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The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2019-20, Part I

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A look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25, starting with numbers 25 through 11.

NHL: SEP 20 Preseason - Capitals at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With training camp just around the corner, it’s time once again to take a look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25 for the Washington Capitals.

This year’s ranking 25 will look quite different from last summer, with a whopping ten players from last year’s ranking leaving the list either due to age (Tom Wilson, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Tyler Lewington), or departure from the organization via free agency (Riley Barber, Nathan Walker, Chase Priskie, Juuso Ikonen) or a trade (Andre Burakovsky, Madison Bowey).

That just means there’s plenty of opportunity for all of us to get new faces filling in those missing pieces.

This list was created by blending two aspects: the prospects potential and the prospects closest to the NHL. So one player might not have as high as ceiling as another player but is closer to the NHL, like Axel Jonsson-Fjallby being ranked higher than Shane Gersich. And another player could be closer to the NHL but is passed by a player that simply has too much potential to be ranked lower, like Connor McMichael being ranked higher than Garrett Pilon. It’s a tough balance to find but most prospects could be be switched within two or three spots from their rankings depending on who you ask.

Let’s start with 25th to 11th ranked under 25 year old players for the Capitals.

25) Eric Florchuk, 19yo, C, WHL

If you want versatility than Florchuk is your guy. He was thrown all over the lineup in the WHL last season for the Saskatoon Blades, probably playing every forward position on the first three lines. He’s trusted in all zones and in every situation, and is particularly good on the penalty kill. He had a good but not spectacular season last year posting 50 points in 68 games. The lack of consistency in finding a spot in the lineup definitely could have affected his numbers.

This season Eric should be able to cement a top six center position since Max Gerlach is leaving for Switzerland and Kirby Dach potentially sticking with the Chicago Blackhawks. At the very least, hopefully, he gets consistent top six winger time. Eric could turn into a good all-purpose bottom six player for the Capitals down the line, like Chandler Stephenson, but he still has a ways to go before that happens.

24) Tobias Geisser, 20yo, LHD, AHL (ranked 20th in 2018-2019)

The Capitals were probably hoping they were grabbing Siegenthaler 2.0 when they drafted Geisser. Both are huge, quick skating left handed defensemen from Switzerland that focus on defense more than offense. And there is absolutely no offense in Geisser’s game, shown by his one (yes ONE) assist in 41 AHL games last season. I’m pretty sure I could get two assists in 41 AHL games and I play goalie! And the lack of offense is a bit disappointing considering Geisser used to be a forward and put up some nice numbers in some lower Swiss leagues. But it was his first full season in North American in a very tough league so he can still adapt.

But it’s okay that he isn’t an offensive player. If he can find a niche like Siegenthaler has by being a very good defensive player that suppress scoring chances against and helps get the puck up ice than that’s perfectly fine. It will be interesting to see how many games Tobias gets this season. Hershey is loaded with left handed defensemen, all very young players that need playing time. Still things aren’t looking good for Geisser at the NHL level with Alexeyev, Johansen, and Fehervary in front of him. He’ll have to really step up his game if he wants to be noticed, which is great motivation.

23) Mitchell Gibson, 20yo, G, NCAA

It’s been stated Vanecek is a lost prospect due to Braden Holtby and the hype of Ilya Samsonov, but Gibson is even more so an unknown. But the fact is that he’s a Capitals fourth round draft pick. Other goalies that match that description? Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Gibson certainly didn’t have a great post draft season though, posting a .890sv% in the USHL on a bad team. But when it comes to goalies, stats are kind of meaningless. Odd to hear that but it’s true. Goalies are an enigma where one season they bomb then next season they are the bomb. So the fact that Gibson had a bad year as a 19 year old shouldn’t scare anyone away.

