38 points in 72 games. The year before he had a better point per game season, but only played 46 games. He has no points in 13 NHL games played, but has put up stellar possession stats in that small stretch. His strengths are his speed and his two-way game. He needs to work on his offense more to really make an impact with the Caps.
Ceiling: Maybe a third-liner, but some think it would be best if he played at wing. Many see him as a good, reliable fourth-line center that can pitch in on the Penalty Kill. He has the tools to be better, but he can’t seem to put it all together.
Garrett Pilon – 19-years old – Third-round pick in 2016 – WHL
Of all the centers on this list, Pilon is the the most interesting because of where he was selected. In most mock drafts, Pilon was picked to land in the fifth, sixth, or seventh round, but the Capitals snagged him in the third-round. To some, that says the Caps see something in him and a lot of upside. But it’s easy to see why he was projected to go so late, at the time, he was 5’10” and 177 lbs. He’s now listed as 5’11” and 187 lbs, so he’s already growing, which is good news. He has a very high hockey IQ, but he needs to work on his shot and putting some muscle on should help with that. He just put up 65 points in 67 Western Hockey League games, but only 10 of those were on the power play. If he gets more power play time and gets more ice time, his points could skyrocket next season.
Ceiling: Too early to tell. His next season in the WHL will be a big indicator on where his future may lie. He could jump Stephenson on this list and maybe Boyd eventually if he can put it all together.
Brian Pinho – 22-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2013 – NCAA
Much like Boyd, Pinho is looking more and more like a great late-round grab. In fact, he’s had a better college career through his junior year than Boyd did. He just had a monster year leading his team with 28 assists (nine more than the next player) and 40 points (six more than the next player), all in 39 games played. In fact, he had the most assists by a Providence Friar since 2002-2003 which is very impressive. It’s hard to find many faults in his game, but if anything he needs to be shooting more, another Boyd comparison. He managed 91 shots in 39 games, but if a player is leading a team, some want to see a bit more than that.
Ceiling: Hard to tell exactly, but as is, he could follow in Boyd’s footsteps and end up being a solid third-liner that could maybe jump into the top 6 if needed. He still has his senior year to prove he can be more than that. He could very well jump higher up on this list next summer. On April 25th, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friendman did his weekly 30 for 30, and in the very last part (30), he drops some very random piece of intel. Out of nowhere, he talks about Brian Pinho being a steal and that he is able to test free agency next summer in August. That is very odd. It’s a good and bad thing. It’s good because he’s catching the attention of people outside the organization, meaning he could have some legitimate skill, or it could mean he might test free agency, meaning the Caps would lose him for nothing.
Hampus Gustaffson – 23-years old – Free agent signing – NCAA
In March, the Caps grabbed free agent Gustaffson from Merrimack College. He’s a big player at 6’4” and 205 lbs and, as shown by his fight in Hershey in less than 10 games played, he isn’t scared to throw down. His college stats were never that impressive – in his senior year he posted 26 points in 36 games, then when he arrived in Hershey he only had two assists and no goals in 10 games. None of that jumps out at anyone, but it’s a bit unfair to judge him on that as Merrimack College isn’t exactly a top-end school in the hockey world and 10 games in the AHL is way too small of a sample size. This upcoming season, he should see some increased ice time with a chance to prove himself.
Ceiling: As his stats showed, he isn’t really showing much, but people in Hershey and those that know more about the college hockey world think Gustaffson has all the ability to be a third-line checking forward at the NHL level. Some think it’s too early to say, but the Capitals and their fans will find out quickly in this upcoming season.
Tim McGauley – 21-years old – Free agent signing – WHL
When fans first heard of the McGauley signing, some were really excited as he was showing a similar career path as Tampa Lightning forward Tyler Johnson. Both are small players with high-end skill. The Caps signed him two summers ago after he had a stellar year in the WHL, posting 105 points in 72 games. The main issue was the season after – he suffered a major injury out of the gate, missed 21 games, and never exactly found his groove after that. He had only 49 points in 51 games. Last year, he started his ECHL pro career, but faced the same problem as he was injured and missed significant time. He ended up with just 17 points in 39 games. McGauley needs to pray for full health as he could be getting some time in the AHL in the upcoming season to prove he still has skill to put up big numbers.
