It’s beneficial to regularly conduct a “big picture” review of an organization’s depth by position in order to gain a better understanding of the positional strengths and weaknesses within the organization. We last detailed the Washington Capitals blueline pipeline last summer (here), and provided a progress report back in March (here). Since then, the Capitals have made further additions and subtractions.
The Capitals began to reshape the future of their blueline with the trading of Dmitry Orlov and acquisition of Rasmus Sandin at the 2023 trade deadline, signaling the commencement of the Capitals youth movement. The Capitals then inked Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk to three-year deals in early March, further solidifying the future of the Capitals blueline.
The following is a cursory review at the current status of Capitals organizational depth chart at the defensive position, and where things stand at the run-up to the 2023-24 season. It is not intended to indicate projected pairings but to simply parse players by defensive sides.
As we noted at the end of the 2022-23 season, the Capitals were in desperate need of veteran experience on the left side, as each of the Capitals left-side defensemen were 23-years-old and extremely light on NHL experience. As expected, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan addressed the issue by acquiring Joel Edmundson. It’s ery likely the players listed above will be the Capitals seven defensemen on opening night.
Here is the current organizational depth chart for Capitals at the AHL level (with NHL contracts):
The farm pool had thinned in recent years, mostly due to the elevation of Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev, and the departure of Tobias Geisser, but is rebounding nicely with the additions of Hardy Haman Aktell and Chase Priskie and the re-signing of Dylan McIlrath this off-season. The re-signing of McIlrath to an NHL contract gives the Capitals an emergency callup on both sides.
The Capitals depth chart at the junior level:
Dru Krebs and Martin Hugo Has exit the Capitals system this off-season while the Capitals added Cam Allen, a right defenseman, in the 2023 draft. The changes now flip the balance of the junior defensmen. Just two years ago the Capitals were extremely shallow on the right side.
In recent drafts the Capitals had shifted focus, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to prospects playing or projected to play at the college hockey level. That marked a shift in recent drafts, and could also be due to Danny Brooks excellent scouting of the college ranks.
However, the Capitals shifted that philosophy in the 2023 draft by selecting a Canadian junior in Cam Allen. Allen’s excellent rookie season and sub-par sophomore campaign are well documented, but the selection falls in line with recent Capitals draft picks that look to take a shot on players that had issues approaching their drafts, but could potentially develop into NHL players (See Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko, who both fell in the run-up to their drafts due to health issues).
The Capitals are still relatively thin in Hershey with regards to players that have the real potential to make the Capitals roster at some point on a full-time basis. Vincent Iorio is currently the only real prospect with a solid shot at a long term role in Washington. Iorio has already risen to the top of the overall prospects lists for defensemen. One more season in the AHL could be enough development time for Iorio, but two seasons would be preferred. He will certainly get more games with the Capitals this season.
It should be noted that Hardy Haman Aktell is a wild card. I haven’t seen enough of his play to make any kind of qualitative assessment of his potential ceiling. We do know he was highly touted and labeled by some as the best European free agent and was pursued by a number of teams. A tip of the hat to Danny Brooks (again). Player agents told me Brooks made monthly trips to Sweden last season.
The Capitals always state before each and every draft that their plan is to select the best player available, regardless of position. That may be true most of the time, but we’ve seen where organizational depth issues were addressed in a single draft, so don’t be surprised if the Capitals focus on drafting defensemen in the 2024 draft.
By Jon Sorensen