Photos: Tori Hartman
The Washington Capitals have had a lot of turnover since the end of last season. Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt are all gone. Though it may be sad to see some of them go, it’s an exciting time, as the prospects that have been waiting on the sideline for years will finally have their chance to prove themselves. In this article, NoVa Caps’ Luke Adomanis looks at the forwards who could have an impact in D.C. this season.
This series is broken down into three parts: Christian Djoos, other defensemen, and forwards. Djoos earned his own article because he was just so dominant in the games that I watched. He showed example after example of a player stepping up to the task.
It’s important to note, I did not watch the Bears’ entire season, so take the sample size as it is. I believe all the prospects that I write about show what they are capable of due to their age and experience. So let’s get started.
After going over Djoos and the other defensive prospects that could step into some NHL action, time has come to view the potential forwards that could step up for the Capitals. This list isn’t as appealing as the defensive ones for two reasons. First, the best forward prospect the Caps have, Jakub Vrana, is basically a lock for the Capitals’ Opening Night lineup, and I have already reviewed his game tape here.
Vrana will get a look in the Top 9 forwards, hopefully Top 6 to fit his abilities. This will leave only two spots available on the fourth-line, and Devante Smith-Pelly will most likely take one of those positions. So really, there’s really only one spot available. Fourth-line positions just aren’t as fun to speculate about, but let’s try.
Travis Boyd has been a quiet, elite producer at the AHL level for the last two years. How many people would know he is eighth in scoring in that time frame? And all seven players ahead of him are older than him; most of them longtime AHL players. That’s very impressive for the Capitals’ sixth-round pick in 2011. Issue is, Boyd hasn’t been given a chance to play with the Capitals because of their strong center depth and health.
Chandler Stephenson is also ahead of him on the depth chart, even though Boyd arguably, has a higher upside. After really watching Boyd, the player that he reminded me of was former Capital Mathieu Perreault. Not only are they the same build (both 5’11” and around 190 lbs), but both put up nearly identical point per game numbers in the AHL – 0.77 for Boyd and 0.76 for Perrault – in their first two AHL seasons. They also play exactly the same way, as neither is the biggest, fastest, or strongest player, but they are incredibly elusive and smart at both ends of the ice.
Boyd might be putting up the points over the last two seasons, but he’s no slouch defensively. I don’t think I came across a time where I thought “Boyd should have been better there”. He’s reliable in every situation.
One of my favorite aspects of a player to watch is his head and when he recognizes something is about to happen. Here, Boyd is skating back like a center should, but after he notices an opponent sneaking into the slot, he boosts forward and intercepts a pass. Thank goodness he did, because there were two players ready to fire on the net at point-blank range.
Again, recognizing where the free player on the ice was, Boyd drifts over to him and intercepts a pass. But he doesn’t stop there. He transitions his effort into offense, by skating around a forechecker and leading a 3-on-2 into the offensive zone. Good all-around play.
When it comes to Boyd’s offensive capabilities, he thrives most in his passing (79 assists the last two seasons) and his ability to wiggle around the offensive zone. He loves staying below the goal-line and creating offense that way, much like Evgeny Kuznetsov. He’s hard to hit and likes to trick opponents into thinking they can pin him down.
Boyd accepts a pass through the neutral zone and squeezes by a guy along the wall before dishing a nice saucer pass to Paul Carey, but he fails to connect. Boyd then sets up behind the net before realizing Djoos is going to take a shot. To see, he goes right to the front of the net to screen the goalie.
Again, Boyd is streaking through the neutral zone and sauces a pass to Liam O’Brien, who does a nice skate to stick move before dishing it back to Boyd breaking to the net for a tap-in goal. Great offensive instincts shown here.
This is perhaps my favorite Boyd example. Boyd comes off the wall with two opponents on him. He delivers a nice backhand pass to Djoos before jetting up the slot, then receiving a great pass back from Djoos. He then dekes a defender, before breaking the goalie’s ankles and getting a pass over to Riley Barber, who barely misses the open net. I would love to see a shot there though. Boyd is definitely guilty of overpassing at times, but it’s not surprising when he’s so good at it, as shown from the examples below.
While under pressure from two opponents, Boyd is able to thread the needle between two other opponents to get it to Ryan Bourque, who is unable to score on the partial breakaway. That’s some skill there.
As stated, Boyd loves to spend time below the goal-line. He’s good on making guys miss, and can see the ice from there. He starts off, by getting a pass to Djoos for a great one-time chance. He gets the puck back and keeps the defender away from him with his physicality and speed. He finishes it off by making a great pass to a fellow Bear for a goal.
