In this day and age, it’s hard to envision winning a Stanley Cup without a homegrown core of players, and the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals (which never gets old to type) were no exception to that roster construction, with 16 of the 25 players to appear in the playoffs coming up through the organization.
Some of those players were highly touted picks taken after a stretch of lean years. Others came from a run of terrific late-first round hits. Still others were later round diamonds in the rough. Take Christian Djoos, for example. Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, made his NHL debut this past season, playing 63 regular season games for the Caps and then another 22 (the last 22) for them in the playoffs.
Djoos’s path - from (extremely) late pick to Stanley Cup Champion - is a rare one, but far from unique. Heck, the Caps could have another Djoos or two in the organization right now, which is why it’s always fun to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future (and both eyes on the very recent past, because, damn, that trophy is so nice and shiny).
To that end, it’s time to start our annual look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25 (as of opening night of the coming season). But this year, we’re doing things a little differently and enlisting the help of our good friends over at NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) to rank ‘em and write ‘em. Jon Sorensen, Eric Lord, Diane Doyle and Luke Adomanis have all pitched in to make a list, check it twice and let you all know who’s naughty and nice. So give them a follow, be sure to check out their great Caps coverage, and let’s start the countdown with numbers 25 through 11.
Without any further ado, the 2017-18 edition of the Washington Capitals’ Top-25 Under 25...
Graduated: Travis Boyd
25. Juuso Ikonen, RW/LW (23.8 years old as of October 3, 2018; signed as an undrafted free agent; previously unranked)
While expected to be taken in the first three rounds of the 2012 draft, Ikonen wasn’t selected at all, to the surprise of many. In fact, the fast, highly skilled Finnish winger didn’t get selected in either of the following two years. He has been playing in Liiga and the SHL since then and has been doing quite well. Last season, Ikonen received the ninth most even strength time among forwards on his team (third line), yet had the second most even strength points. He was also getting the ninth most power play time. For someone as skilled as him why he wasn’t on the first line or top unit is a head-scratcher.
By using the time averages for his team and Corsica’s league equivalents, it could be guesstimated that Ikonen would have scored 35+ NHL points last season (6th among the Capital forwards) if he received top line and top power play time. Artemi Panarin at the same age, while playing in the KHL, averaged 40 NHL points. Not saying Ikonen is as good as Panarin, because he isn’t, just making a comparison.
And though he didn’t get the time he deserved over in Sweden, he should get top six and top power-play time, as the Bears desperately need his skill. Ikonen has been playing with men over in Europe but it’s a different game over here with the smaller rinks. He will have to use his small frame wisely (5’10” 178lbs), but if he can get his high-end skill translated over to North America like Panarin did, then Ikonen’s name will shoot up these ranking by next summer after posting big points in Hershey.
24. Kristian Roykas Marthinsen, LW (19.1; drafted 213th overall in 2017; previously unranked)
It’s rare that seventh round picks ever sniff the NHL, but the Capitals hit a home run with Christian Djoos back in 2012. It’s very doubtful they would hit another one, but there certainly is promise with their 2017 seventh round pick in Marthinsen. The best way to describe Kristian is he’s a pure goal scorer. Every league he has played in while in Norway and Sweden he has piled up the goals. Last season in the J20 Elit league, Marthinsen potted the second most goals in the league with 23 goals in 23 games. But the player in front of him only had two more goals but played six more games. In the last 10 seasons combined in the J20 Elit league, Kristian is tenth in goals scored, fifth if you remove anyone who has played more than 50 games (he played 45).
But the J20 Elit league, the second-tier Swedish junior league, isn’t exactly high end and it’s hard to judge talent there, but luckily, Roykas was taken in the CHL Import Draft and will play in the WHL this upcoming season. He’ll join another recent Capitals seventh round pick, Eric Florchuk, on the Saskatoon Blades. Marthinsen hasn’t even turned 19 yet and still must get used to the North American game, so his first season might be quiet, but if he can score goals over here like he did in Europe than maybe the Capitals found another home run late in the draft.
