When a team has been a Stanley Cup contender for as long as the Capitals have, it’s hard to keep the prospect pool stocked with talent, especially when you’re trading away early draft picks. The Capitals have only made one draft pick in the first two rounds over the last two years, Lucas Johansen (28th in 2016), and didn’t make a single selection until the fourth round of this year’s draft.
The Capitals have stayed competitive over the years by consistently hitting on their late first-round draft picks: Marcus Johansson (24th in 2009), Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th in 2010) and Andre Burakovsky (23rd in 2013). In the last decade the Capitals have only appeared to “bust” on one of their 11 first-round draft picks (Anton Gustafsson, 21st in 2008). The organization hasn’t made a selection in the top 10 picks of a draft since they picked Karl Alzner with the fifth overall pick in 2007 and haven’t been in the top since drafting Jakub Vrana with the 13th selection in 2014.
So, all in all, the health of the Capitals’ top 25 under 25 isn’t what it used to be. The organization has a handful of very good players at the top of our rankings but the lack of depth is somewhat startling. Interestingly six of the 25 players played at least one game for the Capitals last season.
To be ranked players must be under 25 years of age at the start of the season (October 7th). A few quick words on the rating methodology:
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 (2015 T25 U25).
With that out of the way let’s get started
Graduated: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Philipp Grubauer
Departure: Stanislav Galiev (would have graduated if he hadn’t departed)
None, the Capitals’ prospect pool is too thin for honorable mentions
Dmitry Zaitsev - LHD, 19.7 Years Old, Unranked in 2016 2016 Top 25 List
A left handed defenseman taken with the 207th pick in the 2016 draft, Zaitsev is coming off of a relatively successful season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. He tallied 20 points in 70 games and will be looking to build upon that total as he returns to Moose Jaw for the upcoming season.
Tim McGauley - C, 22.2, 21st in 2016 Top 25 List
Signed as a free agent in the fall of 2015, McGauley (C) is coming off of a somewhat mediocre debut with the South Carolina Stingrays. He tallied 17 points in 39 games and failed to crack the lineup in the postseason. McGauley is a stretch to ever see time in the NHL and will be hard pressed to make his way onto the Bears roster for the upcoming season.
Adam Carlson - G, 23.7, Honorable Mention in 2016 Top 25 List
An undrafted goaltender, Carlson had a somewhat mediocre campaign with the Stingrays last year. He posted an .895 save percentage in 23 games. The Capitals are flush with blue chip goaltenders and Carlson doesn't quite compare to the guys higher on our list. Carlson will need to be better if he wants to become a true prospect within the organization.
Steve Spinner - RW, 21.8, Honorable Mention in 2016 Top 25 List
Spinner will be entering his third season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha this year. The 21 year old right wing hasn't dominated play in the NCAA but tallied a respectable 21 points in 39 games last season. Spinner was selected by the Capitals in the 6th round of the 2014 draft (159).
Tied for 25th: Colby Williams - RHD, 22.7, Unranked in 2016 Top 25 List
Williams, a right handed defenseman, played well in his first professional season last year. He factored into 60 games for the Hershey Bears and tallied 16 points in those contests. Williams was one of two Regina Pats selected by the Capitals in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Connor Hobbs).
Tied for 25th: Tobias Geisser - LHD, 18.7, Not Eligible for 2016 Top 25 List
The Capitals didn't have any selection through the first three rounds of the 2017 draft but when their time finally came they were pleased to select Tobias Geisser. A large (6'4") left handed defenseman with some mobility. Geisser was ranked as the 119th best draft prospect by ISS Hockey and was ranked 30th among European skaters by central scouting. He's represented Switzerland at multiple tournaments throughout his youth and may be a member of their WJC team this winter.
Tied for 25th: Garrett Pilon - C, 19.5, 24th in 2016 Top 25 List
The 87th selection of the 2016 draft, Pilon had a strong draft +1 year with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The right handed center tallied 65 points in 67 games after tallying only 47 points the season prior. He will look to build upon that production moving forward. Pilon will be returning to the Blazers this season.
23. Damien Riat - Forward, 20.6, Unranked in 2016 Top 25 List
The 117th selection of the 2016 draft, Riat turned some heads last season while playing for Genève-Servette HC in the Swiss league. Corey Pronman identified him as having developed into a true NHL prospect in his ESPN article ranking every NHL team's prospect pool. Comfortable playing either on the wing or at center, Riat will look to continue to grow his game while playing in Switzerland.
22. Chase Priskie - Defenseman, 21.6, Unranked in 2016 Top 25 List
The 177th selection of the 2016 draft tallied 26 points from the blueline in 38 games with Quinnipiac University last season. Priskie will captain his team this season and while he's still a long shot to make it to the NHL it's hard to scoff at what he's been able to do as part of a very good NCAA squad.
