Hockey is a young man's game.
Despite players like Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Brodeur and what's-his-name (among others) getting ready for the 2013-14 season as forty-somethings, players are reaching their peaks these days in their early-to-mid twenties, and most are out of the game at 28 - in hockey 25 years old is downright middle-aged. Alex Ovechkin, for example, averaged roughly two-thirds of a goal and a point-and-a-third per game prior to turning 25, and "only" half a goal and one point per game since. Clearly, he's over the hill.
Anyway, given the above and the fact that the Internet loves round-numbered lists, we figured we'd count down our Top 25 Capitals under the age of 25.
As was the case when we did this exercise last year, this list is by no means intended to be definitive, and we strongly suggest checking out the always-outstanding efforts of Corey Pronman over at Hockey Prospectus, Corey Masisak at NHL.com and RMNB, and the work done by the good folks at Hockey's Future. The rankings are wholly subjective and are primarily based on current and projected skills and value, upside and the likelihood of reaching it and, to be honest, hearsay - the opinions of respected folks who have had more opportunities to see some of these kids than we have.
With that out of the way, here's our ranking of the Caps' Top 25 under 25:
Graduated: Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, Michal Neuvirth, Mathieu Perreault, Cameron Schilling
No longer with the organization: Filip Forsberg, Mattias Sjogren, Zach Hamill
Honorable mention: Austin Wuthrich, RW (20.2; drafted 107th in 2012); Nicolas Deschamps, LW (23.8; acquired from Toronto on March 14, 2013 in exchange for ; drafted 35th in 2008; previously unranked), D (20.0-years-old as of October 1, 2013; drafted 197th in 2012; previously unranked);
25., RW (22.0; drafted 142nd in 2010; previously ranked 13th) - Herbert didn't take much of a step forward (if at all) in 2012-13. 2013-14 is another year, though, and with a lot of college programs heavily focused on seniority when it comes to ice time and with Herbert now an upper classman, he'll need to show he can handle (i.e. produce) the choice assignments.
23. a departure from Western Michigan for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL., D (20.1; drafted 207th in 2012; previously ranked 21st) - Haar followed up a CCHA All-Rookie Team season in 2011-12 with a rough 2012-13 that included just 22 games played (due to an upper-body injury) and
22. he took his puck and went home after the season, it was hardly surprising. But he was back for Development Camp over the summer and could play in Reading this winter, but it would seem far more likely that he'll spend another year in Russia., G (21.1; drafted 203rd in 2012; previously ranked 18th) - Kostenko didn't play much in 2012-13, in part due to to injury and in part due to coaches' decisions, so when
21. Thomas Di Pauli, F (19.4; drafted 100th in 2012; previously honorable mention) - Di Pauli impressed as a defensive forward at Lake Placid and has some two-way upside, so it's back to South Bend for him with a bit of confidence and perhaps a clearer direction as to what he needs to do to get to the next level.
20. Chandler Stephenson, LW - Stephenson put up a point-per-game in Regina (WHL) last year, and impressed this past week at rookie camp. He's had injuries in the past, but is looking forward to a healthy - and, hopefully for him, lucrative - 2013-14.
19. he scored at better than a point-per-game rate in the ECHL, but the bloom is off the rose and the odds are heavily against him being a contributor at the NHL level at this point. Frankly, the 21-year-old Galiev probably could be lower on this list than he is., LW (21.7; drafted 86th in 2010; previously ranked 9th) - Galiev's draft-plus-three 2013 season was disappointing as he was unable to stick at the AHL level and registered just one point - an assist - there in 17 games. If there's a glimmer of hope still flickering, it's that
18. Zachary Sanford, F (18.9; drafted 61st in 2013; previously unranked) - Listed at 6'3", 185 pounds, Sanford has what folks refer to as a "projectable frame," and he has speed and skill to go along with his size. In fact, one scout said of Sanford that his "upside is huge." But that upside - if he ever reaches it - is a ways away.
17. Christian Djoos, D (19.2; drafted 195th in 2012; previously honorable mention) - Seemingly from out of nowhere, Djoos ended up playing big minutes for Brynäs (SEL) and on Sweden's World Junior team, giving him a more impressive resume than most of the kids on this list. Pronman calls him "a mobile, agile defenseman with the four-way ability to stay with his checks well, and the speed to lead a rush" and notes that he "is an instinctive puck-mover from the back end who makes good decisions, plays at a good pace, and can execute difficult plays." He may not be a typical North American-style defender (he's listed at around 5'11" and 160 pounds and isn't particularly physical, but he'll have time to develop and fill out a bit back home), so it would hardly be surprising if he stays in Sweden... but they probably said the same thing about Tobias Enstrom, and he's turned out alright on this side of the pond.