Ceiling: Because of all of the injuries, this is very hard to predict. He is a smaller player, but has a lot of skill and toughness. He’s also not afraid to be in front of the net. To most, he either works out and can make a big impact on the NHL level by being a middle-line center or he’s a career AHL player. Most would probably bet the latter as of now, but hopefully he proves them wrong. If he does, he can jump very high on this list.
The Caps have never really had a hard time finding wingers, it is arguably the easiest position to find talent at. They still have four years on Alex Ovechkin’s contract, two more years from Marcus Johansson, can possibly expect Andre Burakovsky to sign at least a bridge deal this summer, and there’s always the possibility of T.J. Oshie re-signing this summer. This doesn’t leave too much room for more top 6 wingers, but the Capitals have the ability to fill them in and at depth.
Jakub Vrana – 21-years old – First-round pick in 2014 – AHL
Vrana received all sorts of criticism towards the end of the season and in the Calder Cup Playoffs from his Hersey coach, Troy Mann. He complained about Vrana’s consistency, but there’s something people need to realize, Vrana had put up 55 points in 57 AHL games played over the last two years before being called up to the big club for the first time. It’s after that when others started noticing his work ethic. Here’s the thing, this usually happens after kids get their first taste of the NHL, they go back down to the AHL, yet their heads stay in the NHL. Last year, such notable names as Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin, New York Islanders’ Josh Ho-Sang, and Arizona’s Anthony Duclair all did the same thing and got the same amount of criticism. This isn’t condoning Vrana’s attitude, but because he had a little bad stretch doesn’t change what he is, a great prospect. Even Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan had this to say about Vrana, “He definitely has NHL speed, NHL shot, and NHL goal-scoring ability. We still project him as a top-six guy, but he’s going to have to learn to play the complete game.”
Here’s the thing, some would rather have a prospect with NHL speed, shot, and scoring ability that’s incomplete than the other way around. It’s easy to teach a guy to play more consistent, it isn’t easy to teach them to have top-end talent. Suffice it to say, take it easy on Vrana, he wants to be in the NHL.
Ceiling: Top-line forward. He’s very quick and has a release like few others. Some believe he even has the potential to score 30 goals. That may be saying a lot, but after watching him it’s easy to see. Most expect him to be on the third-line this year for the Caps, but over the next year or two, moving up. To some, he looks a lot like a Marian Gaborik type. He should fit in nicely with the top 6 one day.
Riley Barber – 23-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2012 – AHL
The Caps have been doing well with their late round pick when it comes to college prospects. Barber adds onto that list. After having a great college career with the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, he joined the Bears and instantly made an impact. In his first full season he posted 55 points in 74 games, good enough for fourth among all rookies in the entire AHL. He was looking to add onto those point totals last season, but injuries stopped him from doing so. He missed nearly three months, but was still able to put up 27 points in 39 games, which is still some good numbers. With the Caps looking to get younger, Barber will probably find a spot on their roster at some point during the season. He’s a tough kid that can go to the net and has sweet hands up close. Most importantly, he is the sandpaper the Capitals need in their top 9 to support the high-end skill they already have.
Ceiling: He actually follows a very similar path to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson – both are small, tough players drafted in the sixth-round that have impressed at every level and both averaged exactly 1.06 points per game in college. Will Barber score 30 goals like Atkinson did last season? It’s unlikely, but it’s possible if he becomes a consistent 20-plus goal scorer at some point in his career. At worst, he should be a really good third-liner that can play on the penalty kill and power play. Barber is also a noted great leader, wearing the captain’s “C” in college, and who knows, could be a viable captain some time down the road for the Caps.
