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The Capitals' Top 25 Under 25: 2014-15, Part II

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A look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25.

Rob Carr

Last week we counted down the first 15 players in our annual "Top 25 Under 25," and our introductory text, criteria and assorted whatnot can be found in that post. But you don't want to read that now. You want to get right to the top-10. Well, here it is...

10. Nate Schmidt, D (23.2; signed as an undrafted free agent April 2, 2013; previously ranked 12th) - An undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota with just eight games of pro experience in Hershey, it might have been a stretch to think Schmidt would get anything more than cup of coffee with the Caps in 2013-2014. However, when John Erskine sustained an upper-body injury in an October 10th game against Carolina, the left-handed Schmidt was called up from Hershey and presented with an opportunity. He took advantage of it to dress for the next 28 games before being reassigned to Hershey. In 29 games overall he acquitted himself well (especially when playing alongside Mike Green), finishing with a couple of goals and a half-dozen points and, frankly, probably should've seen more playing time in D.C. Although the Caps added depth on defense in free agency this summer, Schmidt would be a legitimate candidate to man the left side in the event of injuries to any of the top three. Meanwhile, he will look to improve on a season in Hershey in which he finished 2-11-13 in 38 games.

9. Riley Barber, W/C (20.7; drafted 167th in 2012; previously ranked 8th) - Barber is shaping up to be the most impressive diamond in the late-round rough the Caps have had in quite some time (the organization hasn't had a sixth-rounder even make it to the NHL for them since Mathieu Perreault, a 2006 sixth), putting together another strong season at Miami University highlighted by four goals in five games as captain of the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships. He's heading back to school to take care of some "unfinished business," but the Caps are happy to wait on a young man who has already exceeded and readjusted expectations.

8. Madison Bowey, D (19.5; drafted 53rd in 2013; previously ranked 11th) - Another Caps prospect who's been entrusted with leadership responsibilities (in this case, captain of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets), Bowey is working on rounding out his game. He already seems to have the offensive side down - he finished 2013-14 with 60 points in 72 games and scored 21 goals, a new single-season record for a Rockets defenseman (a team that boasts blueline alums Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Sheldon Souray and Tyler Myers). Bowey will play another season in Kelowna because Adam Oates isn't the coach here any more.

"[Vrana's] got a gift, he can put the puck in the net and he skates well. He really enjoys the game." -Assistant GM Ross Mahoney, via NHL.com

7. Jakub Vrana, F (18.6; drafted 13th in 2014; previously unranked) - Vrana was a bit of a surprising pick when the Caps selected him in the middle of the first round this past June, but he certainly has the skill to slot in among other blue chip prospects. Vrana has played well internationally and has offensive upside - specifically an ability to dangle through traffic and finish - that can't be taught. Hopefully for the Caps, some of the other stuff can be.

6. Tom Wilson, RW (20.5; drafted 16th in 2012; previously ranked 7th) - The great debate over whether to keep Wilson in Washington or send him back to juniors ended with the former winning out, and Wilson actually became the first Cap to play 82 games in his first NHL season since Nicklas Backstrom in 2007-08 (and only the fifth first-year player in franchise history to play 80 games or more). We didn't get a great sense of Wilson's full skill-set, as he skated less than eight minutes per night, marooned on Adam Oates's fourth line all year, but we did get a sense of his physical play and feistiness, neither of which is lacking. The Caps would like to get Wilson more ice time in 2013-14, but questions remain as to how... or where.

5. Marcus Johansson, LW/C (24.0; drafted 24th in 2009; previously ranked 3rd) - Johansson is a hard player to judge because he spends so much time playing with the teams' best players. He hasn't yet been able to establish himself as a center (his "natural" position) but has still become an integral piece of the Capitals' roster and is sixth in career points among 2009 draftees (with only one non-lottery pick - Ryan O'Reilly - ahead of him). The 2014 Olympic silver medalist is entering his fifth campaign with the club and the Caps still don't know what they have with him - is he a speedy, skilled and shifty playmaker about to come into his own... or is he a passenger that has posted impressive box cars thanks to plum assignments? The answer, of course, could be both. Either way, 2014-15 will be an important season for Johansson and his future as a Capital.

4. Andre Burakovsky, F (19.7; drafted 23rd in 2013; previously ranked 6th) - NHL.com listed Burakovsky as the top prospect in the Caps organization (ahead of one of the names remaining on this list), Barry Trotz has already gushed over him, and he was (as he should be) heads and shoulders above everyone else on the ice at Development Camp in July. It's conceivable that Burakovsky could make the Caps' opening night roster, especially given the lack of secondary scoring and skilled centers (his new position) on the roster, but given that he has one North American season under his belt (and that was on a stacked OHL squad), everyone might want to pump the brakes a bit... though it's certainly fun not to.

3. Dmitry Orlov, D (23.2; drafted 55th in 2009; previously ranked 5th) - As a top-four defenseman, Orlov excelled alongside Mike Green, contrary to some conventional wisdom. So why wasn't Orlov in D.C. and playing until his agent demanded a trade around Thanksgiving? Good question. Orlov's offensive upside has probably been overstated, and his decision-making could use a bit more honing, but that's only going to come with experience... experience that he didn't get nearly enough of at the NHL level in calendar year 2013. Under Trotz and Todd Reirden, don't be surprised if Orlov develops into a tremendous bottom-four defender.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C (22.4; drafted 26th in 2010; previously ranked 4th) - Admit it - you never thought you'd see Kuznetsov skating in a Caps sweater. And yet there he was in early March, dropping three assists on the Canucks in his third NHL game and ending up with three goals and nine helpers in his 17-game amuse-bouche. Kuznetsov has a lot of work ahead of him in refining his game, but seems plenty willing to do it. As the putative second-line center, Kuznetsov is very much the key to the Caps' secondary scoring, and he has the skill to mitigate that weakness or even turn it into a strength.

1. John Carlson, D (24.8; drafted 27th in 2008; previously ranked 1st) - Carlson did it all in 2013-14, from playing tough minutes at five-on-five to playing point on the circuit's second-ranked power play to playing a larger percentage of his teams shorthanded minutes than any player in the League to representing his country in Sochi. Granted, the results weren't always there, but a lot of that owes to the systems in which Carlson was placed and the coaching he got (lather, rinse, repeat). Look for Carlson to take the next step under his new tutelage and establish himself among the NHL's top young two-way defenders.