Photo: Washington Capitals
The Capitals have always had strong, overall depth within in the organization, and like any NHL team, the positional strength varies from season-to-season. Over the last several seasons, the Capitals’ seemingly biggest strength has become its goaltending. And when one takes a glance at the organization’s depth chart, it’s not hard to see why.
At the NHL level, the team has one of the best starting netminders in the the league in Braden Holtby, who is two seasons removed from a NHL record-tying 48-win season, one that earned him the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie. Since becoming the Capitals’ unquestionable starter in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Holtby has compiled a record of 194-76-28, including a 17-7-0 record this season, with a 2.64 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. in 331 career games played (323 starts), Holtby has a record of 208-30-8, with a career save percentage of 2.33, save percentage of .921, and 32 shutouts. His understudy, Philipp Grubauer, has been one of the most consistent and productive backups in the NHL over the last two seasons, and while he has struggled somewhat this season, he has a career record of 30-26-9, with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, with three shutouts. Both were drafted in the fourth-round of the 2008 and 2010 NHL Entry Drafts, respectively.
In the American Hockey League, the Capitals have two young netminders in Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek who could both one day see time in the NHL. Copley is the incumbent starter for the Hershey Bears, and while he did spend time with the St. Louis Blues organization, he has spent the majority of his professional career with the Caps. In parts of three seasons with Hershey, Copley has a record of 34-13-8, including a 6-4-2 record this season. After signing a two-year contract with the Capitals this past summer, it is expected that Copley will push for the backup gig next season, with Grubauer’s contract only for one year. Copley initially signed with the Capitals as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2014.
Vanecek, a former second-round (39th overall in 2014), initially struggled to adapt to the North American game, but has recently found his footing and with a recent improvement of his play, has begun to challenge Copley for more starts. In 46 games played with the Bears in his career, Vanecek has a respectable record of 22-13-9 and in his first full season with Hershey last season, finished with a 18-10-2 record, with a goals-against average of 2.54, save percentage of .909, and five shutouts. This season, Vanecek has a record of 3-3-0, with a goals-against average of 2.18 and save percentage of .899, with one shutout.
Perhaps the most exciting goaltending prospect the Capitals have does not yet play within the organization itself. Ilya Samsonov, the team’s first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is arguably, the best goaltender not in the NHL. Last season playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Samsonov finished with the best season of any 19-year old goaltender in league history, with an outstanding record of 15-3-5, 2.13 goals-against average, .936 save percentage, and two shutouts. And while he may be several season away from being ready to compete full-time at the NHL level, it is expected that Samsonov will sign his entry-level contract with the Capitals next season, after General Manager Brian MacLellan recently traveled to Russia to meet with the 20-year old netminder.
As one can see, the Capitals’ depth in net is perhaps the strongest it has been in the Alex Ovechkin era. With Holtby still not yet 30-years old, and a plethora of young netminders waiting in the wings, the Capitals seem to be set in the crease for the foreseeable future.
By Michael Fleetwood