A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
Historically strong drafters under the guidance of George McPhee, the Capitals have not been shy about promoting players when they were felt to be ready, with no regard to minor league apprenticeship, or even completing their junior, or collegiate eligibility. The two drafts conducted by new GM Brian MacClellan have been met with mixed reviews, with the 2015 draft in particular earning poor overall feedback. Part of that is having few picks to play with (10 combined over the past two seasons) and part is due to using a second rounder in 2014 and their first rounder this year on goaltenders, an analytical no-no. Continued drafts like the past two will cause their organizational rankings to plummet over time, but there is still enough high end talent for Washington to end up in the middle of the pack for now.
- Jakub Vrana, RW, Linkoping (SHL) 5-11”, 185. 13th overall, 2014
- Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna (WHL) 6-1”, 195. 53rd overall, 2014
- Riley Barber, RW, Miami (NCHC) 6-0”, 194. 167th overall, 2012
- Ilya Samsonov, G, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL) 6-3”, 201. 22nd overall, 2015
- Stanislav Galiev, RW, Hershey (AHL) 6-2”, 187. 86th overall, 2010
- Travis Boyd, C, Minnesota (Big 10) 5-10”, 185. 177th overall, 2011
- Jonas Siegenthaler, D, ZSC (NLA) 6-3”, 220. 57th overall, 2015
- Connor Carrick, D, Hershey (AHL) 5-11”, 185. 137th overall, 2012
- Vitek Vanecek, G, HC Benatky na Jizerou (Czech 2) 6-1”, 180. 39th overall, 2014
- Zach Sanford, LW, Boston College (Hockey East) 6-3”, 185. 61st overall, 2013
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Philipp Grubauer, G, Hershey (AHL) 6-1”, 184. 112th overall, 2010
- Chris Brown, RW, Hershey (AHL) 6-2”, 191. Trade: Mar. 4, 2014. Originally: 36th overall, 2009 (Phoenix)
- Thomas Di Pauli, C, Notre Dame (Hockey East) 5-11”, 188. 100th overall, 2012
- Shane Gersich, C, Omaha (USHL) 5-11”, 175. 134th overall, 2014
- Christian Djoos, D, Brynas (SHL) 5-11”, 158. 195th overall, 2012
The organization’s prowess in drafting and developing goalies extends well past those currently in the system to a trio of solid to spectacular NHL’ers in Semyon Varlamov, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. As mentioned earlier, the club used one of their top two picks in both of the last two drafts on further strengthening the position. This year, the pick was Ilya Samsonov, a big Russian who emerged around mid-season as a legitimate NHL prospect with his strong play in the Russian junior league. He followed it up with a star turn in the U-18 tournament, where he was honored as the top goaltender in the event. He needs to improve his upper half, as his glove is around average and he does have a tendency to drop juicy rebounds for opponents, but his lower half is elite. Between his size and the athleticism in his legs, he will be very hard to beat down low. His positioning is also a clear positive to his game. Contractually, he has three more years in Russia, but the skill set places Samsonov among the more intriguing goalie prospects in the game.
Last year’s netminding draftee was Czech import Vitek Vanecek. Much smaller than Samsonov, he holds his own with plus athleticism and mobility. He also stands out for his exceptional glove hand. Vanecek seems rawer in net than his more heralded organization mate, despite being one year older. While he hurt his standing with a poor showing at the WJC, the tools are still there for Vanecek to overcome that bad first impression on North American soil.
If those two were not enough, the Capitals also have Philipp Grubauer ready to emerge as the backup at the NHL level. After 17 strong games at the NHL level in 2013-14, Braden Holtby’s monster season left the Cap braintrust feeling OK with Justin Peters and his sub-par play in the backup role, which limited Grubauer to a single NHL game. Peters is still around, as is journeyman Dan Ellis, but the Caps should be more willing to go with the young German this time around.
Moving to the blueline, the Capitals are not as deep in prospects, a fact which is only somewhat mitigated by having two of their top defenders (John Carlson and Karl Alzner) still in their primes, Dmitry Orlov still developing at the NHL level and Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik locked up for six and four more years respectively. That said, the top defender in the system is a high-end prospect in the form of Madison Bowey. A product of the blueline factory that is Kelowna of the WHL, Bowey is a two-way defender with plus athleticism and mobility. While he was a frequent offensive contributor for the Rockets over the past two seasons, his most eye-catching trait is his shot blocking. Not only is he fearless, but he will often emerge from out of nowhere into the shooting lane, so effectively cutting off the option that the presumptive shooter is forced to eat the puck. Bowey is turning pro this year and will benefit from a season or two in Hershey.
