When ESPN's Corey Pronman ranked the Washington Capitals' prospect pool 21st overall earlier this summer, he noted that the Caps had graduated (by his criteria) a couple of "elite youngsters" in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky and that "the Capitals' system is thin on prospects above-average or better but has a handful of good prospects."
Depth versus high-end talent will always be a good topic of discussion when evaluating organizational strengths, but we're here to simply count down the top-25 Capitals under the age of 25. And because our parameters don't graduate players until they hit that quarter-century mark, the Caps' system looks fairly strong to us, albeit a bit top-heavy, with a lot of the skill coming from a few select blue-chip players and prospects. But there are plenty of successful hockey players in the NHL that don't possess top-of-the-line talent, so while there may not be a future superstar in the lower ranks of our list, there might be a few productive future Caps in this first segment. A few of them have already seen some NHL time, in fact, with four of these first 15 players appearing in an NHL game last season, and at least two of them having a real opportunity to play on the team again this year.
But before we jump in, a word on the rankings - these 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. Check out some of those respected folks (and their opinions on the Caps' prospects) at ESPN ($) and Hockey's Future.
With that out of the way, let's get to it...
Previous Top 25 Under 25's
Graduated: Marcus Johansson, John Carlson
No Longer with the Organization: Patrick Wey, ranked 15th on last year's list, has unfortunately been forced to end his playing career due to multiple concussions. Tomas Kundratek, ranked 23rd last year, has left North America to try his hand in the KHL.
Honorable Mention: Connor Hobbs, D (18.8-years-old as of October 10, 2015; drafted 143rd in 2015; previously unranked); Kevin Elgestal, F (19.4; drafted 194th in 2015; previously unranked); Steven Spinner, F (19.8; drafted 159th in 2014; previously unranked)
25. Travis Boyd, C (22.1; drafted 177th in 2011; previously received Honorable Mention)
Boyd has come a long way since being drafted. After posting nine points in 35 games his freshman year at Minnesota, he put up 41 points in 32 games in his senior year, finishing fourth in Big-10 scoring for the conference champions. His upside may be limited - think checking line, not scoring line (according to the fine folks at Canucks Army, his close statistical comparable include Carl Hagelin and Mason Raymond), and he's still a long shot to make the NHL long-term - but still just 21, he has time to grow his game. He'll likely start the season in Hershey. The Capitals signed Boyd to a two-year entry-level contract back in March.
24. Shane Gersich, C/LW (19.3; drafted 134th in 2014; previously received Honorable Mention)
Gersich was the USHL Omaha Lancers' leading goal-scorer and posted the second-highest point total on the club (27 goals, 22 assists). Scouting reports are pretty favorable on Gersich and specifically his explosiveness. Gersich will play for the University of North Dakota next season.
23. Brian Pinho, C (20.4; drafted 174th in 2013; previously ranked 21st)
Pinho was limited to 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 39 games during his first season playing for the NCAA champions, Providence College, and admitted having some difficulty adjusting to the higher level of competition. While playing for the Indiana Ice of the USHL the season before, he was nearly a point-per-game player (56 points in 59 games). Look for Pinho to improve his point totals as he takes on a more prominent role for Providence moving forward.
22. Thomas Di Pauli, C/LW (21.5; drafted 100th in 2012; previously ranked 17th)
Di Pauli is a strong two-way player on a good Notre Dame hockey team. He had his best college season last year, posting 29 points in 41 games. Di Pauli has one more season at Notre Dame left and should fight for a roster spot in Hershey soon thereafter. Di Pauli was a member of team USA at the 2013-14 World Junior Champions andi was recognized by Hockey's Future as being the Capitals most improved prospect last season.
21. Liam O'Brien, C/LW (21.2; undrafted; previously unranked)
The undrafted O'Brien was the feel good story of last year's training camp and posted two points in his 13 games with the Capitals last season before being sent to Hershey for the remainder of the season. Despite being one of the few players on this list with NHL playing time, O'Brien doesn't have a particularly good chance of making another appearance in the District (at least not as a member of the Capitals) this year. During his 45 regular-season games in Hershey, O'Brien was a physical force, but tallied only eight points (four goals and four assists), but he nearly matched that total during the playoffs when he had six points in just 10 games. Unlikely as it may be, O'Brien is very motivated to fight his way back onto the Capitals roster.
20. Caleb Herbert, W/C (24.0; drafted 142nd in 2010; previously ranked 22nd)
Despite moving up a spot in our T25U25 rankings this year, Herbert had a disappointing 2014-15 and will look to bounce back in 2015-16. He had 28 points in 42 games while playing for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL last season, but was unable to stick at the AHL level (two points in 12 appearances). Look for him to start the season with the Stingrays.
