NoVa Caps presents its fourth annual Top 30 Washington Capitals Prospects: Preseason Rankings. The rankings are based on a wide array of evaluation metrics from the 2017-2018 season and aimed at setting a benchmark and baseline for the coming 2018-2019 season.
We have divided the “Top 30 Prospects” preseason rankings into two separate posts, presenting 16-30 here, and the top 15 in a follow-up post. You can access all of our prospects analysis and monthly prospect reports at anytime on our “Prospects” page.
To recap, yesterday we presented the rankings for 16-30 (here.)
30. Kody Clark
29. Mitchell Gibson
28. Liam O’Brien
27. Steve Spinner
26. Riley Sutter
25. Max Kammerer
24. Sebastian Walfredsson
23. Benton Maass
22. Martin Fehevary
21. Juuso Ikonen
20. Kristian Roykas Marthinsen
19. Damien Riat
18. Chase Priskie
17. Vitek Vanecek
16. Tobias Geisser
15. Beck Malenstyn – 20-years old, LW, AHL
Malenstyn had a tough season last year after being hurt, playing only 42 games compared to his 70-game campaign the season before. He was also traded just after returning from injury, so it was hard for him to adjust. He still had a good year, posting 17 goals and 15 assists, but a healthy season would have been great to see if he could have built upon his breakout 2016-2017 season, in which he scored 32 goals compared to eight from the season before. He even helped his team win the Ed Chynoweth Cup (the Stanley Cup for the WHL) this past season in a depth position.
Malenstyn will be making his professional debut this season playing with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. It will probably be a slow-going year for the rookie, as it is for all rookies, but the one advantage Malenstyn has is that he should be able to adapt to the physical part of the game quickly. He’s big for a 20-year-old at 6’2″, and will probably hit 200 pounds by fall. He’s gritty and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. His physical style should help him adapt quickly to the professional game, he just needs to find a way to bring his scoring touch to a higher level.
14. Tyler Lewington – 23-years old, D, AHL
Lewington is the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman. He has not provided much offense since turning pro but has been a steady presence in the defensive zone. There is nothing flashy about the Edmonton native’s game. He makes good decisions in his own zone. He does not try to force passes into traffic in the middle of the ice, but instead takes the easy out by sending the pass up the boards. He does get beat sometimes by speedy players but is usually in the right spot defensively. He was arguably Hershey’s best defenseman last season, leading all blueliners with a minus-2 rating. He is a good penalty killer and has played top-pairing minutes during his time in the AHL. Lewington always stands up for his teammates, leading Hershey in both fights and penalty minutes. He also led the team in penalty minutes with 149, which is his biggest issue. Being a protector of his teammates is a good quality to have, but it is not a good thing when one considers he is also the one of the team’s best penalty killers and defensemen. Hershey needed him on the ice in those situations. He needs to find a better balance of standing up for his teammates and staying on the ice. He needs to pick his spots better. Lewington has developed into a leader and will be expected to be a part of Hershey’s leadership core this season. He was a good influence on Lucas Johansen last season when the two were paired together in December. Johansen’s defensive game turned around when playing with Lewington.
Lewington would likely be in the NHL already if he was more of an offensive player. Whether he can add more offense to his game is questionable. He did record 91 assists in three seasons with Medicine Hat in the WHL. If he can become a 25 to 30-point producer with his defensive ability, he will find his way to the NHL sooner rather than later. He has improved his game under Reid Cashman and with Cashman now an Assistant Coach in Washington, he has someone who knows his abilities first-hand in the NHL. This could be beneficial to him. Lewington likely will return to Hershey to start the season but has a good shot at making his NHL debut this season if Washington has a need due to injury.
13. Brian Pinho, 23-years old, C, AHL
The Capitals selected Pinho with the 174th overall pick in the sixth-round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Pinho (23), played all four years at Providence College, increasing his offensive output each of the first three seasons. The 2016-2017 season was his statistical high-water mark, where he was also selected as the team’s Alternate Captain.
Pinho’s offensive production for the 2017-2018 season began to catch fire midseason. After a slow start to the season, the Captain of the Friars found his offensive game in December and January. He was named MVP of the Three-Rivers Classic in December and was named a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award in January. Pinho finished the 2017-2018 regular season with 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 Points and signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals at the tail-end of the NHL season.
