Development camp is a time for all prospects around the league to show off what they are made of and hopefully prove they are ready for the next step. The Washington Capitals will be holding their annual camp from June 26th to July 1st.
The yet to be released list of all of the camp attendees will include prospects and other player not yet signed with a NHL club. The camp will be packed no doubt, but here are some players that you should keep an eye on as the week progresses. If you want to see analysis on these prospects then just click here and read all about them!
A Lot Of Forwards, Few Holes
With the recent signing of TJ Oshie for 8 years and most likely the resigning of Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly coming soon, the Caps will have 2 openings in the forward roster. Issue is, the Caps have a lot of talented forwards ready for the NHL jump. Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, and Nathan Walker can all take that next step. If you have the ability to count you’ll notice that’s 5 ready players, but only 2 spots. Development camp certainly won’t make that decision for the Caps brass, that’s more in pre-season camps and games, but it certainly helps players now showing off their abilities and leadership.
Vrana is by far the Caps best forward prospect with high end speed, shot, and skill. He took a little bit of a licking towards the end of his AHL season from his coach, but he is ready for the NHL. Riley Barber is a man on a mission. More of a rugged player than a finesse one, he will play the puck hard and go into the dirty areas to get goals; that’s a Trotz player. Stephenson, of all the young forwards, is probably the most NHL ready in terms of physical and mental maturity. He plays a fast 2 way reliable game and you never worry when he’s on the ice. Boyd has been a loyal player for the Caps, attending every development camp since he was drafted 6 years ago. He’s been absolutely stellar in the AHL with scoring and is looking to make the next step. Walker is probably the most fun of the bunch, a small Australian looking to make history, that is scared of no one, and has a nose for the net. Like Barber, that’s a player Trotz will love, even if he doesn’t snag 1 of those 2 spots off the bat he could hang in there as the 13th forward.
Both Vrana and Barber are the most NHL ready in terms of skill, but with Stephenson, Boyd, and Walker nipping at their heals it won’t be so easy. Trotz will always take the hard worker over the skilled player. It can be argued that is not the smartest way to coach, but it gives all 5 of those players an equal chance to make the team this fall. So keep an eye on those 5 guys and how much they impress at camp because a couple of them will be wearing Caps jerseys all next season.
Bowey vs Djoos
The Caps are most likely going to get RFA Dmitry Orlov signed, reuniting that dominant top pair of Orlov and Niskanen. With the sad news that Nate Schmidt was taken by Vegas, there are now 2 spots open on the defensive end. One on the very important 2nd pairing with Carlson and, assuming Orpik is still here by Summer’s end, on the bottom pairing with him. The 3 most likely candidates are Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, and Tyler Lewington trying to fill those voids, as they are the most NHL ready defensemen the Caps have.
Bowey has the upper hand mainly because he’s more touted and plays on the right side. Djoos had a stellar year last season, posting the 3rd most points among AHL defensemen, while Bowey had a couple injury stints leaving him sidelined for 3+ months. Lewington is probably a name most didn’t expect to here having a shot at the lineup, but GM Brian MacLellan mentioned his name as a possibility. The Caps love the defensive defenseman and rely on him heavily to shut down the top competition in Hershey. Bowey and Lewington will have a slight leg up in terms of being physically ready for the NHL (Djoos is barely 165lbs), but it’s hard to ignore Djoos puck moving skills. More than likely, none of them will be able to fill that 2nd pairing unless they have very impressive camps, but that bottom pairing is more than ready to be taken by one of them. All 3 are quite different, but look for them to duke it out at the development camp to snag those 2 spots.
Every year there always seems to be a player out of nowhere that makes the team. Liam O’Brien did a couple years back, Chandler Stephenson did it 2 years ago. There weren’t any last year because the Caps were kind of stacked with veteran players, but with so many openings this season, it’s possible a dark horse arises. Here are some that have more than just an outside chance of making the big club due to their performances next week.
In the forward group there are a couple of potential standouts mostly due to their size. Hampus Gustafsson was a college free agent signing this past March that makes a physical element. He’s a 23 year old, 6’4”, 205lbs center that is looking to make a statement in the pros. A second big player to watch is Beck Malenstyn. He’s only 19, but comes in at 6’2” and 195 lbs. He quadrupled his goal output from the 2015-2016 season to the 2016-2017 season, going from just 8 goals to 32 goals in the same amount of games. If he can show off that goal scoring ability with his size at development camp and pre-season, he could make the team.
Now for the defensemen dark horses. First is Connor Hobbs who just had the most WHL points as any defensemen in the last 17 years with 31 goals and 54 assists. A pure offensive defenseman, Hobbs can also bring the physicality with his 6’1”, 190 lb frame. He racked up 92 PIMs last year so he’s not scared to step up, but needs work defensively. Kristofer Bindulis on the other hand is more of your defensive defenseman that has maturity at the age of 21 and a nice build at 6’3” and 190 lbs. Trotz probably wouldn’t trust someone like Hobbs just yet, but possibly Bindulis.
Running Out Of Time
For a lot of players, many have attended the Caps development camps over the years. And with every camp comes players that are coming to the end of their line, they must show the Caps management that they are worth the investment. If not, many will head back to the AHL to find a career there or even go to other teams to find a different chance. This year there are a couple of players that really need to show they are ready for the next step or they can find themselves somewhere else soon.
First is on this list is Liam O’Brien. He made the Caps out of the gate 3 years ago playing 13 games, but has only played 1 game for the Caps since (total of 4 points in those 14 games). His numbers aren’t stellar by any means in the AHL either, 54 points in 168 games, and he’s about to turn 23. He really needs this development camp to get to that next level. Second is Chandler Stephenson, though he isn’t nearly in the dog house as O’Brien. Stephenson is a 23 year old center that has some offensive inconsistencies, at times can be dominant then at others is mediocre. Over the last 2 seasons he’s had 13 NHL games with 0 points to show for it, though all in 4th line time. He probably has the most to prove and the most to lose this upcoming camp. Of the 3 holes in the offensive lineup, he needs to lock in one of them.
Of course there are a lot of prospects to keep an eye on this upcoming development camp, but the ones listed above should get some special attention. Of course there will most likely be surprises here and there, that’s the beauty of camps like these. Expect a list of undrafted players making the camp, too, and they are always worth watching to see if there are any diamonds in the rough. One thing is for sure, the Caps have a bright future with their young players.
By Luke Adomanis