14.in his programs, if not his draft stock).
13. Martin Erat from on April 3, 2013 in exchange for ; drafted 72nd in 2009; previously unranked) - Like Mitchell, Latta could well spend some of his winter in D.C. providing a spark on the fourth line with a touch of offensive upside - he has 66 points in 131 career AHL games after scoring at a point-per-game pace over four OHL seasons.acquired with
12. signed as an undrafted free agent April 2, 2013a high-end puck handler and passer who has wowed observers in the NCAA on many occasions with his skill" with a strong work ethic. Schmidt made an impressive transition from the NCAA to the AHL and will look to build on that in 2013-14. We're betting on an NHL cup of coffee, too... and as a left-handed blueliner - the Caps' biggest need - he could climb the depth chart pretty quickly.
10. Tomas Kundratek, D (23.8; acquired from on November 8, 2011 in exchange for ; drafted 90th in 2008; previously ranked 19th) - Kundratek was playing big minutes for the Caps when his 2013 season (the NHL portion of it, at least) was derailed by injury. How big? Try 24:13 in his last game before getting hurt, and over 20 minutes in each of the previous five. He looked like a solid third-pairing blueliner when properly managed, and unquestionably a really nice pick-up by George McPhee.
9., G (21.9; drafted 112th in 2010; previously ranked 17th) - Grubauer was 19-5-1/2.30/.912 in the ECHL last year, 15-9-2/2.25/.919 in the AHL and 0-1-0/3.57/.915 in his two-appearance NHL debut. He'll get a bigger workload in the AHL this season (he was blocked a bit last year while Braden Holtby played there during the lockout), and will look to improve on an already impressive 57-28-8/2.27/.917 line as a pro.
6. Andre Burakovsky, LW (18.7; drafted 23rd in 2013; previously unranked) - After a bit of drama over where he'd play in 2013-14, Burakovsky settled on OHL Erie (and a prime assignment skating beside future all-everything Connor McDavid), where the highly-skilled Caps' 2013 first-rounder will look to acclimate to North America (on and off the ice).
5. the "fourth top-four defenseman" problem, it's Orlov. But, as we noted earlier in the summer, that's probably a bit optimistic for now (and the team is going to make him earn whatever he gets), and a third-pairing role is likely a better fit. Still, the upside is still very much there for Orlov to develop into a solid two-way defender., D (22.2; drafted 55th in 2009; previously ranked 5th) - If there's an in-house answer to
4. needs to get to the NHL as soon as possible to continue his development so that his on-ice skills can keep pace with the drama he creates off-ice., C (21.4; drafted 26th in 2010; previously ranked 3rd) - In some ways, the Caps were burned by making a great pick when they took Kuznetsov late in the first round in 2010 - if he didn't play as well as he did in his first couple of post-draft seasons, he wouldn't have had the options he's had back home (including, potentially, a spot on the host Olympic squad) and would probably be here already. But he did, he has and he's not. It's possible he's in a Caps sweater late in the season, but we'll believe it when (if?) we see it. Regardless, the super-talented Russian
2. including Team Canada brass) as small samples get bigger and he looks more and more like a potential franchise netminder. His first full season as an NHL starter, along with that potential Olympic spot, could go a long way towards defining Holtby going forward., G (24.1; drafted 93rd in 2008; previously ranked 6th) - Another season of waiting for Holtby's play to regress a bit has come and gone (though clearly the Rangers series wasn't his best work), so we'll wait for it again in 2013-14. But seemingly with each passing week, he's earning more believers (
1. if Team USA doesn't take Carlson with them to Sochi, they're making a big mistake. The Caps' top minute-muncher plays (well) in all situations and has become Adam Oates's top defenseman (and one of the top blueliners in the Metro Division), despite skating most of his shifts with less-than-ideal partners. Carlson needs to be more consistent, but that will come with age. So too will his peak as a player... and one can only imagine how high that will be., D (23.7; drafted 27th in 2008; previously ranked 2nd) - Speaking of Olympic hopefuls,