Jonas Siegenthaler is a big and wide defensive defenseman out of Switzerland who spent most of his age 17 season playing in Switzerland’s top senior league. His three points in 41 games is indicative of his offensive prowess, although he has the tools to contribute something once he is more accustomed to the speed of the men’s game. He plays a mature, calm game and demonstrates an excellent first pass out of his own zone. The ultimate upside is limited, but Siegenthaler fairly safe as far as prospects go.
Closer to the NHL than Bowey or Siegenthaler but with a much lower ceiling is Connor Carrick. He turned heads by making the Capitals out of training camp as a 19 year old in 2013-14, and playing 34 games as a rookie. His possession numbers predictably suffered as a teenaged defenceman in the NHL, but his skill set, namely puck handling and puck movement, was and remains in abundance. He still has work to do reining in his propensity for poor puck decisions and other mental errors, but he will have a chance to beat out Nate Schmidt for a spot on the team’s third pairing this season.
Also worth a brief mention is 2012 seventh rounder Christian Djoos. Very thin, Djoos has the mobility and two-way game that can find a role in the NHL with more seasoning. He will play this year in the AHL, his first prolonged taste of hockey outside of his native Sweden.
As with goaltending, the Capitals have good depth on the wing, particularly right wing, home of their top prospect, Jakub Vrana. His first post draft year saw the Czech teenager score over one point every other game with Linkoping in the SHL. Vrana has a fantastic wrist shot with a plus plus release. He is also skilled at finding gaps in coverage from which to strike. After an awesome start to his North American career, with five assists in three games, he will try to repeat the performance in a full season. Anything close will see him unveiled in the U.S. Capital before too long. He has more upside than anyone in the system.
Vrana is followed on the right side by collegiate hero Riley Barber. After averaging safely over one point per game in three seasons for Miami University, a period punctuated by two stellar showing at the WJC for the American entry, Barber is finally turning pro, forgoing his senior season with the RedHawks. While none of his individual tools stick out, Barber is the type of player for whom the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As with many players of that ilk, he is intelligent and hard working. His first taste of the AHL will tell us more about what type of player he can be at the highest level.
Stanislav Galiev is the oldest player in the top ten. Injuries held him back in his first two professional seasons, but he broke out with 45 points in 67 games for Hershey last year, earning his first cameo in the NHL. Galiev is a high end skater, with plus agility to go along with his raw speed. His frame is large enough for him to play a physical game, but he does not play that way often enough, possibly out of respect to his injury-filled past. He will have a chance to fill a fourth line role this season, although a few more months in Hershey would be to his benefit.
While not a top ten prospect, Chris Brown, formerly of the Coyotes’ system, is on the cusp of an NHL job in a depth line role. He is a 200-foot hustler with limited offensive skills but a high work rate. This may be his last best chance to solidify his standing as an NHLer.
Left wing is relatively weak in the Washington system (thankfully they have a pretty good one already up with the team – Russian kid named Ovechkin!), there is one solid prospect in Zach Sanford, a former second rounder learning his trade at Boston College. A massive young man with some offensive upside, he is still very much a work in progress. He has already demonstrates plus puck protection abilities, as befitting of a player his size, but we should expect his production to increase as his game matures with more time at B.C.
There is depth in the system at center ice, although only Travis Boyd, recently of the University of Minnesota, is currently worthy of a top ten spot. Boyd has above average puck skills and more than a little creativity, which portends a role as a playmaker at the next level. Undersized, his scoring output increased in every year of his collegiate career, ending with over one point per game as a senior. He added two points in his first two AHL games. More AHL time is needed, but he could receive a cameo or two should the NHL club sustain some injuries to their pivots.
Finally, we should drop a line or two about two younger centers in the system in Shane Gersich and Thomas Di Pauli. The latter is closer to the show, having already completed three seasons with Notre Dame, the last one showing some offensive touch after two lackluster seasons to begin his collegiate career. He is a very good skater and above average stick handler as well. Gersich completed a good season with Omaha of the USHL and will stay out west as he embarks on a college run with North Dakota. Between his speed and his shot, he has the makings of a high scoring collegiate player.
The Washington Capitals system is built mainly on good drafting in Europe as well as astute selections from the college ranks and those leagues that funnel players into the NCAA. The most recent two drafts saw the team select fewer high upside players (Vrana notwithstanding) and suggest a different drafting trend for new GM Brian MacClellan than from his predecessor. If the graduated prospects continue to be replaced by low upside youth and goaltenders, the Capitals organizational rankings will plummet. For now though, there is still reason to look to the future with the players still in the system.