In the wake of the All-Star break and the trade deadline approaching (not to mention three days off for the big club), it seems like a logical time to take a look at some of the prospects in the Capitals system with an eye on the perhaps not-so-distant future. Of these players who would you like to see in Washington in 2009-10? Who is or is not going to pan out for the club? Who might be potential trade bait at this year's deadline or during the offseason? Twenty-one key kids, after the jump.
Francois Bouchard (21, Right Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Bouchard's offensive talent level is unquestioned, but there were concerns about his skating ability, work ethic, and defensive acumen coming into the season. Bouchard has adjusted to the AHL quite well as a rookie, posting 25 points in his first 40 games with the Bears the season, but the most encouraging statistic is his +20 rating, second on the team only to Oskar Osala.
Chris Bourque (23, Right Wing/Left Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Bourque continues to play the waiting game and continues to show that he's ready to move up from the American League, where he's averaging a point per game. A victim of numbers (both roster size and salary cap), Bourque, a restricted free agent at season's end, will likely be in Washington for the 2009-10 season.
Joel Broda (19, Center, Calgary Hitmen, WHL) – A fifth round pick in 2008, Broda has exceed his career highs in goals, assists, and points in 2008-09, splitting time between the Hitmen and the Moose Jaw Warriors. The 39 goals in 47 games are a big improvement over 28 in 70 last season, and are especially encouraging for a guy whose consistency was a knock against him going into the draft.
Greg Burke (18, Left Wing, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, USHL) – Burke only made it into eight games for the RoughRiders this season before injuring his shoulder, an injury that, the team announced on Tuesday, will end his 2008-09 season for good. Burke will attend the University of New Hampshire in the fall.
John Carlson (19, Defense, London Knights, OHL) – Given their position heading into last summer's draft, Carlson was my top choice for the Capitals and he's done little to temper my enthusiasm since then. At the moment Carlson is third in scoring among OHL defensemen, second in OHL rookie scoring, and first in rookie defenseman scoring. I've seen Carlson compared to Montreal's Mike Komisarek, but Komisarek never put up offensive numbers like this at as high a level of play as Carlson is. This guy's going to be a stud, and could see his first NHL action as early as next year.
Stefan Della Rovere (18, Left Wing, Barrie Colts, OHL) – Della Rovere's another guy who has exceed expectation in juniors this year; like Broda, Della Rovere has already exceeded last year's total in goals and points. Della Rovere was also the latest-drafted player on Canada's World Junior Championships team and is the captain of the Colts.
|Stefan Della Rovere
Joe Finley (21, Defense, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, WCHA) – Finley's North Dakota Fighting Sioux are 15-10-3, are currently ranked 12th in the country, and have gone 6-2-2 in the ten games since Finley returned from a concussion. As for Finley himself, the big blueliner has scored two goals in twelve games this year. That may not seem like a lot but given that he only had five in the 127 NCAA games he had logged coming into the season, it's worth keeping an eye on.
|U. North Dakota
Josh Godfrey (21, Defense, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL) – Godfrey's split this season between Hershey and South Carolina, arguably a victim of numbers himself. What's surprising is that the man with the 99 mile-per-hour shot has yet to score a goal this season.
Andrew Gordon (23, Right Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Gordon, who had 51 points in 57 games with the Bears last year, hasn't been producing at the same level in 2008-09, but that's not all that surprising given the influx of talent Hershey's seen this year. Gordon logged his first NHL game back in December and will likely be a bubble player heading into camp next year.
Anton Gustafsson (18, Center, Bofors IK, HockeyAllsvenskan) – According to his father, Gustafsson has struggled with injuries so far this season while playing with Bofors. Gustafsson is most likely to spend 2009-10 in Sweden before coming to North America, although it wouldn't be a shock to see him in Hershey next year.
Braden Holtby (19, Goalie, Saskatoon Blades, WHL) – Holtby's been a workhorse for the Blades this year and leads the WHL in minutes played. Holtby has certainly earned the playing time: he's sixth in the Western League in GAA and fifth in save percentage.
Dimitri Kugryshev (19, Right Wing, Quebec Remparts, QMJHL) – Kugryshev started off strong in the 'Q', with eight goals in his first twelve games, hasn't slowed down much since, and is currently the leading scorer among rookies in the league. Kugryshev also represented Russia at the World Junior Championships in late December and early January.
Sami Lepisto (24, Defense, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Lepisto continues to put up great numbers in the AHL and continues to struggle in his own end against NHL competition. Even with all the injuries the Capitals have had on defense, Lepisto's only made it into seven NHL games in 2008-09, and at twenty-four he might not have much more room to develop. It's still possible Lepisto could wind up being an NHL-caliber player but he looks to me like he's headed the way of Jason Krog and Alexandre Giroux, as a guy capable of dominating the AHL but being unable to make the leap to the next level.
Eric Mestery (18, Defense, Tri-City Americans, WHL) – Mestery, a tall blueliner whom the Capitals selected in the second round last year, has split this season between the Tri-City Americans and the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Given his size and play style Mestery could be viewed as a "project" defenseman. Don't expect to see him in Washington for at least a couple more years.
Michal Neuvirth (20, Goalie, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Neuvirth's odyssey, which saw him go from camp with the Capitals, to South Carolina, to Trinec Ocelari HC of the Czech League, and back to South Carolina (where he was an ECHL all-star), seems to have ended in Hershey... for the time being, at least.
Oskar Osala (21, Left Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Osala's size (6'4'', 220 pounds) and production last season in Finland (18 goals in 53 games) had to excite the Capitals coming into the season, but few would have predicted the winger to be on a 35 goal pace in the AHL in his rookie year. At the season's outset I would have predicted 2010-2011 as the earliest Caps fans would see Osala in the lineup regularly but it's looking more and more like he may be with the team to start 2009-10, especially if Chris Clark is bought out or otherwise moved in the offseason.
Mathieu Perreault (21, Center, Hershey Bears) – Perreault's playingmaking skills have been on display for Hershey this year, where he has 24 assists in 44 games. Getting Perreault to the size the Capitals would probably want him to be before he's taking a regular shift in the NHL might take another year or two, so it may be 2010 or later before he take makes it up to Washington to give fans some relief from Michael Nylander.
Sasha Pokulok (22, Defense, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL) – Pokulok has primarily played with South Carolina this year, being recalled to Hershey only when the Bears saw their blueline depth take a hit with so many of their regulars called up to Washington earlier in the season. It's possible Pokulok may wind up with a decent career somewhere but at this point the former first rounder is a non-factor in Washington's organization.
Keith Seabrook (20, Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL) – With 36 points Seabrook has already more than doubled his point total from last season and his +15 rating suggests his defensive struggles are behind him. Of course, that +15 rating would look better on a team that had more than one player in the negative. It's worth noting Seabrook was the WHL's Player of the Week last week.
Simeon Varlamov (20, Goalie, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Caps fans got a glimpse of their team's future in net when Varlamov made two appearances for the team earlier in the season. Those two wins weren't flukes: Varlamov has posted great numbers in the AHL this season and is likely to make a strong case to start the season on the big club's roster at camp in September.
Kyle Wilson (24 Center, Hershey Bears, AHL) – Wilson has continued to be a solid contributor for the Bears this season and, depending on what happens with Nylander and Sergei Fedorov in the offseason, may have a shot to break camp with the Caps next year.