The Washington Capitals goaltending situation has been in disarray ever since the departure of the much-beloved Braden Holtby back in 2020. While there appeared to be a reasonable succession plan in place, the plan never really materialized, and set the Capitals floundered for two-full seasons.
As a result, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan wadded up the piece of paper and started from scratch this summer, cutting loose Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov in Washington and letting go stalwart Pheonix Copley, the top-tender in Hershey. MacLellan restocked the Capitals top-tandem with Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren, and will look to new faces in Hershey for the coming season.
The top pair would appear to be set for at least next season (although we’ve said and felt that way before, only to see it all come crumbling down), with top tender Kuemper locked down through the 2026-27 season. Whether Kuemper stays the full term remains to be seen, but for now, there is some stability among the ranks.
So, how are things shaping up behind Kuemper?
Darcy Kuemper – Obviously we are waiting to see what we get from Kuemper. The contract term of five years is probably two years too long, but was also probably necessary in order to lock-up the free agent. He’ll get little slack from fans, as patience with goaltending is wearing pretty thin within Caps Nation, so hopefully things start well for the 32-year-old,. Kuemper’s key stats have generally improved over the past five seasons, so hopefully we see more of the same starting in October. (More on Kuemper)
Charlie Lindgren – Lindgren has shown stretches of excellent play in his relatively brief career. He’s been very good at the AHL level but hasn’t played many games in the NHL. Lindgren, 28, went 5-0-0 with a .958 save percentage and 1.22 goals-against average in five NHL games with the St. Louis Blues last season. He also posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average in 34 games with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds. I’m looking forward to watching him play. (More on Lindgren).
Zach Fucale – Fucale made a raucous NHL debut for the Capitals last season but posted a mixed bag of results the remainder of the way. The 26-year-old earned a 21-save shutout against the Detroit Red Wings in his NHL debut on Nov. 11, but gave up four goals on just 16 shots in his last start for the Capitals on January 10 against Boston. Fucale returned to Hershey where he was streaky at best. In the end, Fucale was 1-1-0-1 with a 1.75 GAA and a .924 save percentage in four games with the Capitals. He went 11-15-5-3 with a 2.62 GAA and a .896 save percentage in Hershey. (More on Fucale)
Hunter Shepard – Shepard has raised and eye-brow or two in his relatively short time with the Capitals, and by all means is rightfully slotted into the number four spot within the organization. He will get steady work in Hershey this season, and could challenge Fucale for the starters role at some point. Don’t be shocked if Shepard is the solid number 3 by the end of the season. (More on Shepard)
Clay Stevenson – Stevenson is a wild card to start the season, likely in South Carolina. He went undrafted but something clicked and seemed to stoke the fires for him last season. As a result there were several teams looking to sign him with the Capitals winning out. Stevenson, 23, had an excellent second season this year with the Green Wave, posting a .922 save percentage and a 2.70 goals against average on an otherwise underwhelming Dartmouth team. Capitals scout Danny Brooks has done very well signing college free agents (Snively, Nardella, etc.). Don’t be shocked if we have a gem here. (More on Stevenson here)
Garin Bjorklund – Bjorklund is another wild card, although you wouldn’t know it if you quickly glanced at his stats from last season. He posted poor numbers but on a very poor and porous Medicine Hat team. He visited Hershey after his WHL season had ended, and the Capitals subsequently signed him to a deal. He was hard to evaluate in the 20 or so games I watched of his last season, but it looks like the Capitals saw something during his brief stint in Hershey. He will also likely start the season with the Stingrays, but could see a game or two in chocolate town. (More on Bjorklund)
Mitchell Gibson – Gibson has been an interesting player to track since he was drafted by the Capitals. In the very first interview I saw with him, someone asked if he would play all of his years of eligibility at Harvard. Before he could answer the question his father yelled from the other room “Yes he will!” Can’t blame him for that, but that puts him another two years out before arriving in Hershey. The 23-year-old has been impressive at Harvard. He even returned to form last season after being away from organized games for a whopping 18 months due to Covid, the most among any Capitals prospect. (More on Gibson)
Chase Clark – Clark is already a favorite of mine. I know, I’m supposed to be unbiased but I can’t help it. His 6’-5” frame consumes the goal face. Clark stood out the most among all netminders and skaters in the Capitals prospect scrimmage on July 15. He made countless stops, many of the high-caliber nature. It’s hard not to get excited about Clark. It was good that He got to spend a few days with Capitals goaltending coaches. Oli Kolzig spoke well of Clark on the game stream, and also noted he was impressed by the kid and feels he is a very raw talent. Clark, 20, will be a freshman at Quinnipiac this fall, which will be an excellent next step for him. Only downside so far for Clark, he is a Mets fan. But we are working on that. (More on Clark).
It seems like the Capitals organization has always had pretty good goaltending, and it’s hard to argue about the current state of the organizational depth. There is competition throughout and youngsters chomping at the bit and nipping at the heals of those above.
Hopefully we will finally return to the proverbial “normal” this season and see all netminders get a full year of games, instruction and development.
By Jon Sorensen