September is here and with it... hockey. Before you know it, Caps prospects will be on the ice trying to impress Todd Reirden and his staff with their skill, work ethic, hockey sense and conditioning (spoiler alert: everyone’s in “the best shape of [his] career”).
But before formal workouts begin, we’ve got some more business to take care of, counting down the Caps’ top-25 players under the age of 25 (if you missed our first installment last week, un-miss it here), with help from our good friends over at NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps). So let’s dive right in to the top-10, which features a handful of guys the team will be relying on to take the next step in their respective development paths in 2017-18...
10. Madison Bowey, D (23.5; drafted 53rd overall in 2013; ranked 4th in 2017-18)
Bowey has been a polarizing player during his young career. Many Hershey fans grew frustrated with his play during his time in the AHL. He was protected during his rookie season, being kept out of high pressure defensive situations. Those situations were handled by Hershey’s veteran defensemen. Instead, Bowey was put in spots where he was more likely to succeed. That was a smart move by then Hershey head coach, Troy Mann. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native posted solid numbers in his rookie campaign with 29 points and a team best +22. His play dipped in the Calder Cup playoffs. He took unnecessary penalties, compiling 35 penalty minutes in 21 games and fell to a -3. He played over fan favorite Mike Moore and when he struggled, many fans viewed it as favoritism that Bowey was not being held accountable for his mistakes the same way Moore was. Bowey’s sophomore season was hindered by injury, but he bounced back to make Washington’s roster out of training camp last season. He tallied 12 assists in 51 games but found himself a healthy scratch for much of the second half of the season and spent nine games back in Hershey to get playing time. Bowey is a strong skater, but sometimes gets caught flat-footed. This is what causes him to take bad penalties. He has good puck-possession ability and is a good passer. He also has the ability to put up points. He scored 60 points in back-to-back seasons in juniors and netted 21 goals one season. Defensively, Bowey is inconsistent in his decision-making process. He is always looking to make the big play, but sometimes he just needs to make the smart play.
Bowey is in an interesting situation heading forward. He will most likely start the season with Washington, as he is no longer waiver exempt. However, he may struggle to find his way into the lineup. John Carlson,
Michael Kempny and Brooks Orpik Matt Niskanen and Christian Djoos are all ahead of him on the depth chart on the right side. This puts Bowey as the seventh defenseman and means he will likely be scratched most nights. He still needs ice time to continue to develop and improve the areas where he has struggled. He will find it hard to get that ice time in Washington. Bowey has the ability to be a solid NHL defenseman. Sitting in the press box is not going to help him get there. He will need a strong training camp to force head coach Todd Reirden into finding him playing time.
9. Travis Boyd, C (25.1; drafted 177th overall in 2011; ranked 10th in 2017-18) [Ed. note: Boyd is currently 24 years old, but will be 25 on opening night, so he really shouldn’t be on this list... but is.]
Boyd continues to be a point producer in the AHL. A season after leading Hershey with 63 points, he finished second on the team’s scoring list with 47 points. His strongest asset is his passing ability. He has 112 assists in 215 career AHL games. While he is a great passer, Boyd sometimes is too unselfish. He has passed up quality shots throughout his career to try to set up a teammate. He did start to shoot more last season with a career high 147 shots. He has a good shot and needs to utilize it when he has the chance. He can still be a great setup man while shooting more. If teams have to respect his shot, it will create more passing lanes for him to take advantage of. Boyd had always been a plus player, but his even strength play took a hit last season. He was a team worst -24. Also, 26 of his 47 points came on the power play. His five-on-five play was a reflection of Hershey as a whole. The entire team struggled at even strength. The Minnesota native also struggled on face-offs with Hershey last season, but again, that was a team-wide problem. With a better team surrounding him, Boyd should be able to get back to being a solid even strength player.
Boyd is poised to start the season in the NHL. He has earned that opportunity. The question is, what will his role be? Washington has an opening at center on the fourth line, but that is not really a match for Boyd’s skill set. He has never been asked to play a bottom six role where he is expected to be more of a grinder and go into the dirty areas. He has always been in an offensive role. Will Todd Reirden put Boyd into that role in training camp and hope he adapts? Or does Reirden switch him to the wing and a player more suited for the fourth line like Chandler Stephenson take the spot as fourth line center?