Shane Gersich – 20-years old – Fifth-round pick in 2015 -NCAA
I swear this is the last time I’ll bring up the “late-round steal from college” (until I get to defensemen), but Gersich might be the best of that list. He possesses pure speed and great hands and shattered his freshman point total of 11 points in 37 games (9 goals and 2 assists) having had 21 goals and 16 assists (37 points) in 40 games played in his sophomore year. And you read that correctly, it was just his sophomore year; those are numbers sometimes seen in really good junior players, but usually senior players. He had a great first half, but kind of slowed down in his second, which makes sense since teams started paying attention to him more. He could easily be higher up on this list, but he has to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.
Ceiling: Based off the way he played last season, he seems to be a candidate for a top 6 future, but again, he needs to prove it wasn’t a fluke. I don’t think it was just based off the handful of games I watched him, but we’ll see. And if he does top his season from last year, the Capitals need to sign him ASAP, don’t give him a chance to walk for nothing.
Nathan Walker – 23-years old – Third-round pick in 2014 – AHL
Walker is the kind of player every team needs, a player that fought hard to be where he is. He may be a small player at 5’8” and 185 lbs, but he plays like he’s a giant.
He’s absolutely scared of no one and parks himself regularly in the blue paint. He can also play either wing or center so he’s very versatile. He has some nice underlying skill below that grit and can fly up and down the ice. You can read more about Walker in our “Meet the Prospect” series profile here.
Ceiling: Some see him as a Jay Beagle-type of player. He’ll mainly play on the fourth-line, but can be placed anywhere when needed due to his reliability. Plus he’ll make the penalty kill much better whenever he’s out there. Can’t wait to see this Australian make history.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby – Fifth-round pick in 2016 – SuperElit
Axel is a very interesting prospect to some because in his first year in the SuperElit League, he did very well. Among players that played at least 30 games, he posted the third-best points per game, 37 points in 32 games. Axel can be quite a grinder that doesn’t back down. Most of his goals come from in close to the net where coaches want to see young guys go.
Ceiling: Too early to tell, but it’s not extreme to make a comparison here between him and Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson’s 19-year old seasons in the SuperElit League. Arvidsson, in 43 games, had 25 goals and 16 assists (41 points). Fjallby had 17 goals and 20 assists (37 points), but in 11 less games. So if Axel averaged the same points, but played the same amount of games as Arvidsson (43), he would have had 23 goals and 27 assists (50 points), that’s nine more points than Arvidsson. That’s impressive. But we have no idea what each of their teams were like or what their playing time was like, so it’s not plausible to say Axel will be the next Arvidsson, just pointing out the comparison. For now we have to wait to see how he develops before we can point out a ceiling.
Beck Malenstyn – 19-years old – Fifth-round pick in 2016 – WHL
Probably the only real power forward in terms of size (6’2” and 194 lbs) and ability in the Caps’ arsenal, Beck had a promising third full year in the WHL. I always have a soft place in my heart for players that have more goals than assists. To me that says they love to shoot and the Caps need that badly. He ended the season with 32 goals and 24 assists (56 points) in 70 games, more than doubling the previous season’s point totals of 25 with eight goals and 17 assists. And he did all of that while playing on a poor Calgary Hitmen team. They barely slipped into the last playoff spot and were swept in the first round. His 32 goals were good for second on his team and 30th in the WHL, again on a bad team. He also plays center and wing, which always helps, though he spent almost all last season on wing where he’ll probably stay.
Ceiling: Recently signed by the Caps, it is still too early to tell what Beck’s ceiling is, but he’s looking very promising. He literally quadrupled his goal output from the year before in the same amount of games. It will be interesting to see how he does this upcoming season in another WHL season.
Liam O’Brien – 22-years old – Free agent signing – AHL
O’Brien was a surprise when he made the Caps’ Opening Night roster out of training camp before the 2014-2015 season, but since then he’s been quiet. A rugged customer that will take anyone on, he never exactly had an offensive touch. He had a pretty good season last year, his best in the AHL, putting up 30 points in 64 games. He even saw some time in the top 6 and that’s where he racked up most of his points.
Ceiling: It’s doubtful he ever becomes a full-time NHL player, but maybe he can be someone like Zach Sill, a depth guy that goes back-and-forth between the AHL and NHL. Maybe he can get a handful of games in the NHL this year and bring some energy when needed.
