The 2019 Rookie Tournament kicks off this weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. On Wednesday, the Capitals released their roster for the four-team tournament, which includes prospects from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators. Here are a few key Capitals prospects to watch this weekend. [You can find all of the latest prospect news and reports on our dedicated prospects page here.]
First and foremost, here are the prospects that are set to take part in this year’s tournament:
PLAYERS TO WATCH
This year’s training camp might be one of the most competitive in recent years, as the proverbial pecking order for all Capitals defensive prospects is essentially up in the air. The departure of Chase Priskie and underwhelming play by prospects in Hershey the past two seasons has left plenty of questions surrounding defensive starting spots that will be open this fall in Hershey. The battle is essentially wide open. For the big club, there is an outside shot at the 6th and 7th defensive positions. Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos would need to be outplayed in training camp and preseason games.
Martin Fehervary – LD (19) – Possibly the Capitals’ most improved prospect last season, Fehervary had his breakout party in last season’s World Junior Championships and World Championship for Team Slovakia. Fehervary ended last season on the top pair for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League, battling men 4-5 years older than him. Fehervary is a wild card in this year’s camp, and is a favorite for a starting position this fall in Hershey. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Alexander Alexeyev – LD (19) – The Capitals’ first round pick in last June’s NHL Entry Draft will be participating in his second prospect tournament, and likely reporting to Hershey this fall. Alexeyev has all the skills in a 6′-4” frame, and is always an entertaining watch in person. The big question surrounding him this camp is his health, as Alexeyev dealt with four separate injuries during the course of the 2018-2019 season, the last of which was a serious knee injury that ended his 2018-2019 campaign. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan stated in a conference call on Thursday (June 22) that Alexeyev was healthy and ready to go. Alexeyev reported to early MedStar (in late August) and has been participating in informal skates each day. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Tobias Geisser – LD (20) – Winner of the Hershey Bears “Most Improved Player” Award last season, Geisser is picking up the North American game rather quickly. Bears Head Coach Spencer Carbery stated in a pregame interview on November 10 that Geisser is “very wise beyond his years with processing coaching directions, reads on the ice, a quick learner.” Geisser was selected by Team Switzerland in this year’s World Juniors tournament, but did not play due to a reported injury. It will be interesting to see how he fares against other Caps prospects in this year’s tournament and training camp. Competition for D-spots will be stiff in Hershey, so he will need to make a strong showing. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Alex Kannok-Leipert – RD (18) One of the few right-handed blueliners currently in the Capitals’ farm system, Alex opened some eyes this past season while playing for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. At 6’,0”, Kannick-Leipert may bring the most grit/pound to to the tournament. With the loss of Chase Priskie, the Capitals’ organizational depth at defensemen has lessened a bit, which should be considered an opening for Kannok-Leipert. Look for his extra-physical play, as he will certainly challenge opposing prospects in this weekends tournament. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
It’s no secret that the depth of the Capitals’ prospect pool at the forward position could be considered rather shallow, with many a pontificator labeling the Capitals’ forward pool the shallowest in the league. The addition of Connor McMichael and Brett Leason signals the organization’s attempt to address those specific needs. This year’s tournament should provide a decent lens to begin assessing the latest additions to the forward group.
Connor McMichael – C (18) – The Capitals’ first round pick in this year’s draft (25th overall), the 5’,11” centerman will be making his first appearance in the prospect tournament. McMichael participated in his first development camp back in June and looked good in the scrimmage at the end of camp. He recorded 36 goals, 72 points, and a plus-15 rating in 67 games last season last season for the London Knights. During the OHL Playoffs, McMichael tallied two goals, five points, and a minus-1 rating in 11 games. He will return to London following Capitals training camp, but it would be good to establish a baseline for McMichael to gauge his development this season. He will be in Hershey next fall.
Brett Leason – RW (20) – The Capitals selected forward Brett Leason with the 56th overall pick at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver in June. Leason, 20, has played the past two seasons with the Canadian Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan confirmed following the draft that Leason will be starting this season in Hershey. Leason looked very comfortable during the Capitals week-long Development Camp at the end of June, and shined in the scrimmage (More here).
Aliaksei Protas – C (18) – The Capitals selected center Aliaksei Protas with their third-round selection at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on Saturday. Protas, 18, spent the 2018-19 season with the CHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, his first with the team, and will also be making his first appearance in the prospect tournament.