Pinho attended his sixth Capitals Development Camp at the end of June 2018. He centered the top-line for the White Team in this year’s camp scrimmage, in which he registered a goal and an assist in the game. Pinho will join the wave of youth descending on Hershey this fall and battle for an open forward/center spot. His current (long-term) plan for the Capitals would be to fill a need in the bottom-six forwards. His above-average stick skills, hard battles on the puck, and leadership qualities will go a long way in seeing that he does just that.
Pinho has an outside shot for the current opening on t’he Capitals fourth-line but will be battling with several other prospects for the spot this fall. Don’t be surprised if he earns the spot, if he has an outstanding month of September.
12. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby – 20-years old, LW/RW, AHL
While Axel Jonsson-Fjallby has not scored an impressive number of points, he has shown NHL level speed and good puck-handling skills. The 2017-18 season was the first season he played at the highest level of Swedish hockey, specifically for HC Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League. In 42 games this season, he scored seven goals and had nine assists for a total of 16 points. He excelled in the playoffs, scoring six goals and adding two assists in 11 games.
He also represented Sweden in the IIHC World Junior Championships, scoring two goals and adding two assists in seven games. He also played internationally for Sweden in the European Hockey Tour, recording two assists.
It is a positive sign for his game that he has produced points in the highest level of hockey, while playing against men, as opposed to playing against fellow junior players. He will most likely play with the Hershey Bears for the 2018-19 season. While there, he will need to get used to the smaller rink size in North America. Jonsson-Fjallby signed his entry-level contract with the Caps just a short while ago, an indication the Capitals see him as a contributor in the not-too-distant future.
11. Jonas Siegenthaler – 21-years old, D, AHL
Siegenthaler is a smart player but struggled with the physical nature of the North American game during his rookie season in Hershey last season. He is a defensive-minded defenseman in every sense. He posted just six goals and six assists offensively but was strong in his own end. The Swiss-born defenseman makes the right decisions in his own zone, as he does not force passes into traffic and is usually in the correct position defensively. He is a good penalty killer and was one of Hershey’s best penalty-killing blueliners for much of the season. However, he consistently lost physical battles because he simply was not strong enough. That was his biggest weakness. He was pushed off the puck and lost too many puck battles. These resulted in turnovers for Hershey. Siegenthaler also wore down as the season went along. He was not used to playing that many games in a season and it showed in his play.
Siegenthaler should have a better understanding of what the North American game is all about with a full season under his belt. He will need to come back physically stronger for his second campaign. If he does that, he will not get pushed off the puck and as a direct result, will win more puck battles. When he does that, his game will come together. Siegenthaler has the tools to be a shutdown defenseman. He thinks like one. He just needs his strength to match his brains.
10. Connor Hobbs, 21-years old, D, AHL
Connor Hobbs remains a wildcard for the Capitals organization. He possesses excellent offensive skills and a huge shot from the perimeter for a gritty, sometimes nasty, physical defenseman. However, Hobb’s decision-making at game-speed remains somewhat questionable, but could settle down with experience and playing time (see Dmitry Orlov).
Hobbs’ first year as a pro was decent but largely hampered by injuries and a beleaguered Bears team. Hobbs missed 32 of 76 games last season. He suffered a fractured wrist on November 4 against the Toronto Marlies, causing him to miss six weeks of the season. He returned to action on December 21. Hobbs suffered another injury on March 2, causing him to miss most of the month of March. Offensively, Hobbs had just three goals and 13 assists in 44 games played this season. He scored his first career AHL goal, a game-winner, on October 28 against the Providence Bruins. But he does have scoring potential. Hobbs’ statistical high-point to date came in his final year with the Regina Pats (2016-2017) in which he tallied 31 goals and 54 assists in 67 games played, setting a number of team records. Hobbs did spend some time at the forward position due to a rash of injuries to the Pats forwards, but most of his scoring came from his defensive position.
Hobbs’ first goal for the coming season in Hershey is to try to stay healthy. Two significant injuries last season made it difficult for him to get any momentum going during the season. It’s unlikely we will see the same kind of offensive output from Hobbs that we saw during his 2016-2017 campaign with Regina, but it’s possible, as the potential is there. He will look to return to some semblance of that scoring output, while working on his overall defensive game this year with Hershey. Hobbs will also look to be more consistent on the defensive end this season and improve his decision-making with the puck. He will also look to reduce total penalty minutes this season.