Damien Riat – 20-years old – Fourth-round pick in 2016 – NLA
Riat is a hard player to nail down, because not only does he play in Europe, but he plays in the Swiss league which isn’t the most exciting league out there. So not only is it hard to track how his stats compare, but it’s hard to watch him. The only time I was able to watch him was when he played in the World Junior Championships. He looked good on a decent, but not great Swiss team. In the tournament he had six points in five games. But in the league he plays in regularly, the National League A, he played in 46 games and had only seven goals and seven assists. It’s a league of men and he’s literally the youngest player on the team, so his ice time is likely pretty low. Next season, he should see a bit more ice time.
Ceiling: Again, it’s hard to tell with the Swisscom league, but it’s hard to see much he can give at the NHL level. Perhaps he could fit into the bottom-six or fourth-line. He kills penalties and plays a hard game so he may be able to fit in, but the Caps will still need to see more.
Steven Spinner – 21-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2014 – NCAA
Spinner just finished up his sophomore year, and though it wasn’t as impressive as Gersich’s, it wasn’t bad either. He finished with 21 points in 39 games and spent a lot of that time in the bottom-six, so he couldn’t do too much. He’s a very quick winger, but needs more accuracy on his shot.
Ceiling: Unless he finishes out his last two years of college on really high notes, don’t expect Spinner to make an impact on the NHL level. As of now, he’s best as a fourth-liner.
Kevin Elgestal – 21-years old – Seventh-round pick in 2014 – Allsvenskan
Elgestal broke his thumb during a team practice on January 21 after some feisty play along the boards. The injury came just eight days after Elgestal registered his first hat trick for Vita Hasten.
Ceiling: Unknown at this time. But of all the winger Elgestal has the most to prove. He needs to find another level if he wants show the Caps brass he’s ready for the next level.
This is the position that the Caps are most flushed at, at least as it looks now. Young defensemen are possibly the hardest players to determine ceilings for. They can be great in their respective leagues, then struggle in the NHL or the opposite. It’s hard to say, but based on where the Capitals’ defensemen play, the future looks promising. It’s hard to say if any of the prospects have potential to be a number one defenseman, but there a lot of top 4 capabilities, with a few maybe reaching that number one or top-pairing status.
Madison Bowey – 22-years old – Second-round pick in 2013 – AHL
Only months into the season after the Caps drafted him, Bowey was quickly praised as a second-round steal for the Caps that should have been taken way earlier. Known as a vocal leader with a booming shot and great puck-moving abilities that can put players on their bottoms with devastating hits, Bowey has developed into a great all-around player. He still gets some criticism for play in his own zone, especially in closing the gap on the opposition, but nothing so glaring that he shouldn’t be able to shore it up over the next couple of years. In his first AHL season, he managed to record 29 points in 70 games played, with a plus/minus rating of plus-22,and that was without any major power play time. This past season was looking to be a big year for him, but like many Hershey Bears players, he was injured in different stretches of the season, so he was never really able to get into any sort of groove. He only managed 14 points in 34 games played. Starting next season, he could very well be a strong contender to make the Capitals’ Opening Night lineup.
Ceiling: He has been compared often to longtime Caps blueliner John Carlson, an all-around player whose strength is offense and that has an absolute bomb from the point. Again, it may be a little too early to say such things, but he has the skill to be that number one guy. As of now, some would lock him down as at least a Top 4 defensemen with top-pairing capabilities.
Christian Djoos – 22-years old – Seventh-round pick in 2012 – AHL
Djoos is a guy that keeps proving everyone wrong. Many remember when he was first drafted in the seventh-round and critics believed that he wouldn’t and couldn’t adapt to the North American-sized rinks. In the 2015-2016 season, he had 22 points in 62 games played, but last season he surpassed that by a large margin putting up 58 points in 66 games played. That point total was good enough for third among all defensemen in the AHL. The two players ahead of him had only two more points, but played four and 10 more games than Djoos, respectively. If Djoos played as many games as them, he would have easily held the point lead. One thing in his game that could be improved is the amount of shots he takes. He had only 85 shots the whole season and, of the Top 30 scoring defensemen, he was only one of two blueliners that didn’t have triple digit shots and the other player had 99. He also needs to put on more weight, as he currently weighs around 165, and he should aim to possibly pack on around 15-20 more to stick in the NHL.