23. Damien Riat, C/RW (21.6; draft 117th in 2016; ranked 23rd in 2017-18)
After being drafted in 2016, the feisty Swiss winger, Damien Riat, had two promising seasons in the National League (NLA) in Switzerland. Just last season he had 12 goals and 12 assists in 48 games for his team Geneve-Servette HC. It may not sound too impressive, but when you consider he was the third youngest player on his team yet had the sixth most points, it looks quite good. Even more impressive, his 24 points was the best in the league for 21 and unders by an astounding 14 points. He had 7 more goals and 5 more assists than the next player.
It was looking promising for the 21-year-old to come over this season to play in North America, but on February 10th of this year Riat signed a new two-year deal with another team in the NLA: EHC Biel-Bienne.
It’s probably a safe assumption that the Washington Capitals wanted Riat (21), to come over to play with the Hershey Bears this fall, while Riat probably wanted to go straight to the NHL. This was reinforced by the fact that Damien didn’t even attend the Capitals prospect camp this summer.
As of right now, the situation with Riat is in the grey area. It’s hard to tell what is exactly going on. Even a month after Damien signed his new contract in Switzerland the Capitals tweeted out an update for their prospects and Riat was the face of it. But as we know, he didn’t attend the prospect camp. Did things go bad in the meantime or was that planned? Is Riat not attending the pre-season camp a sign he isn’t interested in the Capitals or is that also part of the plan? We’ll be sure to find out but for the Capitals sake let’s hope he makes the jump over soon, as they have a solid prospect in Riat.
22. Chase Priskie, D (22.6; drafted 177th in 2016; ranked 22nd in 2017-18)
Priskie, 22, had a solid Junior season for the Bobcats, as his goal production continued to rise. He finished the 2017-2018 season with 11 goals and 14 assists in 37 regular season games. Priskie took a total of 109 shots for a 10.9 shooting percentage, which was fifth best on the Bobcats overall, and the second-best shooting percentage for a Quinnipiac defenseman. Priskie also shined on Quinnipiac’s power play last season. Of Priskie’s 11 goals during 2017-2018, 8 came on the power play, which not only led the Bobcats, but was ranked first in the nation among NCAA Division I defensemen during the regular season and placed him 11th among all skaters.
Priskie has elected to return for his senior season at Quinnipiac and will be eligible to become a free agent next summer. It’s difficult to ascertain if he will follow the likes of Thomas DiPauli and exercise his option, ultimately signing elsewhere (Pittsburgh), or if he follows the route of the likes of Shane Gersich and Brian Pinho, and sign with the Capitals at the end of his senior year. The Capitals are starting to develop a decent depth of prospects on the backend, but there is little question Priskie could bring additional value, and potentially fight for a spot on the Capitals blueline in the next 2-3 years. His hockey smarts, leadership qualities and power play capabilities already give him a good fighting chance. Regardless, a big year is ahead for Priskie. The Chase is on.
21. Vitek Vanecek, G (22.7; drafted 29th overall in 2014; ranked 15th in 2017-18)
Lost in all the goalie hype with the Capitals (Braden Holtby’s Cup performance, Philipp Grubauer’s trade, and the arrival of elite goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov) is the fact the Capitals have a really good goalie prospect in Vitek Vanecek. After having a promising career in the Czech Extraliga, he came over and acclimated himself quickly to the North America game, posting the second-best stats in the ECHL for all goalies under 21. The following season he posted the fourth best stats in the AHL for goalies under 22, though it would have been second best if the Bears didn’t have such a rough, injury inducing January. His stats definitely took a hit last season, but so did the stats of stud AHL goalie Pheonix Copley, as they both had to backstop a bad Bears team with one of the youngest defensive cores in all the AHL. Now with a more mature and older defensive unit in front of him, look for Vanecek to have a huge bounce back season.
Vanecek is a very athletic goalie who can make some highlight reel saves. He has NHL potential and will strive to not be easily forgotten in the mix of the Capitals great goalie future. Many will look to Samsonov this season in Hershey but don’t count out Vanecek, who could be first to be called up if injury strike the Capitals back guards. But in the meantime, a Vanecek-Samsonov pairing should be one of the best in the AHL this upcoming season. Bears fans should be excited.
