A couple of weeks ago, we kicked off our list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the Washington Capitals' organization. Did you miss it? Alright, then click here for Part I and here for Part II.
So let's go ahead and continue on with our list. Rounding out Part III of our installment is numbers 10 through 7.
10. Lucas Johansen, D (18.9, drafted 28th-overall in the 2016 draft, not applicable for 2015-16 list)
Having an NHL sibling isn't necessarily a clear indication of future NHL success, but knowing that Lucas Johansen grew up constantly trying to take the puck off of his brother, Ryan Johansen, Lucas's older brother five years his senior, certainly doesn't hurt.
That's just one of the many positives of Johansen, a player with a fun-loving, amusing personality. The first defenseman the Capitals have selected in the first round since John Carlson in 2008 is in the midst of a junior career with the Kelowna Rockets, a team known for producing talented defensemen such as Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Tyson Barrie, Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and, most recently, Johansen's former Kelowna teammate, Madison Bowey.
Johansen's initial skill set blends well with that class. A smooth-skating two-way defenseman, Johansen knows exactly when to jump into the offensive zone to capitalize on a scoring chance. In the defensive zone, Johansen doesn't bring much of a physical game, instead relying more on his positioning and awareness. He projects to be a top-four defenseman that can perform well at both ends of the ice.
What is particularly encouraging with Johansen is the clear sign of improvement from his rookie WHL season to his draft year of the WHL, especially within the offensive zone. In his rookie year, Johansen managed to record just a single goal and seven assists in 65 games. But, by his second year, his numbers ballooned to 10 goals and 39 assists in 69 games. That is more offensive production than Bowey managed in his draft year, and more points than notable WHL defensemen such as Haydn Fleury (Carolina Hurricanes), Noah Juulsen (Montreal Canadiens) and Kale Clague (Los Angeles Kings).
This upcoming season, Johansen will return to the Rockets. He will likely serve as a top-pairing defenseman alongside Cal Foote, a 2017 draft-eligible defenseman billed as an early favorite to be the top defenseman pick in the draft (and he's Adam Foote's son).
But Johansen won't just be expected to work as Kelowna's top defenseman. He'll be expected to be a leader on the team, and one of the top blueliners in the Dub.
9. Zach Sanford, LW/C (21.9, drafted 61st-overall in the 2013 draft, previously ranked 16th in Top 25)
What does a nearly point-per-game pace in your sophomore year at Boston College earn a hockey player? Apparently, an NHL team will convince you to turn pro early.
That's exactly what happened to Zach Sanford this summer. Sanford signed his entry-level deal in July during the Capitals' Development Camp.
The Capitals firmly believe that Sanford is, at the very least, close to being NHL ready. In fact, that's essentially exactly what Capitals' Director of Player Development Steve Richmond said earlier this summer.
Over his last two seasons with Boston College, Sanford developed into a playmaking forward with a bit of size. In his freshman year, Sanford played as a top six forward on a young team. His production, seven goals and 24 points in 38 games, was respectable as a freshman, and Sanford finished fifth among Eagles' scorers in points. The past season, Sanford managed to nearly double his goal total with 13 and raised his point total to 39. Sanford led the team with 26 assists, and his point totals ranked him as the third-most productive player. His Eagles' team thrived off of two-way (and occasional physical) play en route to a Frozen Four appearance, where Boston College would fall to Quinnipiac 3-2.
What makes Sanford intriguing as that he enters his first season as a professional is the fact that his game is a bit raw. At 6-foot-4 with a bit of offensive output, Sanford has a unique body type for the forward.
So what exactly is the plan for Sanford? He's tall, but lanky. Is the plan to utilize Sanford as a tall center capable of playing in a top-nine system as a third center? He doesn't have the playmaking skill set of a Nicklas Backstrom or an Evgeny Kuznetsov, but Sanford is a pass-first player that is capable of dictating the play up the middle, finding the opening winger and facilitating the play.
Or is the plan to bulk up Sanford and utilize him more as a bruising power forward? With his frame, Sanford has the potential to fill out into a hulking forward. Would the Capitals benefit more from a player capable of tearing his way along the wing, crashing towards the net for the dirty goals? After all, Sanford was drafted in the second round of 2013, just a year after the Tom Wilson first-round selection.
Whatever the case may be, the Capitals have confidence in the forward from Massachusetts. He will likely play an offensive role for the Hershey Bears in the upcoming season. But if the Capitals are already confident in Sanford's abilities and comfortable with his progression in development, Sanford may see a few games in Washington next season.
8. Chandler Stephenson, C/LW (22.5, drafted 77th-overall in 2012 draft, previously ranked 18th in Top 25)
Of every Capitals' prospect projected as an NHL bottom-six player, no player may be further along in development than Chandler Stephenson.
In fact, Stephenson was the only Capitals player under the age of 25 to make his NHL debut last season.
That's because members of the Capitals and Bears staff have very high expectations for the third-year pro, as Hershey coach Troy Mann told The Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan:
"Stephenson probably doesn't realize how good he can be," Mann said. "He's still battling with consistency. I think Stephenson, on a shift-to-shift basis, can be the best player on the ice. In some games, he's dominant."