9. Garrett Pilon, 20-years old, C, AHL
Pilon, a 5’11’’ 190-pound center, was drafted by the Capitals in the third-round (87th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Capitals on March 30, 2017 with a $925,000 AAV. Pilon is waiver-exempt for the coming season.
Pilon, 20, has spent the last three seasons playing (and thriving) in the WHL, where he has posted fairly impressive offensive numbers. He started with the Kamloops Blazers for the 2015-2016 season, with whom he registered 15 goals and 32 assists. Pilon totaled 20 goals and 45 assists the following year with Kamloops and ended the season with a brief stop in Hershey, playing in one playoff game. Pilon had an impressive 2017-2018 season from start to finish, which included a mid-season trade from Kamloops to Everett. He finished the regular season with 34 goals and 46 assists in 69 games played. He added another 11 goals and 17 assists in 22 postseason games. Pilon’s 2017-2018 season included three hat tricks, including a postseason hat trick on March 24 against the Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 2 of the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs.
Pilon drew an extended look from Capitals coaches during last season’s training camp, being one of the overall last cuts. He will likely start the season in Hershey but could see a call-up at some point this season, whether for a game or two to get some experience, or potentially for a backup or fourth-line emergency.
8. Nathan Walker – 24-years old, LW, NHL/AHL
Walker had a whirlwind of a 2017-18 season. He started out by making the NHL roster and became the first Australian to play in the NHL when he suited up for the Capitals against Montreal on October 7, 2017. Walker made it a memorable debut by scoring his first career goal. He then ended up in Edmonton after a waiver claim, only to return to the Washington organization after Edmonton put him back on waivers. An assignment to Hershey was just what the Aussie needed. He found his signature full-speed ahead game. He had nine goals and 13 assists in 40 games in Hershey. He went back to being the quality penalty killer he was in previous AHL seasons. After Hershey’s season ended, Walker returned to Washington and became the first Australian to appear in and score in a Stanley Cup playoff game. The Aussie is fast and is physical despite his small stature. Walker shows up to play every game and every shift. He has the ability to get under the skin of opponents with his agitating style of play.
A return to the NHL could certainly be in the cards for Walker. With the departures of Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle, there are two bottom six forward spots open on the Capitals roster. Walker likely is the leading candidate to take Chiasson’s spot on the wing. Walker’s game is perfectly suited for a bottom-six role. He is gritty. He is not afraid to go into the corners to fight for pucks. He is all heart and hustle. The Capitals lost a lot of heart and hustle when Beagle left for Vancouver. Walker can help make up for that loss.
7. Riley Barber – 24-years old, RW, AHL
After being drafted in the sixth-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Barber had a very promising college career before jumping into the AHL where he continued his great play. The issue is that he was continuously stuck behind a great Capitals team that’s been very healthy the last three seasons, giving him close to zero chance to prove himself. This leaves Barber at the age of 24 with only three NHL games experience, all coming in succession in the 2016-2017 season. Unfortunately, it once again looks like there isn’t much room for him with the big club this season. The only opening at the moment is the fourth-line center position and Barber is a winger.
It’s a shame because Barber has middle-six potential (a Bryan Rust-type player) but hasn’t been given the chance to play even with his good play in the AHL. He’s small but plays hard and gets most of his shots off (and he shoots a lot) right in the slot, which explains his 26-goal average the last three seasons in the AHL if he averaged 76 game.
He signed a one-year deal this summer and with Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Nic Dowd all being eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, perhaps he will finally get his chance to prove his worth. In the meantime, look for Barber to have another strong AHL season leading the young forwards in Hershey, with a chance to be the first called up in case the Capitals need a forward.