Ceiling: Even last summer, some had Djoos pegged a top 6 or depth defenseman at best, and even then some were skeptical. But, he stepped up in a big way once Bowey and Aaron Ness went down with injuries and had a monster season, most believe he has the ability to be even better. Is a second-pairing role out of reach? It’s hard to tell, but that’s not saying he can’t do it, because all he does is prove people wrong. A few think he can at least solidify himself as a strong bottom-pairing defenseman with potential to be more, like current Capital Nate Schmidt.
Lucas Johansen – 19-years old – First-round pick in 2016 –WHL
The younger brother of Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen, Lucas Johansen will someday play a much different role for the Capitals. He is also the product of the nicely dubbed “Defense Factory” of the Kelowna Rockets, the same team Madison Bowey came from. Johansen is possibly one of the smartest of all the Capitals’ defensive prospects. Bowey, Connor Hobbs, and Djoos could possibly be ranked higher than him in terms of scoring, but they don’t match Johansen’s mix of defense and offense. Think of Johansen as a smoother-skating Karl Alzner that can help put up some points. His hockey IQ is very high and he knows how to take care of his own end. He can then back that up by getting a nice, perfect pass out of the defensive zone and join the rush. He plays on both the power play and penalty kill, using his big frame to set up, though he could definitely be a bit more physical. Unfortunately, he had a somewhat disappointing 2016-2017 season in terms of points by only putting up 41 in 68 games played (he had 49 points in 69 games the year prior), but talk to any Rockets fan and they’ll say not to worry. He was tasked with really working on his defensive game this past season which lowered his point totals. He also had time taken away from him and given to Cal Foote, a player predicted to go in the middle of the first-round this upcoming summer.
Ceiling: Since he was drafted just last summer, it’s hard to say for sure, but if he has the smarts of Alzner, but with some offensive upside, many could very much see him being a number two on a good team. He was paired with Bowey for some time two years ago, making it possible that could be a strong pairing for the Caps in the future. It’s a really good mix – a more offensive-minded player with a booming shot, paired with a smart, smooth skater. Many like the sound of that.
Connor Hobbs – 20-years old – Fifth-round pick in 2015 – WHL
In terms of where Hobbs was picked and what he brings, he might be the best value pick for the Capitals in a long while. Taken 143rd overall, Hobbs led all WHL defensemen in points by a large margin this past season, by 14 points in fact. Hobbs put up 85 points (31 goals, 54 assists) in 67 games played; the second-best defenseman had 71 points in 70 games played. In fact, Hobbs had the most points by a WHL defenseman in the last 17 years! There are some caveats to this though, as he was on the offensively-stacked Regina Pats. They were like the Capitals team of 2009-10 – the opposing team could score on them, but they scored more than their opposition. In fact, Hobbs set a franchise record for the most goals in Regina Pats history. It was also the most goals by a WHL defenseman in the last 10 years. To add to the scoring, he is no slouch physically, he racked up the 12th-most penalty minutes (PIMs) by a defenseman with 92, and was tied for 22nd around the whole league in fights with six. If one searched his name on YouTube, the majority of the videos are hits and fights. But like most offensive defensemen, he needs to work on his play in his own end. It’s hard to do so in the WHL, but he could be playing in the AHL this upcoming season, so expect him to spend the next two or so years developing his defensive game.
Ceiling: Much like Bowey, Hobbs has an absolute bomb of a shot from the point (imagine both Capitals power play units having flamethrowers for shots from the point) and can move the puck very well. Some can see him slotting into a second-pairing role, as long as he cleans up his game and gets a defensively reliable partner to help him out. Hobbs even played a couple games on wing this past season, and racked up some points, so that might be something to keep an eye on.