Gibson will be headed to Harvard to play in the NCAA this upcoming season. It will be more challenging but with challenge comes the chance to improve. Goalies take much longer to develop and with Holtby, Copley, Samsonov, and Vanecek there’s no need to rush Gibson or have a need for Gibson to turn into anything special. But don’t count him out just yet.

22) Alex Kannok-Leipert, 19yo, RHD, WHL

Alex had a similar run as Benton Maass did, meaning they had good point totals their first season after being drafted but dipped in points their second season, while both moving to the top pair. Leipert went from 21 points to 19 points his second season, even while playing seven more games. But don’t let the production fool you. Leipert was paired with Bowem Byram, the fourth overall pick in 2019, and the pair thrived. Byram loved his new partner, even going as far as calling Leipert a top ten defensemen in the league. Obviously, that isn’t true but it’s strong words from an elite defensive talent.

With Byram most likely leaving the WHL to head to the NHL, Leipert will have to carry his own top pairing now. Alex will never be a huge point getter (though he went from scoring 19 points in 67 regular season games to scoring 12 points in 22 playoff games) but he could turn into a good defensive defensemen that helps his team positively on the ice by getting the puck out of the defensive zone. But it’s too hard to tell now if he’s a positive impact at the junior level. He has one more year in the WHL level then he can head to the AHL, where it will be easier to see if he can be a good professional player.

21) Martin Hugo Has, 18yo, RHD, Liiga

Last summer, Martin was projected to be a first round talent for the 2019 draft, but after unimpressive season he fell down the rankings so much so the Capitals got him in the fifth round. Martin should have fallen but not that far. Hugo is a big rig with good skating ability for his size. He isn’t some elite offensive defensemen but he has the ability, especially with his shot, to put up some points. He’s great at the two way game and knows what to do at both ends of the ice.

He’ll play in Liiga this upcoming season and have a chance to show off his ability while playing against men. He has all the tools you want in a defenseman: he’s smart, good at both ends, can skate for his size and is an absolute unit. It’s just a matter of putting all those tools together to reach his potential as possibly a good number four defensemen. The Capitals are hoping he turns into the player everyone thought he was going to in the summer of 2018. And at 18 there’s still plenty of time to grow into that player.

20) Benton Maass, 20yo, RHD, NCAA

Benton had a fantastic Freshman year in college when he scored 17 points in 36 games, but his Sophomore year last season was a bit tougher for him on a couple levels, only scoring 6 points in 30 games. The reason for lack of production was mainly due to him going from the easier bottom pairing minutes he played his first year to playing on the top pair his second year. That isn’t an easy transition at all because the NCAA is a very good league with skilled players. It also didn’t help he suffered a severe injury after being boarded, which caused him to miss over two months of action mid season.

But the lack of production shouldn’t be a concern. Maass is still young and has time to learn. He’s a big, thick body that still has more filling out. He moves the puck well and has a great shot. He’s raw but has potential for sure. His next step is proving he can face the bigger talents in the NCAA and hold his own. Hopefully he can fill the Priskie loss from this summer.

19) Beck Malenstyn, 21yo, LW, AHL (ranked 19th in 2018-2019)

Malenstyn went from being a good WHL goal scorer scoring goals at a 0.45 goal per game pace, to using more of his physicality in the AHL last season. Malenstyn only put up 16 points in 74 games, but he became a fan favorite due to his hard hits and high end speed with a dash of offensive skill. There’s a reason he’s known as the Tom Wilson of the Hershey Bears among Bears fans. He works hard every shift, causing complete chaos on his forecheck then recovers the puck before making a good look pass or goal.

The issue is Malenstyn was relegated to the fourth line most of last season, so like Wilson, his grind it type game with offensive skill is never utilized. The Bears would be wise to at least try his style of play with more skilled players to see if his puck hunting skills will help the more offensive talented players focus more on their game. If he pans out the Capitals should at the very least get a great fourth liner with some offensive pop, maybe not that different than Capitals newcomer Garnet Hathaway.