8. Shane Gersich, LW (22.2; drafted 134th overall in 2014; ranked 11th in 2017-18)
Gersich’s greatest hockey skill set is his skating, both in overall speed and the ability to cover the ice. He also shows consistent tenacity in puck battles and always has the ability to make a play. However, some scouts have questioned his hockey instincts at game speeds. At 5’10”, Gersich’s size may also be an issue in the early part of his professional career, but he still has the potential to be a top six/top nine forward. He is a potential fifth round “steal”.
Gersich’s collegiate career statistically peaked in his Sophomore year, where he spent most of the season on a high-powered first line with Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) and Tyson Jost (Colorado Avalanche), both currently playing in the NHL. Gersich scored 21 goals and registered 16 assists for 47 points in 40 games his Sophomore season. His junior season saw a downturn for the first half of the season, with just 5 goals in the first 20 games played, which ultimately led to a reduction in playing time and a demotion to the fourth line by the middle of January 2018. However, Gersich responded nicely in the second half of the season, returned to the top line, and finished the season with 13 goals and 16 assists for 39 points, just 8 points fewer than his sophomore season.
Gersich has the potential to make the Capitals roster at some point this coming season. His youth, speed and quickness on the puck would be a huge asset to the Capitals. However, it’s likely Gersich will start the season and spend a good amount of time in Hershey for the final year of his entry-level contract. The time in Chocolatetown will be well spent, learning the pro game and working on his defensive game. However, depending on how things shake-out this summer (free agency) and during training camp in September, Gersich could find his way onto the roster for opening night.
7. Alexander Alexeyev, D (18.9; drafted 31st overall - because the Caps won the Stanley Cup - in 2018; previously unranked)
Taken with the last pick in the first round of the 2018 draft, Alexeyev joins a history of great Russians for the Washington Capitals. Alexeyev is a large teenager, clocking in at 6’4” and almost 200 lbs. at 18 years old. But like all defensemen that the Capitals draft, he can skate very well. He doesn’t have high end speed but he’s still very quick for his size and will only need to take a few strides to get his stick on the puck. His best asset is his hockey IQ as he can see the game very well, which allows him to be a threat at both ends of the ice. Though he’s known for more of his defensive game, people shouldn’t sleep on his offensive capabilities. He put up 37 points in 45 games last season. If he played a full WHL season that would be almost 60 points, which would have put him 4th among all defensemen under 19 years old.
Alexeyev was expected to go in the 10-15 pick range during the draft but a knee surgery and the unsuspected passing of his mother limited him to only 86 games over the last two seasons. This lack of games played allowed Alexander to drop far to the Capitals who very well could have gotten a steal with their pick. If Alexeyev can stay healthy next season, he could turn some heads and be one the of the best WHL defensemen in the league among all ages. He’s been getting compared to Mattias Ekholm, Justin Braun, and a bigger version of Dmitry Orlov which would be scary for opponents. Expect to make the jump to professional hockey after the 2018-2019 season in the WHL.
6. Lucas Johansen, D (20.9, drafted 28th overall in 2016; ranked 8th in 2017-18)
Johansen experienced a typical season for a player in his first professional season, one filled with ups and downs. He got off to a good start offensively for Hershey, scoring 12 points in his first 20 games. However, he was unable to sustain his offense. After scoring on December 9, he went on a 30-game goalless drought and ended the season with 31 points in 74 games. Johansen has the talent to contribute more offensively. He posted 49 and 41 points in back-to-back seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. While Johansen’s offense disappeared over a stretch of the season, his defensive game improved as the season went along. Troy Mann paired him with Tyler Lewington in mid-December and the pairing was a good one for Johansen. He settled down and improved his decision-making process while playing alongside Lewington. He was one of Hershey’s most reliable defenseman down the stretch and one of the few Hershey players who showed improvement as the season went along.
Johansen still needs some seasoning in the AHL. He needs to become a more consistent offensive player. However, he is not far away from being ready for the NHL. He is a smart player who is very coachable. He will continue to improve defensively and when his offense gets in step with his defense, Johansen will force his way into the NHL.