Jonas Siegenthaler – 20-years old – Second-round pick in 2015 – NLA
The Caps were very high on Siegenthaler when they drafted him in 2015. They traded their third and fourth pick to jump up and grab him. Over the last two years, it’s easy to see why the Capitals wanted him. He’s a big player, coming in at 6’2” and 220 lbs, that has been playing with much older players since he was 16. He may never blow one’s mind offensively, but his experience in the professional leagues over the years has paid off. He really came to light in the 2016-2017 World Juniors U20 tournament. Many knew how good he was defensively, but he was also able to put up six points in five games, good enough for third in the whole tournament among defensemen, and the two players ahead of him played two more games than him and only had one and four more points than him, respectively; therefore, he could have possibly finished in second if he played as many games. He also accomplished this on the Swiss team, which was not a very good team. Another promising stat from the tournament was his shot total, with 14 in five games, good enough for seventh among defensemen, and again everyone in front of him played more games. After the tournament, pundits praised Siegenthaler and the Caps for possibly finding a first-round caliber pick in the second round (much like Bowey). Siegenthaler will be playing his first full year in Hershey in the upcoming season and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. He has played 13 games for Hershey and has looked a bit shaky, but that’s expected when a young player goes from the big European ice to smaller North American ice. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts over a full season. You can read more about Siegenthaler in our “Meet the Prospects” series profile here.
Ceiling: While the Alzner comparison was already used for Johansen, it also works here. Every time I watch Siegenthaler, I see a bigger version of Alzner. He’s so good in his own end and uses his body very well to short circuit plays. But for a big man, he can move very well, so there’s no need to worry about him being a slower player like Alzner. One thing that many would like to see him do is work on his shot. Still, with his body of work some can see him as a solid second-pairing shutdown guy that could maybe slip into that number two spot if he proves he isn’t a shot-against black hole.
Tyler Lewington – 22-years old – Seventh-round pick in 2013 – AHL
Of all the defensive prospects, Lewington probably fits the “defensive defensemen” title the best. Many never really hear about him, but the organization absolutely loves this guy. His biggest aspect is his toughness. He lays out the body, blocks shots, and isn’t afraid to get into fights. Usually, those are the type of players that don’t last long in the modern NHL, but Lewington is very reliable defensively and knows how to take care of himself. He isn’t terrible offensively, he did put up 17 points in 72 games played last year, but don’t expect him to light up the score sheet by any means.
Ceiling: The style that Lewington plays is a dying breed. No longer do teams need a guy out there to fight or be tough for the sake of being tough. If he proves he isn’t a black hole of shots against and can help his team get the puck out of the zone sooner rather than later, some could see Lewington shift into a bottom-pairing role at the NHL level. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but the Capitals do love this kid, so he’ll definitely be given a chance. At the end of the day, he was a seventh-round pick, so if they get any type of help from him, even at the AHL level (where he’s proven he can play), then it’s a win.
Chase Priskie – 21-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2016 – NCAA
I personally remember watching the draft when the Capitals picked Priskie and the analysts were surprised he fell so far to the Caps. Most thought he’d drop to the fourth-round (some thought the third), let alone the sixth-round. Priskie proved why this year. As a defenseman, he led his team in scoring with 26 points in 38 games played and not just as a defenseman, but for the whole team. On top of that, from what I can gather, he did most of that while in the bottom two pairings. Finding statistics from the NCAA is difficult, but from what can be gathered, it is possible he was among the Top 10 highest-scoring defensemen in the NCAA last season. He’s a great skater and is quick in pivots that can play both ends of the ice. To be able to grab all of that in the sixth-round is very good.
Ceiling: This was a really hard one to determine and it’s just too early to say one way or the other. He is going into his senior year and it will be really telling on what he does, especially if he gets top-pairing time. Some could very much see him jumping this list next year past Lewington and projecting as a bottom l-pairing blueliner with upside. Time will tell.