18) Kody Clark, 19yo, RW, AHL

First off, it must be stated the viewings on Clark are a bit biased. When the Capitals were taking their second second round pick in 2018 they had a chance to snag some great talents like Akil Thomas, Kiril Marchenko, or Filip Hallander among many others, and instead the Capitals selected Clark. It didn’t help that Clark got off to a terrible start in his OHL season scoring only four points in the first 15 games. Though he was a point per game player after that scoring 42 points in the next 42 games. But still, a point per game pace isn’t all that impressive for the first year after a player’s draft year. For example, Akil Thomas scored 102 points in 63 games; now that’s impressive.

This season Clark will go straight into the AHL, which might not be the best idea for him. Hershey is so stacked that Clark may end up playing uneventful minutes or even sitting most of the time. It’s probably best he should go back to the OHL to get top minutes or even the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). It’s not all doom and gloom with Clark though, he does have good tools like his size and the fact he has a really good shot. For Clark, though, he needs to prove he was worth a second round pick, which means stepping up his game no matter what league he plays in.

17) Damien Riat, 22yo, RW, NEL (ranked 23rd in 2018-2019)

In 2016, Riat was the first Switzerland forward taken by the Capitals in nearly twelve years and hopefully has a better result than their first one, Peter Guggisberg, who never played a game in North America. Riat is a feisty winger with speed and who loves to shoot the puck. He has played in the NLA (National League) in Switzerland the last four years and in each of those years he has led his age group in scoring except his rookie year when he was second behind some kid named Auston Matthews. And the NLA isn’t a joke, men play in that league and Riat has been doing it since he was 18 years old.

The trick now is to get Riat to come over and play in North America. He has been missing prime development years over in Switzerland when he could be over here getting used to the North American game. And he still has at least one more year on his deal in Switzerland until he comes over and even then it isn’t definite. There was a concern Riat was done with the Capitals because he skipped the rookie training camp in 2018, but luckily he attended the 2019 training camp so that’s good news for him to come over. He has third line ability but he needs to come over seas first and prove he can adapt.

16) Alexei Protas, 18yo, C, WHL

Protas had a pretty good rookie WHL season, scoring 40 points in 61 games but really took off in the playoffs leading all rookies in points with 22 in 23 games. The closest rookie had 13 points. Granted Protas played the most games, but he still led all rookies in points per game as well with good 0.96 in the playoffs. Protas is a big boy with fantastic vision and hands, and doesn’t nearly use his great shot enough. What’s interesting about Protas was he came straight from Belarus to the WHL and still did quite well. He didn’t tear up the league, but for a player coming from a mediocre, at best, hockey nation straight to the toughest junior league in Canada, and placing third among rookies in even strength primary points per 60 minutes, is very impressive.

Protas should be a shoe in for a top six center position for the Prince Albert Raiders this upcoming season. He has two more years in the WHL before he can head to the AHL, unless he earns a spot in the NHL, which is doubtful. But if Protas was only showing his potential in the playoffs because it took him that long to adapt to North America, then the Capitals found a very good player. Too soon to predict anything about him, but if he can improve his skating like Brett Leason did, than the Capitals found an NHL calibre player, it’s up to Protas to show us what kind he’ll be. Wouldn’t be surprising to see him shoot up into the top ten on this list by next summer.

15) Connor Hobbs, 22yo, RHD, AHL (ranked 14th in 2018-2019)

Hobbs was looking like a gem of pick after the Capitals took him in the fifth round in 2015. He played two more seasons in the WHL, finishing his last season on an absolute tear with 85 points in 67 games. But Hobbs last two seasons in the AHL have been a bit underwhelming, mainly due to injury that hasn’t allowed him to get consistent results. This upcoming year in the AHL is obviously huge for the defensemen. He’s a leader for the team, a physical threat, and has a booming NHL shot, but the bottom line is he needs to put up points to stay relevant.