21. Kevin Elgestal - Winger, 21.4, 25th in 2016 Top 25 List
Elgestal's moved up a bit on our list this year but that has more to do with the depletion of the Capitals' prospect pool than anything else. Elgestal was selected back in the 7th round of the 2014 draft and put on a solid performance during his debut prospect camp. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to do much since as he's only tallied 10 points in 57 games in Sweden's second league over the last two seasons. Frankly it's unlikely we will ever see Elgestal compete in North America
20. Tyler Graovac - Center, 24.5, Not Eligible in 2016 Top 25 List
The Capitals acquired Graovac to give them some extra flexibility during the expansion draft. The young center tallied 9 points in 52 games with the Wild last year and added 15 points in 26 games with the Wild's AHL affiliate. Graovac provides the Capitals with some organizational depth but don't expect him to ever be a regular on the roster.
19. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby - LW, 19.7, Unranked in 2016 Top 25 List
Picked 147th overall in the 2016 draft Fjallby still has a long way to go before making it over to North America. In his first senior season with Djurgårdens IF Fjallby was unable to produce, tallying just 1 point in 24 regular season SHL games. The 19 year old left winger will have to improve his production in order to move his way up the depth chart.
18. Brian Pinho - Forward, 22.4, 19th in 2016 Top 25 List
Drafted all the way back in 2013, Pinho has developed into a solid NCAA scorer. His point totals have increased each of the last three years and he will look to continue that trend in his senior season (2015-18 points, 2016- 25 points and 2017- 40 points). While it's still unlikely Pinho will ever make his way into the NHL he's cemented himself as a solid player who would likely provide some value in the AHL.
17. Liam O’Brien - Forward , 23.2, 18th in 2016 Top 25 List
O'Brien, an undrafted forward, is entering his fourth professional season firmly entrenched as a member of the Capitals' organizational depth. O'Brien has 2 points in 14 career games with the Capitals but has worked on developing his skill over the last few years. He tallied 30 points in 64 games while playing for the Hershey Bears last season and continued to rack up huge penalty minutes. O'Brien is very much a traditional fourth liner and while his skill set isn't as prominent in the NHL as it used to be there's a chance the Capitals give him a look at some point this season.
16. Tyler Lewington - RHD, 22.8, 22nd in 2016 Top 25 List
Drafted 204th in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft the right handed defenseman has played well during his first two seasons in Hershey. He doesn't light the world on fire with his offense but he's been a dependable option on the back end. Looking at his box car numbers there is one thing that really stands out...his penalty minutes. Lewington had the most PIMS on the Bears and had the fifth highest total in the AHL last season. Lewington isn't likely at the top of the call-up list and it's unlikely that he will be seeing any NHL action in the near future.
15. Vitek Vanecek - G, 21.8, 13th in 2016 Top 25 List
it was a bit of a headscratcher when the Capitals traded up in the second round of the 2014 draft in order to draft Vitek Vanecek 39th overall, but they got their guy. Vanecek's play in North America hasn't been bad but the organization may have expected more out of a player they were so intent on drafting. Once the Capitals reacquired Pheonix Copley it didn't take long for Vanecek to move into the backup role. In 39 games last season Vanecek posted a .909 save percentage and 2.54 GAA, Copley had a .931 save percentage and a 2.15 GAA in 16 games with the Bears.
14. Nathan Walker - Forward, 23.5, 15th in 2016 Top 25 List
Nathan Walker is coming off of his 4th season with the Hershey Bears and his third since the Capitals drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2014 Draft. Walker is a gritty player who plays above his small size (5'8") and uses his speed to occasionally create opportunities.
Despite his size, Walker has been used primarily in the bottom six during his professional career. Injuries have been an issue for him as he's only played more than 60 games in one of his first four professional season. Despite being ranked 14th on our list there is a real chance that Walker makes the Capitals roster right out of camp. Daniel Winnik's departure and Tom Wilson’s likely promotion has left the Capitals with a pair of a hole on the fourth line that they need to fill with a low AAV (annual average value) contract. The young Australian is very much a "Trotz-type" of guy; he’s sort of like a less skilled/smaller version of T.J. Oshie. Walker scored 23 points in 58 games with the Bears last season after scoring 41 in 73 games the season before. If Walker is able to make his debut with the Capitals this season he will be the first Australian player to ever play in the NHL.
13. Connor Hobbs - RHD, 21.5, 23rd in 2016 Top 25 List
Selected in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, Connor Hobbs is making one of the Capitals' scouts look very smart. Hobbs, a defenseman, tallied 85 points in 67 games with the Regina Pats last season which was the most among all WHL defenseman and the 17th highest total among skaters. Connor will be beginning his professional career with the Hershey Bears this season. To read more about Connor check out this piece written by Tommy Chalk back during development camp.
