We are now less than three weeks away from the opening of the Washington Capitals “Rookie Camp” which is slated to begin on September 16 at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. There aren’t many roster spots realistically open for prospects at this point in the offseason, although a trade could change the landscape dramatically and quickly.
Here’s the latest as far as which players have a realistic shot at making the Capitals roster on a full-time basis.
Aliaksei Protas – Protas is probably the closest thing to a “sure bet” as far as Capitals prospects are concerned. With a season under his belt and offseason work to enhance his physical play, Protas will get a spot. He can play more than one position, and thrived on the Capitals 4th line last season.
Beck Malenstyn – Malenstyn played really well in the “Hagelin Spot” on the 4th line before he sustained an injury, derailing his run at a full-time spot on the roster last season. He will get a very long look again in training camp and is currently penciled-in at left wing on the fourth line and on the Capitals depth chart for the penalty kill.
Connor McMichael – It’s McMichael’s time to make a statement. Other forward prospects will begin mounting a challenge in the coming months and next year, so he needs to lock it down in this year’s training camp.
Joe Snively – Snively could have very easily been added to the “favorites” but it’s a numbers game at this point. Snively produced for the Capitals when he was healthy, and is also a known commodity to new head coach Spencer Carbery.
Ethen Frank – Frank had a tremendous regular season, but his postseason was very underwhelming. Whether he missed Mike Sgarbossa as his center, hit a wall or a combination of both, is up for debate, but his finish did not help his case. He will be a real wildcard in training camp. A hot camp could elevate him to the first group, but it’s likely he begins in Hershey.
Hunter Shepard – Make no mistake, Shepard, the 2023 Calder Cup MVP, is now the Capitals true number three netminder behind Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren. He will get a good look in training camp, but will most likely be a callup during the season. That’s possibly his best shot at challenging for the number two spot.
UP FOR A LOOK
Vincent Iorio – Iorio’s rookie campaign and subsequent development last season was excellent, as he showed real signs of a seasoned vet by the end of the Bears campaign. He will very likely get more games with the Capitals this season, but is still a year or more away from seriously contending for a full time job in Washington.
Hardy Haman Aktell – Should all go well with Haman Aktell’s acclimation to the American game in Hershey, he could see a mid-season callup, for a few games, if for no other reason, than for Capitals coaches and management to get a closer look.
Lucas Johansen – Johansen’s time to compete for a full-time roll in Washington is nearing an end, but because he has NHL games under his belt, could get the call in an injury situation.
All teams like to give some of their promising young prospects a taste of the NHL early in the development process, to give the players an idea of what they need to work towards, as well as to give fans a closer look (see Hendrix Lapierre in 2021). Players like Ivan Miroshnichenko, Alexander Suzdalev, Clay Stevenson, Henrik Rybinski, Ryan Hofer, Chase Priskie and Bogdan Trineyev could conceivably do a solo lap prior to a Capitals game this season, depending on their development status.
MORE DEVELOPMENT TIME NEEDED
Hendrix Lapierre – Lapierre had a great season of development for the Hershey Bears last season. He went through it all – hot start, hitting the rookie wall and extended postseason play. He nearly doubled the previous high in games he’s played in a season in his career, which was a primary objective. He still needs work, however, particularly in puck battles and making the right play. He needs at least another year in Hershey.
By Jon Sorensen