20. Tobias Geisser, D (19.6; drafted 120th in 2017; ranked 25th in 2017-18)
It’s always difficult to judge European prospects that aren’t point getters, but there’s something the Capitals really like about Geisser because they signed him to a three-year entry level contract in March. They love his size (6’4” 201 lbs.) mixed with speed. There aren’t many big guys that can move like him so if he can make his way to North America and prove himself NHL worthy, he could really make an impact.
The Capitals also think there’s more to his offensive game that they would like to see more of when he goes back to play one more year in the NLA. He was once a forward, even scoring 35 goals in 30 games in his U15 game, but he was later converted to defense. He scored 6 points in 38 games last season but was playing against men as an 18-year-old, so finding an offensive game was tough. After his year ends in Switzerland, expect Tobias to make the jump over to North America to join the Bears.
19. Beck Malenstyn, LW (20.7; drafted 145th in 2016; previously unranked)
Malenstyn had a tough season last year after being hurt, playing only 42 games compared to his 70-game campaign the season before. He was also traded just after returning from injury, so it was hard for him to adjust. He still had a good year posting 17 goals and 15 assists, but a healthy season would have been great to see if he could have built upon his breakout 2016-2017 season when he scored 32 goals compared to 8 from the season before. He even helped his team win the Ed Chynoweth Cup (the Stanley Cup for the WHL) this past season in a depth position.
Beck will be making his professional debut this upcoming season playing with the Hershey Bears. It will probably be a slow-going year for the rookie, as it is for all rookies, but the one advantage Malentsyn has is he should be able to adapt to the physical part of the game quickly. He’s a big for a 20-year-old at 6’2” and will probably hit 200 pounds by Fall. He’s gritty and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. His physical style should help him adapt quickly to the professional game, he just needs to find a way to bring his scoring touch to a higher level.
18. Tyler Lewington, D (23.8; drafted 204th in 2013; ranked 16th in 2017-18)
Lewington is the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman. He has not provided much offense since turning professional but has been a steady presence in the defensive zone. There is nothing flashy about the Edmonton native’s game. He makes good decisions in his own zone. He does not try to force passes into traffic in the middle of the ice, but instead takes the easy out by sending the pass up the boards. He does get beat sometimes by speedy players but is usually in the right spot defensively. He was arguably Hershey’s best defenseman last season, leading all blue liners with a -2. He is a good penalty killer and has played top pair minutes during his time in the AHL. Lewington always stands up for his teammates, leading Hershey in both fights and PIMs. He also led the team in penalty minutes with 149, which is his biggest issue. Being a protector of your teammates is a good quality to have, but it is not a good thing when you are also the one of the team’s best penalty killers and defensemen. Hershey needed him on the ice in those situations. He needs to find a better balance of standing up for your teammates and staying on the ice. He needs to pick his spots better. Lewington has developed into a leader and will be expected to be a part of Hershey’s leadership core this season. He was a good influence on Lucas Johansen last season when the two were paired together in December. Johansen’s defensive game turned around when playing with Lewington.
Lewington would likely be in the NHL already if he was more offensive. Whether he can add more offense to his game is questionable. He did post 91 assists in three seasons with Medicine Hat in the WHL. If he can become a 25 to 30-point producer with his defensive ability, he will find his way to the NHL sooner rather than later. He has improved his game under Reid Cashman and with Cashman, now in Washington, he has someone who knows his abilities first hand in the NHL. This could be beneficial to him. Lewington likely will return to Hershey to start the season but has a good shot at making his NHL debut this season when Washington has a need due to injury.
17. Brian Pinho, C (23.4; drafted 174th in 2013; ranked 18th in 2017-18)
The Capitals selected Pinho with the 174th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Pinho (23), played all four years at Providence College, increasing his offensive output each of the first three seasons. The 2016-2017 season was his statistical high-water mark, where he was also selected as the team’s Alternate Captain.
Pinho’s offensive production for the 2017-2018 season began to catch fire midseason. After a slow start to the season, the Captain of the Friars found his offensive game in December and January. He was named MVP of the Three-Rivers Classic in December and was named a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award in January. Pinho finished the 2017-2018 regular season with 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 Points.