6. Madison Bowey – 23-years old, D, NHL/AHL
Bowey has been a polarizing player during his young career. Many Hershey fans grew frustrated with his play during his time in the AHL. He was protected during his rookie season, being kept out of high-pressure defensive situations. Those situations were handled by Hershey’s veteran defensemen. Instead, Bowey was put in spots where he was more likely to succeed. That was a smart move by then-Hershey head coach, Troy Mann. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native posted solid numbers in his rookie campaign with 29 points and a team best plus-22 rating. His play dipped in the Calder Cup playoffs. He took unnecessary penalties, compiling 35 penalty minutes in 21 games and fell to a minus-3. He played over fan favorite Mike Moore and when he struggled, many fans viewed it as favoritism that Bowey was not being held accountable for his mistakes the same way Moore was. Bowey’s sophomore season was hindered by injury, but he bounced back to make Washington’s roster out of training camp last season. He tallied 12 assists in 51 games but found himself a healthy scratch for much of the second half of the season and spent nine games back in Hershey to get playing time. Bowey is a strong skater, but sometimes gets caught flat-footed. This is what causes him to take bad penalties. He has good puck-possession ability and is a good passer. He also has the ability to put up points. He scored 60 points in back-to-back seasons in juniors and netted 21 goals one season. Defensively, Bowey is inconsistent in his decision-making process. He is always looking to make the big play, but sometimes he just needs to make the smart play.
Bowey is in an interesting situation heading forward. He will most likely start the season with Washington, as he is no longer waiver-exempt. However, he may struggle to find his way into the lineup. John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik are all ahead of him on the depth chart on the right side. This puts Bowey as the seventh defenseman and means he will likely be scratched most nights. He still needs ice time to continue to develop and improve the areas where he has struggled. He will find it hard to get that ice time in Washington. Bowey has the ability to be a solid NHL defenseman. Sitting in the press box is not going to help him get there. He will need a strong training camp to force head coach Todd Reirden into finding him playing time.
5. Travis Boyd – 24-years old, C, AHL
Boyd continues to be a point producer in the AHL. A season after leading Hershey with 63 points, he finished second on the team’s scoring list with 47 points. His strongest asset is his passing ability. He has 112 assists in 215 career AHL games. While he is a great passer, Boyd sometimes is too unselfish. He has passed up quality shots throughout his career to try to set up a teammate. He did start to shoot more last season with a career-high 147 shots. He has a good shot and needs to utilize it when he has the chance. He can still be a great setup man while shooting more. If teams have to respect his shot, it will create more passing lanes for him to take advantage of. Boyd had always been a plus player, but his even strength play took a hit last season. He was a team worst minus-24. Also, 26 of his 47 points came on the power play. His five-on-five play was a reflection of Hershey as a whole. The entire team struggled at even-strength. The Minnesota native also struggled on face-offs with Hershey last season, but again, that was a team-wide problem. With a better team surrounding him, Boyd should be able to get back to being a solid even strength player.
Boyd is poised to start the season in the NHL. He has earned that opportunity. The question is, what will his role be? Washington has an opening at center on the fourth-line, but that is not really a match for Boyd’s skill set. He has never been asked to play a bottom six role where he is expected to be more of a grinder and go into the dirty areas. He has always been in an offensive role. Will Todd Reirden put Boyd into that role in training camp and hope he adapts? Or does Reirden switch him to the wing and a player more suited for the fourth line like Chandler Stephenson take the spot as fourth-line center?
4. Shane Gersich, 22-years old, LW, AHL
Gersich’s greatest hockey skill set is his skating, both in overall speed and the ability to cover the ice. He also shows consistent tenacity in puck battles and always has the ability to make a play. However, some scouts have questioned his hockey instincts at game speeds. At 5’10”, Gersich’s size may also be an issue in the early part of his professional career, but he still has the potential to be a top-six/top-nine forward. He is a potential fifth-round “steal”.
Gersich’s collegiate career statistically peaked in his Sophomore year, where he spent most of the season on a high-powered first-line with Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) and Tyson Jost (Colorado Avalanche), both currently playing in the NHL. Gersich scored 21 goals and registered 16 assists for 47 points in 40 games his Sophomore season. His junior season saw a downturn for the first half of the season, with just five goals in the first 20 games played, which ultimately led to a reduction in playing time and a demotion to the fourth-line by the middle of January 2018. However, Gersich responded nicely in the second half of the season, returned to the top-line, and finished the season with 13 goals and 16 assists for 39 points, just eight points fewer than his sophomore season.