12. Jonas Siegenthaler - LHD, 20.4, 12th in 2016 Top 25 List
Siegenthaler is a left handed defenseman who appears ready to move to North America full time for his draft+3 season. Drafted by the Capitals in the second round of the 2015 draft, the young Swiss national has shown himself defensively capable despite his young age. The biggest mark against Jonas is his quickness, which unfortunately is one of the most important things for a modern NHL defenseman. While his abilities are certainly impressive Siegenthaler will have to develop the offensive side of his game if he wants to be a valuable top four defenseman in the modern NHL.
11. Shane Gersich - Forward, 21.3, 20th in 2016 Top 25 List
Drafted with the 134th selection of the 2014 draft, Shane Gersich appears to be primed for another successful season with the University of North Dakota. Gersich tallied 37 points in 40 games last year which was enough to move him up to the 11th spot in our T25U25. Hershey Bears coach, Troy Mann, singled out Shane as the most impressive forward at the Capitals' development camp back in July. Based upon Mann's quotes it's likely the Capitals tried to convince Gersich to move into the professional game but were unsuccessful, that may lead to Gersich becoming a UFA next summer.
10. Travis Boyd - Forward, 24.1, 16th in 2016 Top 25 List
Travis Boyd made his Hershey Bears debut in 2015 and has been producing solidly since. He tallied 63 points in 76 games last year and was re-signed by the Capitals to a one-year, two-way contract back in July. A veteran of the 2011 draft, Boyd has proven himself a capable scorer at the AHL level and while regular NHL time is unlikely he may be given a shot at the game's highest level. Expect to see Boyd centering the Bears top line for the majority of next season.
9. Chandler Stephenson - Forward, 23.5, 8th in 2016 Top 25 List
Chandler Stephenson, drafted 77th in 2012, will likely be a member of the Hershey Bears this season but has a chance for more. Stephenson has been given some NHL time in each of the last two years but is yet to register a point (13 GP). The young forward hasn't been particularly productive at the AHL level either. He tallied 38 points in 72 games last season (10 goals-28 assists). This season will provide a lot of young players with opportunities to make their way onto the Capitals' roster. Look for Stephenson to try and muscle his way onto the team's fourth line this fall.
8. Lucas Johansen - LHD, 19.9, Tied for 10th in 2016 Top 25 List
Selected by the Capitals with the 28th pick of the 2016 entry draft, Johansen had a so-so draft+1 season. The young defenseman tallied 41 points in 68 games with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL last season while serving as an alternate captain. With the departures of Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt he Capitals have two holes on the left side of their defense, and while it's unlikely, it's possible that Johansen could make the jump to the NHL this season. When asked about replacing the depleted defense corps general manger Brian MacLellan expressed some optimism about his young defense prospects "I really like Lucas Johansen, and whether it's now or six months from now or a year from now, I think he's going to be a factor". The most likely landing spot for Johansen this year will be in Hershey but don't be surprised if he's still rocking the red for the last few games of the pre-season.
7. Christian Djoos - LHD, 23.2, 17th in 2016 Top 25 List
Djoos is entering his third full season in North America following a very impressive campaign. The young left-handed swedish defenseman tallied 58 points in 66 games with the Hershey Bears last year and led all AHL defenseman in assists. Djoos was named AHL player of the month in March and was re-signed to a two-year, 1.3 million dollar contract back in June. Per the Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan; Djoos is considered a favorite to fill one of the Capitals two open spots on the blue line (2nd pairing left and 3rd pairing right). Selected with the 195th pick of the 2012 draft, Djoos is looking like he may be able to defy the odds and make it to the NHL. For a more detailed overview of Djoos' game check out Isabelle's article.
6. Riley Barber - Winger, 23.7, 7th in 2016 Top 25 List
Drafted with the 167th pick of the 2012 draft, Riley Barber enters training camp knowing that he needs to have a good one. Barber made his NHL debut in late February last season, playing in 3 games with the Capitals in which he was unable to register a point. The young winger missed a big portion of his second professional season due to suffering a hand injury in November. Fortunately, he seemed to recover very well. Barber actually averaged more points per game after his injury than he did prior (0.73 vs 0.62). The one time NCAA standout will be competing primairly with Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker and Devante Smith-Pelly for a spot on the fourth line next season.
5. Ilya Samsonov - G, 20.6, 4th in 2016 Top 25 List
While drafting a goaltender early isn't always wise it can occasionally pay off. The Capitals drafted Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth just 11 picks apart in the 2006 draft (23rd and 34th overall) and for the last decade the organization has been one of, if not the, best goaltending factory in the NHL. In addition to hitting on their early selections they've also found gems later in the draft; both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer were 4th round selections (in 2008 and 2010 respectively). What we're trying to say is that the Capitals know goaltenders.