Pinho attended his sixth Capitals development camp at the end of June 2018. He centered the top line for the White Team in this year’s camp scrimmage, where he registered a goal and an assist in the game. Pinho will join the wave of youth descending on Hershey this fall and battle for an open forward/center spot. His current (long-term) plan for the Capitals would be to fill a need in the bottom six forwards. His above-average stick skills, hard battles on the puck and leadership qualities will go a long way in seeing that he does just that.
Pinho has an outside shot for the current opening on Capitals fourth line but will be battling with several other prospects for the spot this fall. Don’t be surprised if he earns the spot, if he has an outstanding month of September.
16. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, RW/LW (20.7; drafted 147th in 2016; ranked 19th in 2017-18)
While Axel Jonsson-Fjallby has not scored an impressive number of points, he has shown NHL level speed and good puck handling skills. The 2017-18 season was the first season he played at the highest level of Swedish hockey, specifically for HC Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League. In 42 games this season, he has scored 7 goals and had 9 assists for a total of 16 points. He excelled in the playoffs, scoring 6 goals and getting 2 assists in 11 games.
He also represented Sweden in the IIHC World Junior Championships, scoring 2 goals and having 2 assists in 7 games. He also played internationally for Sweden in the European Hockey Tour, gaining 2 assists.
It is a positive sign for his game that he has produced points in the highest level of hockey, while playing against men, as opposed to playing against fellow junior players. He will most likely play with the Hershey Bears for the 2018-19 season. While there, he will need to get used to the smaller rink size in North America.
15. Jonas Siegenthaler, D (21.4; drafted 57th in 2015; ranked 12th in 2017-18)
Siegenthaler is a smart player but struggled with the physical nature of the North American game during his rookie season in the Hershey. He is a defensive defenseman in every sense. He only posted six goals and six assists offensively but was strong in his own end. The Swiss born defenseman makes the right decisions in his own zone. He does not force passes into traffic and is usually in the correct position defensively. He is a good penalty killer and was one of Hershey’s best penalty killing blue liners for much of the season. However, he consistently lost physical battles because he simply was not strong enough. That was his biggest weakness. He was pushed off the puck and lost too many puck battles. These resulted in turnovers for Hershey. Siegenthaler also wore down as the season went along. He was not used to playing that many games in a season and it showed in his play.
Siegenthaler now understands what the North American game is all about. He will need to come back physically stronger for his second campaign. If he does that, he will not get pushed off the puck and as a direct result, will win more puck battles. When he does that, his game will come together. Siegenthaler has the tools to be a shutdown defenseman. He thinks like one. He just needs his strength to match his brains.
14. Connor Hobbs, D (21.8; drafted 143rd in 2015; ranked 13th in 2017-18)
Connor Hobbs remains a wildcard for the Capitals organization. He possesses excellent offensive skills and a huge shot from the perimeter for a gritty, sometimes nasty, physical defenseman. However, Hobb’s decision-making at game-speed remains somewhat questionable, but could settle down with experience and playing time (see Dmitry Orlov).
Hobbs first year as a pro was decent but largely hampered by injuries and a beleaguered Bears team. Hobbs missed 32 of 76 games last season. He suffered a fractured wrist on November 4th against the Toronto Marlies, causing him to miss six weeks of the season. He returned to action on December 21. Hobbs suffered another injury on March 2nd, causing him to miss most of the month of March. Offensively, Hobbs had just three goals and 13 assists in 44 games played this season. He scored his first career AHL goal, a game-winner, on October 28th against the Providence Bruins. But he does have scoring potential. Hobbs’ statistical high-point to date came in his final year at Regina (2016-2017) where he tallied 31 goals and 54 assists in 67 games played, setting a number of team records. Hobbs did spend some time at the forward position due to a rash of injuries to the Pats forwards, but most of his scoring came from his defensive position.