In the games I watched, Barber and Boyd had a lot of great chemistry, and it will be interesting if that could one day be a line combination for the Capitals. Anyways, here they show off that connection. Barber finds Boyd streaking through the neutral zone, before Barber jets down the slot and Boyd returns a nasty backhand pass right to Barber, who gets slashed and barely misses the net.
I’m a big fan of Boyd and think he has the potential to be a Top 6 forward in the NHL. If he stays at center ,then he should make a good to great third-line center. Issue is the two spots available on the Caps roster this upcoming season are both on the wing. It’s fine that he plays some wing, but with Lars Eller hitting free agency after the season, and Caps needing cap room, they will need cheap options at center. So if Boyd gets called up, perhaps the Capitals could put Boyd at center and move Jay Beagle to wing. He is waiver exempt, which hurts his chances of making the team, because players like Stephenson, Nathan Walker, and even O’Brien have to go through waivers. That makes the decision to send Boyd down very easy. He will really need to blow the pants off Capitals management and the coaching staff in the preseason for him to stay. But they can’t let him stay in the AHL long, he needs to continue his development at the highest level.
Every Capitals fan’s favorite Aussie. What Walker lacks in size (5’8” 185lbs) he makes up for in pure tenacity. Even among players like Liam O’Brien, Zach Sill, Tyler Lewington, Madison Bowey, and others, none were more rugged and nasty as Walker last season. He will hit, fight, and get in the face of any player on the opposing team, no matter the size. To add to his aggressive play, he brings a ton of speed and a lot of skill.
There’s no doubt in my mind he will be a fan favorite when he arrives in Washington. He might not blow anyone away with point production, but he leaves everything on the ice when he plays. Add to that he can also be trusted in any situation, and can play every position. There’s no doubt in my mind he can be an effective NHL player.
As stated, Walker is great all over the ice at any position. He does a great job backchecking here and chasing the puck down (with the help of Bowey, who does a good job limiting the opposing player’s space) to retrieve it and help get it out of the zone.
A reminder that Walker is 5’8″ and 185lbs. He battles so hard in this instance, that he wins the puck from two players and dishes a pass to the slot for a great chance, but the goalie does a great job intercepting the pass. Kid is all heart.
Walker is an absolute pest. In the neutral zone, he takes a hit from a 6’2″ 205-pound player into the boards, but straightens himself out, gets into the offensive zone, and hounds 6’3″ 217-pound Nicklas Jensen, steals the puck, and then draws a penalty from Jensen. Walker never gives up.
I absolutely love this. No other player spends more time directly in front of the net as much as Walker. He knows a player has to pay the price to be there and gladly does it. He takes two cross-checks and a brutal slash to his ankle from the goalie. That play also resulted in a penalty drawn. He could easily be a smaller version of Tom Wilson.
Again, showing his tenacity, Walker forechecks hard into the offensive zone, finishing a hit on a defender. He then goes to the net, pushing his way into the goalie’s grill while the same defender tries to keep him out, but can’t. And that defender I’m speaking of is 6’2″ and 225 pounds! .
And Walker knows how to score. He’s small, which allows him to release a shot a lot quicker than most goalies are ready for. Here, he gets the puck and it’s off his stick in an instant to the back of net.
Some have made comparisons to Walker and Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Conor Sheary. Both are 5’8”, but Walker weighs about 10 pounds more. Also, both are fast, skilled, and reliable. The difference is Sheary has put up big numbers in both the AHL and NHL. I think it’s important to remember that Sheary plays in a very offensive system and is put in places to prove his skill. Walker never really got that opportunity, spending most of his time in defensive roles. As shown above, Walker is no slouch in the skill department, so maybe he can bring more to the table than bottom-six potential. But he should at the very least be able to slot in on the fourth-line and be effective. He would have to go through waivers if he was sent to the AHL, so expect Walker to start with the club this season.
Stephenson is going into a big year for his career. He’s at that age, 23, where he really needs to prove he’s more than an AHL player. He’s an odd player because he has the ability to be way more effective than he is, but can’t seem to stay consistent as his coach in Hershey, Troy Mann, said. He can put up five points in five games, then go five games without a point. He’s extremely fast and has some sweet hands, but he needs to put it all together to stay in the NHL. I couldn’t find a lot of examples of his play, because I could have easily seen him in his inconsistent stretch. One thing he does stay effective in is his defensive reliability. There are few, if any, Bears forwards I’d trust more in defensive situations than Stephenson.