Stephenson's ability to take over games was quite evident in his final two seasons in junior. As a member of the Regina Pats, Stephenson recorded 44 goals and 134 points in his final 115 WHL games. A pass-first player, Stephenson has proven at all levels that he is capable of creating plays (he had 21 assists in 46 games with Hershey last season).
Stephenson straight up dominates in other elements of his game. With the help of a beautiful skating stride, Stephenson is an intelligent defensive forward that plays a huge role on the penalty kill.
All are powerful elements of a successful third-line center. But what may be separating Stephenson from a full-time NHL position is his hesitance to shoot the puck, a flaw in his game pointed out by Mann. More from Khurshudyan:
"His consistency and his ability to contribute points is two things we'd certainly like to see more of," Mann said. "He's always looking to pass, so in that way, he doesn't have a lot of shots on goal. His shots-on-goal total isn't up there, and if you don't shoot the puck, you're going to have a hard time scoring."
And that's a factor in his game that he's going to have to develop. General manager Brian MacLellan has made it quite evident that he's looking for a heavily-offensive third-line center that can help give the Capitals more of a top-nine offensive unit than a third-line checking unit. Stephenson has proven he is capable of adding that checking line element to an NHL organization. But if he can develop that consistency and trust in his shot a bit more, Stephenson will force the Capitals to give him a spot in the lineup a few seasons down the line.
In his brief debut in Washington, Stephenson's defensive strength was even quite evident, but so was his lack of offensive confidence. According to Corsica, Stephenson and his linemates managed to record 59 shot attempts while allowing just 49 shot attempts in 69.97 minutes of 5v5 play, despite starting just 46.43 percent of his shifts in his offensive zone. Granted, it's a very small sample size, but the defensive showing is a bit encouraging. However, offensively, as Mann stated, Stephenson needs to build that confidence. Stephenson recorded just four individual shot attempts in his nine games. He still hasn't recorded an NHL point.
Right now, Stephenson has a great opportunity to make the Capitals lineup. With the departure of forwards Jason Chimera, Mike Richards and Michael Latta, three spots became available to the roster. Lars Eller and Brett Connolly will secure two of those spots, but Latta's position as the extra forward is still available. If Stephenson continues to impress in training camp and begins to trust his shooting hand a bit more, that spot could very well be his.
7. Riley Barber, RW (22.7, drafted 167th-overall in 2012 draft, previously ranked 11th in Top 25)
The diamond in the rough for the Capitals' draft class over the last several seasons? That's Riley Barber.
Barber really began to command attention during his freshman year at the University of Miami (Ohio). Barber was not only one point behind team leader Austin Czarnik (Barber, who had 15 goals and 24 assists in 40 games, did lead Miami in goals), but he lead all NCAA freshmen in total points. That same season, Barber, as an underaged player, scored three goals and three assists in seven games for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. The production earned Barber the CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) Rookie of the Year award, CCHA All-Rookie Team honors, First All-Star Team honors and a 2013 World Junior Championship. A year later, Barber continued his collegiate offensive dominance, with 44 points in 38 games. Barber was also named as the captain of Team USA for his second World Junior Championship, though his team had an underwhelming performance, losing to Team Russia in the quarterfinal (Barber still had four goals and six points in five games).
That same trend continued on into his junior year (20 goals, 20 assists in 38 games), and Barber opted to forego his senior year to turn pro.
Expectations may have been tempered for Barber. After all, transitioning from college to the AHL, a league that is notoriously difficult to transition to, is difficult even for successful NCAA players.
But Barber adapted swimmingly. In 74 games, double the schedule Barber grew accustomed to in college, Barber scored 26 goals and recorded 55 points. Barber's points trailed only Chris Bourque for the team lead (Bourque led all of the AHL with 80 points), and Barber's offensive production was good for fifth among AHL rookies (his 26 goals was second behind Providence Bruins' forward Frank Vatrano).
That smooth transition works favorably for Barber in his progress towards the NHL. A classic leader by example (Barber has consistently been given a leadership role in certain Development Camp drills), Barber will be given an opportunity towards a 2016-17 NHL debut.
In fact, in a Capitals Red Line video, Barry Trotz said Barber would be given just that, telling this directly to Barber:
"Riley, you've got some hockey sense," Trotz said. "You've got that real good release, you've got a short game. You're at a point where you can challenge and can push people. I expect you to play in games (for the Capitals). There's no guarantee. We have a pretty good hockey team. We're pretty deep. But, at the same time, I think you can challenge them. You're getting close now. Push someone out of a job. Go take someone's job. We talk about how we are all in competition. Go take someone's job. Knock someone out of a job, we'll get you in the lineup. That's plain and simple."
In that same tape, Barber described himself as a hard-nose forward capable of driving to the net and getting the gritty goals.
"Probably the best part of my game is just my playmaking and getting grade-A scoring chances," Barber said. "I love to score and I love to be around the net and make things happen.
That's part of what makes Barber an exciting prospect. Not much was expected from a sixth-round pick in 2012. But Barber has developed into a proven winner, a proven leader and a proven scorer. What is he capable of at the next level? Stay tuned.