Kristofers Bindulis – 21-years old – Free agent signing – NCAA
Bindulis is an odd catch if you ask me. You can’t really find much on him besides he was never really on a great team. Throughout the last 4 years he’s been in 4 leagues: NAHL, USHL, NCAA, and the Latvian World Juniors team. In all of those years his team was good once and that was in the 2015-2016 USHL team where he had 46 points in 57 games. Last year he was on Lake Superior State University, a NCAA team, that won 11 of their 36 games, good for 7th out of 10 teams. Bindulis was able to muster 12 points in 28 games though which isn’t bad. Basically, his stats aren’t too impressive, but Elliotte Friedman thought he was good enough to report on him when he signed with the Caps to call him “raw, but certainly talented”. Bindulis is big at 6’3”, but could put on more weight, as he’s only at 190 lbs now.
Ceiling: It’s likely way too early to tell, even as a 21-year old, simply because of his lack of experience on a good team. He will be in Hershey next season, so there we’ll be able to get a much better look at him, but some think he has the ability to jump up this list in the future.
Colby Williams – 22-years old – Sixth-round pick in 2015 – AHL
Drafted just a round after Connor Hobbs, his partner in the WHL, Williams has moved onto the AHL. A steady player that doesn’t blow one’s mind anywhere on the ice, Williams can be trusted to be thrown out there at any given time when needed. And though he has become slightly injury prone, he has no problem stepping up for his teammates. In his first full year at the AHL level, he had 16 points in 60 games played, all done on the bottom pairing without power play time. That’s pretty good if you ask me. With Djoos and/or Bowey possibly coming up to the NHL next season, Colby should be able to get more ice time.
Ceiling: Some can’t see him making a big impact at the NHL level, but perhaps on the bottom-pairing. If not, and he turns out to be primarily an AHL regular with occasional call-ups, that still isn’t bad for a sixth-round pick. Next season will shed light on his future value.
Dmitri Zaitsev – 19-years old – Seventh-round in 2016 – WHL
Zaitsev was one of those players that got a lot of looks before he was drafted because he was paired with Mikhail Sergachev (a future elite defenseman) at the World Junior Championship U18 tournament. This also shows how much the Russian coaches trusted Zaitsev. He had a very interesting first season in the WHL for the Moose Jaw Warriors. In his first 16 games he had 10 points. The next 54 games? Just 10 more points. It’s not as bad if one says that in his first 34 games he had 15 points and only five over the last 36. But still, very odd. It’s hard to know for sure why this happened. Perhaps another player was injured at the beginning of the season and he had more ice time which resulted in more points or perhaps he was just lucky. He’ll have another shot next year to show what he is capable of.
Ceiling: Too early to tell.
Being a goalie myself, I absolutely love to watch the Capitals’ goalie prospects play and evaluate them. The Capitals’ goalie scouts deserve a huge raise. Over the last 10 years, they have found great talent everywhere. Ilya and Semyon Varlamov in the first-round, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in the fourth-round, Michal Nuevirth and Vitek Vanecek in the second-round, and Pheonix Copley and Adam Carlson in free agency. That is very, very impressive. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect the Caps to grab another goalie in this year’s draft to start restocking its already impressive cupboard.
Ilya Samsonov – 20-years old – First-round pick in 2015 – KHL
I’ve been waiting a long time to write about this kid. To me, he is the best prospect the Caps have and should under no circumstance be traded. Samsonov, mark my words, will be a top 3 goaltender in the NHL one day. He is a freak. He has size, 6’3” and 215 lbs, with elite athleticism. This past season, he had the best stats of any 19-year old in KHL history!This past season, he had the best stats of any 19-year old in KHL history! Last held by Andrei Vasilevski with a .92 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against average, Samsonov shattered it with a .936 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. He also led Russia to a bronze medal at the U20 World Juniors last year and, without him, Russia wouldn’t have had a chance to medal. He was the best goalie in the tournament and was a gimmick shootout away from going to the gold medal game. There’s another reason the Capitals won’t want to trade him. He has one more year in the KHL , then will head over to North America where he’ll probably play a year or two in the AHL before being ready for the NHL.
Ceiling: As was said before, this kid is for real. He will be an elite goalie one day. Don’t need to say much more.