Gersich has the potential to make the Capitals’ roster at some point this coming season. His youth, speed and quickness on the puck would be a huge asset to the Capitals. However, it’s likely Gersich will start the season and spend a good amount of time in Hershey for the final year of his entry-level contract. The time in Chocolatetown will be well spent, learning the pro game and working on his defensive game. However, depending on how things shake-out this summer (free agency) and during training camp in September, Gersich could find his way onto the roster for opening night.
3. Alexander Alexeyev – 18-years old, D, WHL
Taken with the last pick in the first-round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Alexeyev joins a history of great Russians for the Washington Capitals. Alexeyev is a large teenager, clocking in at 6’4″ and almost 200 lbs. at 18-years old. But like all defensemen that the Capitals draft, he can skate very well. He doesn’t have high-end speed but he’s still very quick for his size and will only need to take a few strides to get his stick on the puck. His best asset is his hockey IQ as he can see the game very well, which allows him to be a threat at both ends of the ice. Though he’s known for more of his defensive game, people shouldn’t sleep on his offensive capabilities. He put up 37 points in 45 games last season. If he played a full WHL season that would be almost 60 points, which would have put him fourth among all defensemen under 19-years old.
Alexeyev was expected to go in the 10-15 pick range during the draft but a knee surgery and the unexpected passing of his mother limited him to only 86 games over the last two seasons. This lack of games played allowed Alexander to drop far to the Capitals who very well could have gotten a steal with their pick. If Alexeyev can stay healthy next season, he could turn some heads and be one the of the best WHL defensemen in the league among all ages. He’s been compared to Mattias Ekholm, Justin Braun, and a bigger version of Dmitry Orlov which would be scary for opponents. Expect to make the jump to professional hockey after the 2018-2019 season in the WHL.
2. Lucas Johansen – 20-years old, D, AHL
Johansen experienced a typical season for a player in his first professional season, one filled with ups and downs. He got off to a good start offensively for Hershey, scoring 12 points in his first 20 games. However, he was unable to sustain his offense. After scoring on December 9, he went on a 30-game goalless drought and ended the season with 31 points in 74 games. Johansen has the talent to contribute more offensively. He posted 49 and 41 points in back-to-back seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. While Johansen’s offense disappeared over a stretch of the season, his defensive game improved as the season went along. Troy Mann paired him with Tyler Lewington in mid-December and the pairing was a good one for Johansen. He settled down and improved his decision-making process while playing alongside Lewington. He was one of Hershey’s most reliable defenseman down the stretch and one of the few Hershey players who showed improvement as the season went along.
Johansen still needs some seasoning in the AHL. He needs to become a more consistent offensive player. However, he is not far away from being ready for the NHL. He is a smart player who is very coachable. He will continue to improve defensively and when his offense gets in step with his defense, Johansen will force his way into the NHL.
1. Ilya Samsonov – 21-years old, G, AHL
Ilya Samsonov is regarded as an elite goalie prospect. He has already played two full seasons at the pro-level (KHL), which is an amazing accomplishment, considering that he just turned 21 this past February, and considering that most goalies his age are playing in the minor leagues, in college, or in other developmental leagues.
During the 2017-18 season, Samsonov was the backup goalie for Metallurg Magnitogorsk to Vasily Koshechkin, who represented the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics. He played 26 games during the regular season, posting a 12-9-1 record with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. He also played in five playoff games, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.30 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Due to the loss of players to free agency, the team was not as good as they had been in the previous two seasons. While they made the playoffs again, the team was not as strong and appeared to struggle defensively.
The fact that he’s posted good statistics in the second-best hockey league in the world is a good sign on the level of his game, even if he has mostly served as his team’s backup. Development Camp and training camp will be huge for all goalies this summer but will especially be big for Samsonov, who will not only have to become comfortable in a new country and culture, but also adapt to North America’s smaller rink size. He will most likely play the 2018-19 season with the Hershey Bears, with an occasional call up to the Capitals
Three of our prospect writers each developed their own Top 25 prospects ranking. We then assigned points for each ranking positions for each writer, and totaled the points. (Lower score is better). For example, if a player was ranked third, sixth and fourth by the writers, their total score would be 3+6+4=13. We then ranked the players from low to high scores.
By Jon Sorensen, Diane Doyle, Luke Adomanis and Eric Lord