If this is the first time you've clicked on a Capitals' Top 25 Under 25 post, you are really far behind. No biggie, get caught up by reading Part I, Part II and Part III.
Okay, now that we got that all squared away, let's go ahead and continue on with our Top 25 Under 25 list, with numbers 6 through 4, as voted by our Japers' Rink staff.
6. Tom Wilson, RW (22.6, drafted 16th-overall in 2012 draft, previously ranked 9th in Top 25 list)
Each and every year, Tom Wilson has slowly but surely improved offensively.
When the Capitals drafted Wilson with their 16th-overall pick in the 2012 draft, the vision was to groom Wilson into a bull of a power forward, crafted from the same mold as Milan Lucic.
That hasn't happened just yet, but members of the Capitals brass haven't given up on him.
This offseason, general manager Brian MacLellan noted that the Capitals lack a net-front presence, a Joel Ward or a Mike Knuble type on the team. MacLellan said they have a player that fits the mold. That's Wilson. But MacLellan admitted it's the responsibility of the Capitals coaching staff, and the front office itself, to put Wilson on that path. From Chuck Gormley:
"We miss Ward," MacLellan said. "Joel Ward — he's the kind of guy we needed in the playoffs. You know, you make changes, and he's a guy that we wanted back and we didn't get back. We missed that skill set.
I think it's on us to turn Tom Wilson into Joel Ward. It's on Tom and on us to turn him into that kind of guy that has a net-front presence, that finds loose pucks, finds rebounds, plays good along the wall. I think Tom is our answer to that."
At the time of that statement, the third line right wing spot was vacant. But the offseason acquisition of former Boston Bruin Brett Connolly complicates Wilson's situation.
Whether Wilson can beat out Connolly for that third line right wing spot is yet to be determined. But what is obvious is that Wilson is growing into a player that is capable of more than just the occasional thunderous hit.
This season, Wilson played an integral part in the Capitals' penalty kill. In a unit that ranked second in the league, Wilson's 129:59 minutes led all Capitals forwards. And while his point totals still aren't thrilling, Wilson has improved each season off of his previous seasons totals. Wilson had 23 points this year balancing between the third and fourth line. If he's given a more defined third line role and ice time alongside more offensively minded forwards Marcus Johansson and Lars Eller, as opposed to Wilson's traditional defensive centers like Mike Richards and Jay Beagle, and perhaps even some power play time in the slot, can Wilson reach the 30 point mark?
Wilson's always going to be a battering ram of a forward. That's just who he is. But if he can add the offensive element to his game, he can be a difference maker for the Capitals.
5. Madison Bowey, D (21.5, drafted 53rd-overall in 2013 draft, previously ranked 4th in Top 25 list)
The blue-line darling stocked in the Capitals prospect cupboard is Madison Bowey.
Bowey, a product of the Kelowna Rockets defenseman factory, enjoyed some highly productive years in junior. In the 2013-14 season and the 2014-15 season, Bowey posted back-to-back 60 point seasons. That ranked him eighth and fifth, respectively, among all WHL defensemen.
But in Bowey's first professional season with the Hershey Bears, the 21-year-old recorded just four goals and 25 assists in 70 games. Is there reason for concern?
Nope, it's entirely misleading.
The Bears' staff is stressing patience with Bowey. Bowey was held out for games periodically just to get a better idea of how the game flows and how his teammates move. Washington and Hershey know Bowey is fully capable of contributing offensively; what they want to do is help him round out his game. That's why Bowey, who quarterbacked the Rockets power play in his final two seasons, rarely saw extra-man time with the Bears and instead was used more as a penalty killer. And Bowey, to his credit, wants to focus more on the defensive side of his game than the offensive side.
From The Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan:
"That was definitely a big goal of mine coming into the season, making sure I'm a guy that can be relied on in the defensive zone," Bowey said. "For me, my defensive play has definitely developed, and I know just positioning-wise and feeling strong in my own end is definitely a huge key in my game right now, so I'm just trying to keep on building on that."