During the 2015 draft the Capitals felt that, despite their strong organizational depth in goal, they were best served by drafting the best player available. Ilya Samsonov came into his draft as the highest ranked European goalie by NHL Central scouting and was listed as the second best goalie in the draft by InGoal Magazine. The young Russian has done nothing but impress since the Capitals selected him with the 22nd overall pick and is now regarded as the number one goaltending prospect in the League.
Samsonov has one more year on his contract in the KHL and will likely move to North America at the end of the upcoming season. Samsonov is coming off of an outstanding season in the KHL during which he posted the 4th best save percentage among goalies who played more than 25 games. In addition to his strong domestic season he also had success at the international level, leading Russia to a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships. Samsonov was also named the best goaltender of the tournament by the media.
4. Madison Bowey - RHD, 22.5, 5th in 2016 Top 25 List
Drafted with the 53rd selection of the 2013 draft, Madison Bowey is a mobile defenseman who is projected to start the season on the right side of the Capitals' third pairing together with Brooks Orpik. Bowey only played in 34 games last year due to a lacerated ankle tendon he suffered in December. Over the last two seasons Bowey has tallied 43 points in 104 AHL games. Madison had a very successful junior career with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL including a League title in 2015.
Here is what Tommy Chalk had to say about Bowey last year:
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.
Bowey’s lack of offensive production may not have been a concern in his first professional season but it’s fair to be getting a little antsy now. Regardless of injuries, you’d expect a player with Bowey’s offensive talent to start producing more as he gets more comfortable in the AHL.
3. Tom Wilson - RW, 23.5, 6th in 2016 Top 25 List
One could argue that we're not giving Tom Wilson enough credit by having him third on this list. He's played in 313 regular season NHL games despite only being 23 years old. Sure, he's only tallied 69 points in those games, but Wilson isn't known for his offensive abilities. Over the last two years Wilson has developed into a solid penalty killer and he had some big moments in this year's postseason.
While it's clear that Wilson has the ability to play on the bottom six in the NHL it's unlikely he will ever develop into a top-six forward. The Capitals drafted Wilson with the 16th pick of the 2012 draft. To read more about Wilson check out his rink wrap.
2. Jakub Vrana - Winger, 21.6, 3rd in 2016 Top 25 List
With Justin Williams and Marcus Johannson no longer on the team the Capitals have two openings in their top six. One of those will be filled by Andre Burakovsky but the other will likely come down to one of either Tom Wilson or Jakub Vrana.
Vrana, selected with the 13th selection of the 2014 NHL entry draft, got his first taste of NHL action last year when he played in 21 games for the Capitals. He tallied 6 points in 21 games and looked impressive while on the power play but struggled to produce at even strength. Despite his lack of production, the Capitals did better in terms of both possession and goal differential when Vrana was on the ice versus when he was off. A winger comfortable of playing both sides (L,R) of the ice, Vrana uses speed, skill and his quick cornering ability to maintain possession of the puck and create opportunities.
Following his initial call-up to Washington last year Vrana's play in AHL fell off, but he still finished the season with 36 points (19G-17A) in 49 AHL games. Vrana's up and down season was summed up by Hershey Bears' head coach Troy Mann:
From his perspective, he just wasn't consistent in how he needed to play, and as a coach, you can only hang on so long before you have to send certain messages. But I have a lot of time for Jakub Vrana. I think he's a great kid. I think he has tremendous skill, maybe the best skilled played that's went through Hershey in a long time - since I've been there. I think if he comes in with the right mindset, he's going to turn some heads in September.
There is an outside chance that Jakub Vrana doesn't play the entire season on the Capitals but I wouldn't bet on it. The Capitals need more skill on the roster and if not now for Vrana then when? At 22 years of age Vrana is into his prime years. It's time to see what he can do at the NHL level while getting consistent minutes and playing with some scoring talent.
1. Andre Burakovsky - Winger, 22.7, 2nd in 2016 Top 25 List
The Capitals don't have the same amount of young talent that they used to but they still have a gem at the top of the class. Selected with the 23rd pick of the 2013 draft, Andre Burakovsky has all of the tools neccessary to move into a top scoring role on the Capitals' aging roster. Burakovsky ranked 23rd in the NHL in five-on-five points per sixty minutes last year and has continued to do a lot with limited ice time.
His offense has improved in each of his first three seasons and that trend will need to continue for the Capitals to remain a top team in the Eastern Conference. Andre's biggest flaw continues to be his inability to sustain his production throughout the year; he's had a goalless streak of at least 25 games in each of his last two seasons. Hopefully Burakovsky's strong performance in the Capitals' second round series loss to the Penguins will propel him to a dominant 2017-2018 campaign. The Capitals re-signed Burakovsky to a two year deal with an AAV of 3 million this summer. It's unclear what the top six will look like next year but expect Burakovsky to be a part of both it and the second power play. We had a lot to say about Burakovsky in his rink wrap, check it out here.