This was part of the Lewington segment, but I thought Stephenson’s speed and skill to keep the puck on his stick as he was falling was worth noting. He’s extremely fast and can get from Point A to Point B. I would like to see it turn into more offense.
Between Boyd and Stephenson, the Bears had some great passing plays throughout their season. Stephenson shows off his hands in both above. First, winning a puck battle, Stephenson gives a nice backhander to a streaking Bourque, who gets off a nice shot. In the second, Stephenson feeds a great pass between two opponents to Bourque, who nearly scores.
As you can see, he is very quick and has some great hands, he just needs to do it way more. Like Walker, he will need to clear waivers to be sent down so expect him to start with the big club unless he has a terrible camp. He does have 13 games of NHL experience under his belt with zero points, but looked well off. In the small sample, he has very good possession numbers: 56.2 Corsi rating. I once thought he had third-line capabilities, but I’m not so sure anymore with his inconsistencies. He at least shows the defensive side that could make a great, modern fourth-liner: fast and reliable with some skill. Something the coaches should experiment with is putting him at winger; perhaps he can find enough consistency to jump to the third-line.
Let me start this off by saying I’m a huge Riley Barber fan. He was a steal as a sixth-round that had a great World Junior career, 15 points in 18 games played, serving as the captain his last year there. He had an amazing NCAA career, putting up 123 points in 116 games played, before continuing his productivity with the Hershey Bears. In his rookie year, he scored 26 goals and added 29 assists (55 points) in 74 games played, good enough for fourth among all rookies.
But like Madison Bowey, Barber had an injury-plagued sophomore year, only playing in 39 games, but was still able score 13 goals and added 14 assists. His play earned him a callup to the Caps, but only played in three games on the fourth-line with no points, so his full potential wasn’t yey on full display. What I love about Barber, is that he is pure sandpaper, but with great skill. He’s always going to the net and winning board battles with hard work. That’s something the Caps can use with all of their already-skilled players. Unfortunately, I was only able to record two of his games because of his injuries.
Though only 6’0″, Barber is really strong. He rarely gets manhandled and usually dictates the play. Here, he shows off that strength by fighting off a couple of players and even stays in control while losing his footing. Once he gets the puck, a player tries to pin him to the boards, but Barber is so strong he’s able to stay in control of the puck and is able to move it as his checker falls to the ground.
This play is so nicely set up by Boyd, who breaks into the zone, makes a nice move to stay in control of the puck down low. He then gets it to Barber, who makes a nice cut along the wall, befoe showing his passing ability by getting the puck to Tom Gilbert, who scores.
Though hard to see, Walker dishes a sweet pass off the wall to Barber, who uses his speed and strength to cut to the goal before the goalie pokes it away. Like Walker, Barber pays the price going to the net and gets rocked. But this never stops him from going to the rough areas. He’s a tough kid.
Barber reminds me a whole lot of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson. Both are sixth-round picks, both are smallish players with speed and skill. They had the exact points per game in their NCAA careers with 1.06, and similar rookie years in the AHL: Barber with 0.74, and Atkinson with 0.86. I don’t think Barber will be a 30-goal scorer like Atkinson, but I can see him as a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL. He has the potential to play on the second-line, but really thriving on the third-line. The issue is that, like Boyd, Barber is waiver exempt, so the Capitals can send him to the AHL without worry of him being picked up. So Stephenson and Walker will theoretically have a better chance to make the team, since they will need waivers to get sent back down. Also, there are a lot of right wings on the Caps: Oshie, Burakovsky, Vrana, Wilson (though Burakovsky and Vrana can play left wing too), so he needs to prove himself, to be a Capital for the foreseeable future.
And there you have it! Video evaluation of the Hershey Bears players that could make an impact on the Capitals roster this upcoming season. There are a good chunk of players outside of this article that could get a chance to play with the big club too. Connor Hobbs, Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen, Colby Williams, Kristofers Bindules, Liam O’Brien, and Mason Mitchell could make some noise for the Caps’ brass to be considered. It might not be this year for most of the players mentioned but there’s no doubt the Caps will need them in the upcoming years as cheap contracts get more and more important. The Capitals have a bright future because of these young players, and should keep the Capitals’ hunt for the Cup, whether their first or many after, alive and well for the foreseeable future.
Meet the Prospects: Is Travis Boyd next to Washington?
Meet the Prospects – Nathan Walker, our one and only Australian
Capitals Recall Stephenson from Hershey
Getting to Know a Bear – Riley Barber
By Luke Adomanis