The Bears coaching staff doesn't really care that the points aren't there right now because, again, Bowey has proved he can put points on the board. What matters to them is that Bowey is playing the right way, playing more intelligently instead of relying solely on his athleticism. From Penn Live's Dave Sottile:
"They think because they aren't getting points, they aren't playing well, but that's not the true," Hershey assistant coach Bryan Helmer said. "As a coaching staff, we see it differently. I tell him, 'It's not about the points. It's about keeping the game simple.'
"That means moving the puck when you have the opportunity to move the puck, making the right reads in the offensive zone, and if you get the puck at the blue line, move your feet and get the puck to the net. You don't have to score. You have to create a rebound, a shot-pass or a tip. That's his goal. If he's even or a plus, then he's had a great night."
Bowey certainly projects as a top-four NHL defenseman. An offensive player that has a bit of a mean streak in him, Bowey will likely one day be relied on to facilitate the Capitals' power play.
But when will that be? It would appear that, based on just how patient the Capitals are being with the situation, Bowey is still a couple of seasons away from a full-time NHL position.
But should the injury bug bite the Capitals blue line this season, it may be Bowey who eventually gets the call.
4. Ilya Samsonov, G (19.7, drafted 22nd-overall in 2015 draft, previously ranked 8th in Top 25 list)
One of the Capitals most bizarre first round picks in recent memory came just two drafts ago, when they selected Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd-overall pick.
Not only did it seem unlikely that a goaltender would be drafted in the first round, but the Capitals had just spent a second-round pick on a goaltender the previous year, drafting Vitek Vanecek with the 39th-overall pick.
Over the last year, however, Samsonov has proven that the pick was very much worth it.
This past season, Samsonov performed extremely well in three elite levels of hockey: The MHL (Russian's junior hockey league), the KHL and the World Junior Championship. Samsonov spent just five games in the MHL, recording a .935 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average for Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk. Samsonov also played in 19 games for his KHL club, and, despite being just 18 years old, held his own with a .925 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average.
Samsonov also won a Gagarin Cup this past season, and while he wasn't the primary goaltender for Team Russia in the World Junior Championship, Samsonov's 1.00 goals against average and .956 save percentage in two games is still pretty stellar (and he's eligible for the 2017 World Junior Championship, where he most certainly will be the primary goaltender).
Samsonov, blessed with size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, excels at quick, lateral movements. If a puck nears his crease, Samsonov gets down low, completely shutting down the lower portion of the net. He has the ability to perform an acrobatic save, but, more times than not, he's in the right position to make the simple save.
Samsonov missed the early portion of his Metallurg Magnitogorsk's start of the season with a lower body injury. So far, Samsonov has just one game this year, and he's currently rocking a 3.27 goals against average and a .818 save percentage. Those numbers will certainly improve.
Ideally, Samsonov becomes a franchise goaltender for the Capitals. No goaltender has received as much pre-NHL hype as Samsonov has over the last year since his fellow countryman Andrei Vasilevskiy, the young goaltender who is threatening Ben Bishop for his starting role in Tampa.
It's going to be a while before Samsonov makes his way to America. He has two years remaining on his contract with Metallurg, and he fully plans on honoring that deal. But when he does come, he will likely spend a small stint in the AHL to acclimate into American professional hockey.
But it won't be long until Samsonov assumes a backup role in the NHL, and he very well could push Braden Holtby in a similar fashion as Vaslevskiy in Tampa. And, in fact, the timing of Holtby's contract almost anticipates that happening.
Holtby has four years remaining on his five-year, $30.5 million deal he signed last offseason. With Samsonov signed for at least another two seasons in the KHL, it allows an appropriate two-year window for the Capitals to comfortably utilize both goaltenders. Samsonov will only be 23 when Holtby's contract expires, but that is actually the same age as when Holtby assumed a consistent starting role and younger than both Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Would the Capitals feel comfortable enough to let Holtby go and turn to Samsonov. Will they look to extend him on a short-term deal? Will Samsonov even be a starting goaltender?
It's all up in the air and will become much more clear three, four and five years down the line.
Samsonov has all of the necessary tools to be the Capitals' goaltender of the future, and, right now, the Capitals appear to believe in that as well.