19. Chris Brown, RW/C (24.7; acquired from Phoenix on March 4, 2014; drafted 36th in 2009; previously ranked 16th)
Acquired from Arizona (then Phoenix) as part of the other Martin Erat deal, Brown has seen his stock drop a bit over the last couple of seasons. Brown followed up a strong rookie season in AHL Portland (29 goals, 47 points in 68 games) with a 40-point/63-game campaign and then just 28 points in 64 games last year in Hershey. That said, Brown knows there may be an opportunity for him to make the Caps as a fourth-liner, and it's likely now or never for a guy who will turn 25 in February.
18. Chandler Stephenson, LW/C (21.5; drafted 77th in 2012; previously ranked 13th)
The undersized Stephenson played relatively well in his first professional season, posting 15 points in 54 games as a member of the Bears' fourth line. Stephenson (who some have as the Caps' top center prospect, which may just be damning by faint praise) will start the season in Hershey where he will look to continue improving his offensive game, hopefully in a bigger role. Read more on Stephenson from Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post.
17. Michael Latta, C/W (24.4; acquired from on April 3, 2013; drafted 72nd in 2009; previously ranked 14th)
At this point there is little reason to believe that Latta has the skills necessary to be more than a fringe fourth-line player in the National Hockey League. He produced just six points in over 50 games with the Capitals last season, and notably failed to light the lamp even once. Unless Latta is able to start producing points or demonstrate some serious penalty-killing skills, there is little reason to believe he will see any more ice time this year than he did last.
16. Zachary Sanford, C/LW (20.9; drafted 61st in 2013; previously ranked 24th)
A large-bodied forward coming off of an impressive freshman season at Boston College (7 goals, 17 assists in 38 games), Sanford's play should put him on the radar and it certainly has drawn the attention of both Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz. Sanford will return for a second season at BC, but there is hope that he will transition to the professional game shortly thereafter.
15. Christian Djoos, D (21.2; drafted 195th in 2012; previously ranked 18th)
Sizing in generously at six-feet and 161 pounds, Djoos' size will probably always be a concern, especially for a defenseman. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and passing ability. Look for the talented Swede to earn some playing time in Hershey during his first full season on this side of the pond, as Hershey's head coach Troy Mann lauded Djoos' vision after the latter's North American debut last spring.
14. Stanislav Galiev, W (23.7; drafted 86th in 2010; previously ranked 25th)
When we put this list together last season, Galiev was on the edge of falling out of the top-25 and was probably in danger of falling out of North American professional hockey. Now, just one year later, Galiev has a chance to make the Capitals out of training camp. He had a strong campaign (25 goals, 20 assists) for a middle-of-the-pack Bears' offense, and was a bit of a power-play specialist, with 15 of his 25 goals coming with the man advantage. An end-of-the-season call-up to Washington, Galiev scored his first NHL goal in the Capitals' last regular season game against the New York Rangers, and then signed a new two-year deal with the Caps back in July.
13. Vitek Vanecek, G (19.8; drafted 39th in 2014; previously ranked 20th)
It was a bit of a headscratcher when the Capitals traded up in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in order to select Vanecek. And, truth be told, in the year since that pick, the young Czech goaltender has been somewhat unimpressive. His overall numbers have been decent, but he struggled while playing against top opposition during the World Junior Championships (.829 save percentage, though part of that no doubt owes to his team). Vanecek is a ways down the Caps' goaltending depth chart now, but In Goal Magazine still has him ranked as the 19th best goaltending prospect in the NHL. And with more time around Mitch Korn, anything is possible.
12. Jonas Siegenthaler, D (18.4; drafted 57th in 2015; previously not ranked)
The Capitals are very high on Siegenthaler, and traded up to pick the defense-first defenseman in the second round of June's Draft. Siegenthaler has impressed European scouts (and the Caps) with his strong positioning and strength on the puck, and doing it against grown men no less, in Switzerland's top league. There were players with more offensive potential on the board when the Caps took the 6-foot-3 18-year-old, but the Caps stuck to their guns and went with the player that they had pegged for being a first round selection, a wholly defensible move. Siegenthaler will remain with Zurich for at least one more season before he makes the transition to North America.
11. Riley Barber, RW (21.7; drafted 167th in 2012; previously ranked 9th)
After a seemingly long wait, Riley Barber has gone pro and signed with the Washington Capitals. The young forward had a very successful college career at Miami University (Ohio) and has a bright future in-front of him. Barber will likely start the season in Hershey but there is an outside chance that he will compete for a roster spot with the Capitals due to his strong two-way play. Barber has represented the United States twice at the World Junior Championships. During his second WJC (2013-14) he was team captain.
So that wraps up the first 15 players on the countdown. Next week: the top-10, on our way to a new Number One.