Pheonix Copley – 25-years old – Free agent signing – AHL
Copley is in some rare company. Not many people can say they were born in North Pole, Alaska, but the Caps are hoping people remember him for other things. Signed as a free agent, Copley made an impression instantly in his first AHL season with a .925 save percentage in 26 games played. Sadly, that’s all the Caps got from him before he was sent off to the St. Louis Blues in a deal for T.J. Oshie. In the AHL, for St. Louis, he struggled, posting a .909 save percentage in 37 games. But thankfully for the Capitals, they got him back in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal, possibly single-handedly saving the Bears’ season. In two seasons, covering 42 games played, Copley has a very impressive .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average for the Bears. Sadly, he ended his season on a bad note, getting injured when the Bears needed him most in the playoffs. In 14 playoff games for the Bears, Copley has posted a very impressive .939 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. If he stayed healthy this postseason, the Bears could possibly be playing right now.
Ceiling: Copley has sneaky NHL starting capabilities. He has good size, with a 6’4” frame and 196 lbs, and backs that up with smarts. He doesn’t over commit or get out of position too much. It’s impossible to know if he will ever see a starting gig in the crease with the Caps, but he is more than capable. If anything, he will at least be a very reliable backup. And if the Caps can get that out of a free agent signing, then it’s a home run.
Vitek Vanecek – 21-years old – Second-round pick in 2014 – AHL
The 2016-2017 season was way up, then way down, then back up for Vitek Vanecek. He started the season fantastically, hitting a .930 save percentage towards the end of December, but then January hit and it hit hard. This is where the Bears players started to drop like flies and their penalty kill went from top 10 to bottom 10 and Vanecek’s stats suffered. The Bears’ head coach, Troy Mann, mentioned after their season wrapped up that if one took out January, Vanecek looked quite good and it’s true. Vanecek ended the season with only a .908 save percentage in 39 games played, but if one removes January from that, he had an almost .926 save percentage in 32 games played, which would have tied him for best stats for a rookie goalie in the league. His strong suit is his athleticism – he can get around the blue paint quicker than any goalie I’ve seen in awhile, but sometimes he can rely a bit too much on that. He needs to play a bit smarter, because NHL players will beat him if he cheats too much. He’s only 21 and has slowly been getting better and better.
Ceiling: There are a lot of people saying he’s a career backup, but I think he can do much better. Though he might not be as tall as most goalies (6’1”), his skills are through the roof. Under the right coaching, he can very much be starting somewhere possibly in the next three or so years.
Adam Carlson – 23-years old – Free agent signing – ECHL
When most people first heard about the Adam Carlson signing, their first reaction would likely have been, “who?”. It’s loot often one hears about college player signings, but this one was way out of left field. Carlson was signed instantly out of his first year of the NCAA from a school called Mercyhurst University. Yeah, I’ve never heard of it either. He wasn’t even the starter for Mercyhurst that season either. He played 17 games and had a .919 save percentage, which is really nothing to write home about. So why did the Caps sign a backup goaltender from a no-name college after one year? That question will likely be answered, remember the Caps are aces at finding goalie talent, so I certainly won’t question this one. He had a similar year to Vanecek, but in the ECHL. He started off very well, but declined as the season went on and got hurt. He finished with 23 games played and a .895 save percentage. And though that isn’t good at all, it isn’t the end of the world. Both Holtby and Grubauer were mediocre in the ECHL. It doesn’t mean too much to have one bad year there.
Ceiling: No clue. The fact the Caps signed this kid out of nowhere is intriguing, they usually know what they are doing with goalies. But it’s simply too early to predict anything about Carlson. Hopefully he plays one more year in the ECHL with some AHL games and impresses to keep moving up.
Top 10 Prospects
After looking over all of the prospects here are, what I believe, to be the Top 10. Again, this is based on how they look for now and how close they are, it could easily change by summer.
- Ilya Samsonov
- Jakub Vrana
- Madison Bowey
- Shane Gersich
- Lucas Johansen
- Riley Barber
- Christian Djoos
- Jonas Siegenthaler
- Vitek Vanecek
- Travis Boyd
By Luke Adomanis