Capital Gains: Washington Capitals’ Once “Shallow” Prospect Pool Finally Gaining Depth


Once considered by many as one of the NHL’s weakest prospect pools, the Washington Capitals have made significant gains over the past three NHL Entry Drafts. The team has also made several recent key free-agent signings that have added much needed value to the overall depth. And while early returns appear promising, there is still work to do.

Many of the NHL’s so-called “prospect experts” had the the Capitals prospect pool ranked as low as last or next-to-last as recently as 2018. I don’t hold much value in those rankings, as I know the commitment and time we (NoVa Caps) spend tracking and assessing the Capitals prospects alone. For one “expert” to accurately assess and rank all 32 teams would seem impossible.

However, because of our commitment to tracking and assessing all of the Capitals prospects full time, as soon as they are acquired (draft, trade, free agency), I do feel we have a good perspective for the strengths, weaknesses and shifts in trends in the Capitals prospect pool.

So where do we stand?

The chart above may be a bit overwhelming at first glance. However, most of the key information is included, and helps begin to paint the picture of the Capitals current organizational structure.

Strengths

Recently a weak spot in the Capitals prospect pool, the center position is beginning to fill in. It began with the selection of Aliaksei Protas and added significant strength with the additions of Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre. There is still some depth to be added, but right now, the center position is no longer at the top of the Capitals “needs” list.

The Capitals goaltending depth also remains fairly stout. Free agent signings Clay Stevenson and Zach Fucale were good moves, and the selection of Mitchell Gibson and Chase Clark have added promising long-term depth at the position. The Capitals have a good road map for the position for the next 4-6 years.

Weaknesses

The Capitals were extremely shallow at the left wing prior to the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in July. However, the team addressed that need by selecting a Ivan Miroshnichenko, Alexander Suzdalev and Ryan Hofer in the draft. There is still a soft spot between the most recent draft picks and the top of the prospect pool on the left side, so a free agent signing might be made in the near future in order to continue fortifying the left side, and in particular, help Hershey for the coming season.

The Capitals also added to the right side of the defense in the most recent draft, selecting Ryan Chesley in the second round (#37 overall) of the draft, but there still remains a need to fortify the right side of the blueline. There is a soft spot at the mid-tier (mid-development stage) that will begin to surface with the Capitals over the next 1-3 years.

Time To Make A Move

The time is now for several prospects. 2018 draft selections Riley Sutter and Kody Clark need to have a breakout 2022-23 seasons, as both players have spent the last three seasons in Hershey with underwhelming results. While injuries have been prevalent for both Sutter and Clark, the games and years are starting to mount. Clark (second round, #47 overall) has played 113 games in the AHL and Sutter (third round pick, #93 overall) has played 89 games in Chocolatetown. Both players have one year remaining on their current deals. It’s time to make a move for both.

Ones To Watch

Benton Maass, Martin Hugo Has, Bear Hughes and Henrik Rybinski are prospects to keep an eye on this season, not for star power, but to see which direction they are heading as far as progress in development.

Martin Hugo Has has been solid in his development to this point, but has quietly resided in the background. Will he make some noise this season? or will it be more quiet but reliable defense from Has?

Rybinski was a solid free agent signing, but a bit of a mystery. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers but went unsigned following underwhelming play. Rybinski then moved to the center position last season and had a breakout year in the WHL. Was that all he needed? Keep an eye on his season.

Bear Hughes was a fifth round pick by the Capitals in 2020, and has shown signs of being a next-level center during his time in the WHL. He spent a brief period in Hershey following his WHL season, but the Capitals decided not to sign him, leaving the signing to the Bears. His first year in the AHL will be an interesting watch.

Benton Maass has been an interesting prospect to track and assess since he was drafted in 2017. He opted for a 5th collegiate season due to Covid provisions, transferring from New Hampshire to Minnesota State where he was a regular starter. He also reported to Hershey for a brief stint (review by Caps staff) following the conclusion of his NCAA season, but was also unsigned by the Capitals. The Bears would ultimately ink Maass to keep him in the neighborhood.

Filing In

Obviously it’s not just a matter of filling in the Capitals prospect pool, but filling in with players who have real potential and will align with the Capitals needs over the next 3-5 years. After several failed draft selections and the trading of draft picks, the Capitals are finally making gains.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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12 Responses to Capital Gains: Washington Capitals’ Once “Shallow” Prospect Pool Finally Gaining Depth

  1. Lance says:

    I’m happy with the Caps’ drafting in recent years. McMichael, Leason, Protas, Lapierre, Miroshnichenko, Chesley, Sudzalev, etc. look to have NHL careers ahead of them.

    Rybinski is intriguing. What a get he would be if he becomes a middle 6 center.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Finally some positive signs. The team and the organization will go through a huge transition over next 3-4 years, a whole new look and personality. Should be interesting to see how this goes.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Leason the big knock on him was his skating. Still an issue.. Does he clear waivers. I would package him for a similar prospect on D or a trade deadline acquisition.

  4. DWGie26 says:

    Lots to like but as you noted there are some gaps in the mid years. I think RD will still take a year or three to build out which is why i think we need to sign someone there. Has also is not signed by Caps or Hershey at this point.

    On Leason… agree with Jon that they won’t risk waivers with him, but he needs to earn that 13 forward slot. I could see him at 4RW next year and we let Hath walk.

    I just don’t see a spot for AJF. Hope they can trade him, but I think clubs will be wise that he is likely a waiver candidate and grab him for free. I won’t sweat that, but it would be nice to get something for him (like a 3-4 RD).

    • Anonymous says:

      Leason is a tough spot. In the end another year in Hershey is probably best, then make a decision next year.

  5. Nelson says:

    Why in the heck we still have Carl Hagelin on our pay roll is there anyway to buy him out and get some our young players to play

    • DWGie26 says:

      Well we do have him on LTIR so he doesn’t count against the Cap and he isn’t playing so he is not taking a spot. but there are options:

      * Trade him – but that would cost us assets to move like with Panik
      * Send him to Hershey – we can bury 1.1M there but 1.65M would still be on books for Caps
      * buy him out – there is a schedule for when you do this. That window has passed but there may be another opportunity to do buyouts by training camp. Problem with that is you still get saddled with a Cap hit albeit a reduced cap hit. This is known as dead money and it cripples teams. For example MN has 13M of dead money this year and $15M of dead money next year. Imagine that. At least our GM hasn’t put us in that position.

  6. I believe that Axil and Snively need to go through waivers if sent to Hershey. Does anyone know for sure? If that’s the case I believe they will make the team out of training camp. I would not be surprised to see McMichael sent to Hershey so he can play center. He will the first call up due to injury. Eller is going to be the 3rd line center. If Backstrom comes back Eller will be traded

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