Hobbs first goal for the coming season in Hershey is to try to stay healthy. Two significant injuries last season made it difficult for him to get any momentum going during the season. It’s unlikely we will see the same kind of offensive output from Hobbs that we saw during his 2016-2017 campaign with Regina, but it’s possible, as the potential is there. He will look to return to some semblance of that scoring output, while working on his overall defensive game this year with Hershey. Hobbs will also look to be more consistent on the defensive end this season and improve his decision-making with the puck. He will also look to reduce total PIM’s this season.
13. Garrett Pilon, C (20.5; drafted 87th in 2016; ranked 25th in 2017-18)
Pilon, a 5’11’’ 190-pound center, was drafted by the Capitals in the third round (#87) of the 2016 draft. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Capitals on March 30th, 2017 at $925,000 AAV. Pilon is waiver-exempt for the coming season.
Pilon, 20, has spent the last three seasons playing (and thriving) in the WHL, where he has posted fairly impressive offensive numbers. He started with Kamloops for the 2015-2016 season where he registered 15 goals and 32 assists. Pilon totaled 20 goals and 45 assists the following year with Kamloops and ended the season with a brief stop in Hershey, playing in one playoff game. Pilon had an impressive 2017-2018 season from start to finish, which included a mid-season trade from Kamloops to Everett. He finished the regular season with 34 goals and 46 assists in 69 games played. He added another 11 goals and 17 assists in 22 postseason games. Pilon’s 2017-2018 season included three hat tricks, including a postseason hat trick on March 24th against the Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 2 of the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs.
Pilon drew an extended look from Capitals coaches during last season’s training camp, being one of the overall last cuts. He will likely start the season in Hershey but could see a call-up at some point this season, whether for a game or two to get some experience, or potentially for a backup or fourth line emergency.
12. Nathan Walker, LW/RW (24.5; claimed on waivers from Edmonton on December 20, 2017; ranked 14th in 2017-18)
Walker had a whirlwind of a 2017-18 season. He started out by making his first NHL roster and became the first Australian to play in the NHL when he suited up for the Capitals against Montreal on October 7, 2017. Walker made it a memorable debut by scoring his first career goal. He then ended up in Edmonton after a waiver claim, only to return to the Washington organization after Edmonton put him back on waivers. An assignment to Hershey was just what the Aussie needed. He found his signature full-speed ahead game. He had nine goals and 13 assists in 40 games in Hershey. He went back to being the quality penalty killer he was in previous AHL seasons. After Hershey’s season ended, Walker returned to Washington and became the first Australian to appear in and score in a Stanley Cup playoff game. The Aussie is fast and is physical despite his small stature. Walker shows up to play every game and every shift. He has the ability to get under the skin of opponents with his agitating style of play.
A return to the NHL could certainly be in the cards for Walker. With the departures of Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle, there are two bottom six forward spots open on the Capitals roster. Walker likely is the leading candidate to take Chiasson’s spot on the wing. Walker’s game is perfectly suited for a bottom six role. He is gritty. He is not afraid to go into the corners to fight for pucks. He is all heart and hustle. The Capitals lost a lot of heart and hustle when Beagle left for Vancouver. Walker can help make up for that loss.
11. Riley Barber, RW (24.7; drafted 167th in 2012; ranked 6th in 2017-18)
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Barber had a very promising college career before jumping into the AHL where he continued his great play. The issue is that he was continuously stuck behind a great Capitals team that’s been very healthy the last three seasons, giving him close to zero chance to prove himself. This leaves Barber at the age of 24 with only three NHL games that came in succession in the 2016-2017 season. Unfortunately, it once again looks like there isn’t much room for him with the big club this season. The only opening is the fourth line center position and Barber is a winger.
It’s a shame because Barber has middle six potential (a Bryan Rust type player) but hasn’t been given the chance to play even with his good play in the AHL. He’s small but plays hard and gets most of his shots off (and he shoots a lot) right in the slot, which explains his 26 goal average the last three seasons in the AHL if he averaged 76 game.
He signed a one year deal this summer and with Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Nic Dowd all being UFAs next summer, maybe then he will finally get his chance to prove his worth. In the mean time, look for Barber to have another strong (probably best) AHL season leading the young forwards in Hershey, with a chance to be the first called up in case the Capitals need a forward.