When Brian MacLellan took over as the Caps' general manager earlier in the summer, he inherited a cupboard full of young players that would appear to be on the rebound after some relatively lean years. ESPN's Corey Pronman recently ranked the Caps as the 15th-best prospect pipeline in the League, noting that "[t]he depth in Washington's system isn't great, but the top of their pipeline can go head-to-head with some of the elite teams."
How depth should be weighted relative to elite talent when evaluating and comparing organizations' prospects is a fair topic for debate, but we'll save that for another day - we're here to talk about that top of the pipeline and several other young Caps as we start to count down the 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 the aforementioned Mr. Pronman over at ESPN, Corey Masisak at NHL.com, 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.
Previous Top 25 Under 25's
With that out of the way, here's our ranking of the Caps' Top 25 under 25:
Graduated: Braden Holtby
No longer with the organization: Brett Flemming, Sergey Kostenko (well, sorta... the Caps hold his rights, since there's no transfer agreement in place, but don't hold your breath)
Honorable mention: Travis Boyd, C (21.1-years-old as of October 9, 2014; drafted 177th in 2011; previously unranked); Shane Gersich, F (18.3; drafted 134th in 2014; previously unranked); , D (21.2; drafted 207th in 2012; previously ranked 23rd) ;
25. in which he scored at roughly a point-per-game pace in the ECHL, and added six points in 16 AHL games), his opportunity with the Caps is likely on its last legs, but with Hershey thin on high-end skill in the top-six, he may have one last chance to show the team he belongs. Galiev is a restricted free agent at year's end, so it's now or never for Stas., LW (22.7; drafted 86th in 2010; previously ranked 19th) - A lot of people have given up on the Capitals' young Russian (via the CHL) forward, including, it would seem, his recent coaches in Hershey. Following an injury-filled up-and-down 2013-14 (
24. Zachary Sanford, C/LW (19.9; drafted 61st in 2013; previously ranked 18th) - In his first (and, presumably, only) USHL season, Sanford posted 17 goals and 35 points in 52 games, finishing ninth in scoring for Waterloo. The lanky forward will head to Boston College in the fall to continue his development.
23. Tomas Kundratek, D (24.8; acquired from on November 8, 2011 in exchange for ; drafted 90th in 2008; previously ranked 10th) - Kundratek has shown flashes of ability in limited opportunities in the NHL, but a torn ACL last year prevented him from getting a look when seemingly the entire Hershey blueline got a tour with the Caps. Hershey's defense will be deep this year, but Kundratek's pro experience (and lack of experience with Adam Oates) could give him an early edge in finding a regular spot at the AHL level. He should be one of the first call ups if and when injuries strike, and with an expiring contract, he'll need to give the team a reason to keep him around.
22. signing in March, and with the Bear's forwards thin on talent, he should get a chance to earn top-six minutes and power-play time. Herbert's probably at least a couple years away from a chance at the NHL, but if he can develop his game in the AHL to learn how to survive in a faster, stronger league he could end up a mid-round steal for the Caps. It's still a long shot, but he's one of the forwards to keep an eye on in Hershey this season., RW (23.0; drafted 142nd in 2010; previously ranked 25th) - Herbert showed high-end puck skills and elusive skating while he was in UM-Duluth, but his size is going to be an issue until he proves that it isn't. He'll be in his first pro season this year after
21. Zach Sanford scored in a losing effort in that game, interestingly enough.) Pinho put up nearly a point-per-game for the USHL's Indiana Ice last year and tied for sixth in goals on that circuit. He'll head to Providence College in the fall., C (19.4; drafted 174th in 2013; previously unranked) - Pinho (surprisingly) cracked NHL.com's list of top-10 Caps prospects, and maybe only because they wanted to note that he "capped his first season in the United States Hockey League in the best way possible, scoring the game-winning goal in the third period of the final game in the best-of-5 championship series." (
20., G (18.8; drafted 29th in 2014; previously unranked) - Caps fans are likely still scratching their heads at the decision to give up a draft pick to move up a couple spots and draft an off-the-board goalie in the second round back in June, but the upside here could make everyone forget about that. Vanecek is an athletic goalie (with some great big-game performances, to boot, leading the Czech Republic to silver at the World Under-18 Championships in April), but is raw and needs work on his fundamentals; he's the kind of goalie that could make drastic strides in their development. With Mitch Korn overseeing the goaltending development, Vanacek may be the next guy in a steady stream of goalie drafting and development by the organization.
19., LW (20.5; drafted 89th in 2014; previously unranked) - The storylines abound for Walker - a rare player to be drafted out of the AHL and the first Australian ever selected in an NHL draft - but Walker is more than just narrative. How much more remains to be seen, but he'll be counted on to produce more than the five goals and 11 points that he registered in 43 games for Hershey in 2013-14 going forward. Walker is undersized, but has skill and smarts, so he's another Caps prospect for whom the old cliche "if you're good enough, you're big enough" will definitely apply.
18. Christian Djoos, D (20.2; drafted 195th in 2012; previously ranked 17th) - Talent isn't the question with Djoos, size is. Those that have watched him are pretty much in agreement that he's got great skills (Pronman notes that he's "a great puck mover who can play a pro-level pace and has taken regular shifts for the past two seasons at Sweden's top level"), but at 5'11" and somewhere in the neighborhood of 160(!) lbs. he's either going to need to fill out that frame a lot, or become Erik Karlsson good. Welp, he's not , so let's hope he's can pack on some muscle otherwise he'll never stand a chance in the NHL. He wouldn't be the first under-sized defender out of Brynas to make it to the NHL, and the League rules favor skilled players, so let's hope he continues to grow his body and his game.
17. Thomas Di Pauli, C/LW (20.5; drafted 100th in 2012; previously ranked 21st) - Di Pauli battled injuries last year at Notre Dame, including a stick to the mouth on the eve of the World Junior Championships. But what followed that pain was the high-point of his year, representing the U.S. in five games and picking up three assists along the way. Di Pauli is a "strong two-way forward who excels in defensive situations, good in puck pursuit and strong on the puck when he has it."
16. Martin Erat trade, Brown played a half-dozen games for the Caps last year, scoring his first NHL goal and adding an assist. But despite scoring 29 times for AHL Portland a season ago, don't expect much offensive upside from Brown; do expect solid, physical defensive play, and perhaps a significant number of games in Washington., C (23.7; acquired from Phoenix on March 4, 2014; drafted 36th in 2009; previously uranked) - Acquired in the (second)
14. Filip Forsberg trade, Latta has shown himself to be a reliable bottom-six forward in the making (if he's not there already). The fiesty pivot had four points in 17 games with the big club last season, in addition to an impressive 34 points in 52 games with Hershey, and dropped the mittens 13 times overall. Latta - reunited with Trotz - appears to be right on track, developmentally, and he could compete for a roster spot this fall.acquired from on April 3, 2013; drafted 72nd in 2009; previously ranked 13th) - Initially considered by most to be little more than a throw-in on the -
13. Chandler Stephenson, LW - Stephenson nearly doubled his output in the WHL this year (from 45 to 89 points in 23 more games while leading the Dub in shorties), leading the Caps to ink the 5-11 center in April and send him to Hershey where he potted his first goal as a pro on his first shot in his first game. He'll get a chance to do a lot more scoring in Hershey in 2014-15.
11., G (22.9; drafted 112th in 2010; previously ranked 9th) -
So that wraps up the first 15 players on the countdown. Next week: the top-10... and perhaps a new Number One.