Garrett Pilon – C (21) – Like most AHL rookies, Pilon’s start to last season was rather quiet, as he didn’t net his first AHL goal until December. But things picked up for Pilon, as he began to find his way in the professional game. Pilon would ultimately be named Hershey’s rookie of the year for the 2018-2019 campaign. On the season, Pilon registered 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games played, with six of his 10 goals and five assists coming in the last 14 games of the season. Pilon finished the postseason with five assists in nine games played. One of the last cuts from last falls Capitals training camp, it will be interesting to gauge Pilon’s development during this year’s tournament, as well as his performance in training camp starting next week. He could surprise some folks. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Shane Gersich – LW (22) – Like most Bears rookies, Shane’s season started very quietly, as he began to adapt to the AHL game. Unfortunately, he never really did catch fire. There were moments where his speed was evident, as he demonstrated how it could be a game-changer. In the end, the scoring never really showed up, as his finishes and shots seemed to fall short or to the side. Eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games isn’t bad by any means, but it would be nice to see much more. It took Gersich 125 shots to score eight goals. That is a shooting percentage of just 6.4. By comparison, Nathan Walker took 126 shots, but scored 17 goals for a 13.5 shooting percentage. This year’s prospect tournament will provide a good metric for Gersich’s overall development. He was signed to just a one year extension by the Capitals earlier in 2019, signaling that time may be possibly running out for the fifth round pick. He needs a good tournament. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Beck Malenstyn – LW (21) – Malenstyn showed excellent developmental progress during his first year in the AHL, and it could be argued, he made the biggest advance of all Capitals prospects during the 2018-2019 season. He quickly found his place last fall, providing a physical grit for the Bears, and often set the tone early in games with a heavy hit or two. Malenstyn also showed potential for being a team leader. Perhaps Malenstyn’s biggest asset to the Bears this season was his contributions to the penalty kill. His shot blocking was outstanding. Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery commented on Malenstyn’s shot blocking in a pre-game interview with Bears radio broadcaster Zack Fisch on January 23. Carbery said, “Beck Malenstyn is one of the best shot blockers that I’ve seen.” (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Brian Pinho – C (24) – Pinho was relatively quiet for a majority of the season, but there seemed to be a late wake up call in March, April and May. There was a noticeable improvement in his play with and away from the puck, and overall presence on the ice. Pinho, in his first year away from college may have just needed a little more time to get comfortable with life away from home and the game at the AHL level. It’s difficult to say, but it will be interesting to see how the first half of the 2019-2020 season goes for no. 28. (2018-2019 player profile and forecast)
Alex Jonsson-Fjallby – LW (21) – “AJF” had a decent training camp with the Washington Capitals before being re-assigned to Hershey on September 26. He played in 16 games with the Bears, registering two goals and an assist, before exercising an option in his contract and returning to Sweden. AJF’s regular season with Djurgården was disappointing, as he scored just one goal and nine assists in 36 games played. At one point late in the regular season, AJF was even a healthy scratch. However, the postseason was another story for AJF. Part of his battle cry last summer was wanting to win a title for Djurgården. He fell one game short of that goal, losing to Frolunda in Game 7 of the SHL final on May 2, 2019. In this year’s playoffs, AJF scored seven goals and five assists in 19 postseason games. He should be totally focused on his North American game at this point. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Riley Sutter – RW (19) – Sutter, named assistant captain for the 2018-19 season, played in 38 regular season games for the Everett Silvertips in the WHL. He had 14 goals and had 27 assists for 41 points overall, was plus-12, and also had 38 penalty minutes. He signed an entry-level contract with the Capitals on September 29. Unfortunately, he sustained a lower-body injury in a game on December 29 and missed the remainder of the regular season. He returned in time to play in three playoff games for Everett and earned one assist. While his natural position is right wing, he played as center on the Silvertips’ top-line. Sutter was impressive during June’s development camp, and had a good scrimmage showing as well. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Erik Florchuk – C/LW (19) – Florchuk played in 68 regular season games for the Saskatoon Blades and 10 playoff games. He had 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points overall, was plus-10, and also had 40 penalty minutes. Florchuk was taken with the very last pick in the 2018 NHL Draft (seventh-round, 217th overall) by the Capitals, but is showing early signs of possibly being the Capitals’ best value-pick from that draft. Florchuk is a “tweener”. A case could be made for him to take next step. A crowded forward camp roster in Hershey (19) will have him likely return to WHL. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Joe Snively – LW (23) – A late, post-collegiate (Yale) season signing by the Capitals this past spring, Snively jumped right into AHL action for the Bears and looked to handle things quite well. A limited sample size (two goals and five assists in just nine games with Hershey), it will be interesting to see how the Northern Virginia native handles This year’s prospect tournament with the Capitals prospect pool. (2018-2019 player review and forecast)
Beck Warm – G – (20) – The undrafted Warm had a fantastic development camp scrimmage (recap here), consistently impressing with strong saves the entire game. Warm, who hails from Tri-City Americans (part owned by Ollie Kolzig) in the WHL is a possible darkhorse that could toss his name in the ring for a possible spot on the depth chart. He will likely get the middle game, so keep an eye out for him this Sunday.
Ilya Samsonov – G – (22) – It’s no secret, it’s “go time” for Samsonov, beginning with this prospect tournament. The Capitals final decision regarding Braden Holtby will be largely affected by Samsonov’s performance between now and January. He needs to impress from the start, including games he will likely start in the prospect tournament. Samsonov reporter early to MedStar and has been participating in informal skates since mid August.
By Jon Sorensen