The good news for Hobbs is the Capitals are pretty dry on right defense, especially after losing Chase Priskie to unrestricted free agency. The only other right handed defensemen in the system that could threaten him are Tyler Lewington and recent draftee Hugo Haas. But Hobbs has loads of more offensive potential than them and even though Capitals are stacked with left handed defensemen, none have the offensive potential he has. If he can find his scoring touch and adapt to the pros it would greatly aid the Capitals in keeping the backend a threat.

14) Riley Sutter, 19yo, C, AHL

You know what you get when you draft a Sutter: hardworking, smart, two-way player. But what separates Riley from other Sutters is it looks like he’ll be bringing some skill along with the reliable play. The big man set himself up nicely as the Everett Silvertips’ number one center last season, but like so many Capital’s prospects last season he suffered a pretty big injury, keeping him out for over three months and just 38 games total. He did, though, post 41 points during that span, showing he has more to give.

Sutter will be going into his first professional season with the Bears this upcoming season where his size should help him ease into the tougher league. The question is if he’ll settle into a center or wing position and on what line. He’ll be joining a young team with a chance to be thrown all over the ice. If he can hit his ceiling he could form into a nice third liner with good two way play using his size to wear out opponents, maybe even an Eller replacement.

13) Joe Snively, 23yo, LW, AHL

Snively might have just been another college free agent signing, one of dozens that happen every year after the NCAA finishes its season, but there’s some sneaky value to him. First, Snively surprised some that he was never drafted at all. He’s small (5’9”) but very quick, works hard, and has a great shot. His numbers in college are good not amazing, but once you see how he stacked up against his team it is very impressive. Snively scored 36 points his final season with Yale, the next closest had 18 points! An 18 point difference! In fact, for all four of his years at Yale, he led his team every single season in points. What would his numbers looked like on a good team?

Snively went straight to Hershey after he signed with the Capitals in the Spring and he instantly made an impact, scoring seven points in just nine games. Was that just a fluke or is that the player the Capitals signed? This season will say a lot about him. If he can hover around a point per game with Hershey he will shoot up this list by next season. He has the speed and skill to make the NHL but can he withstand the size of the pro game?

12) Shane Gersich, 23yo, LW, AHL (ranked 8th in 2018-2019)

Gersich blasted onto the scene in his Junior year of college hockey when he ended up being one of the better goal scorers in the league. He took a bit of a hit his senior year when he lost fellow linemates Tyson Jost and Brock Boesser, but he finished his last year of college very well. Last season was his first AHL season, and though it wasn’t fantastic, Gersich still was able to show off his shooting ability and speed. He was also considerably unlucky with a 6.4 shooting percentage. Someone with his shot should be double that in the AHL.

Steve Richmond mentioned in July that last season Gersich was trying to do too much and he put too much pressure on himself to score every shift. Gersich just needs to play the team game and the goals will come for him. It’s a very important season for him because at age 23 he needs to prove he can take the next step full time or he’ll fall to the waste side, especially with so many young forwards in Hershey this season. He has NHL ability and could slot into a third line with his speed and shot, but he has to prove that in Hershey first.

11) Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, 21yo, LW, AHL (ranked 16th in 2018-2019)

Between his wavy hair, blistering speed, and hard nosed play mixed with some skills, Fjallby has become a fan favorite quickly. That’s why it was unfortunate last season when after only playing 16 games in the AHL, Fjallby returned to Sweden to play in the SHL. That would have been fine for his development if he played top six minutes, but he was once again relegated to the fourth line where he wasn’t particularly productive. Fortunately, Fjallby was able to shine once again in the playoffs where he posted 12 points in 19 games. That was the second best among forwards on his team and ninth among all forwards in the playoffs. Fjallby has proven to be a clutch playoff performer.

Fjallby is now in North America for good and has to translate his game to the smaller ice before moving up in the organization. He caught the eye of the coaches during training camp and could be the first to be called up in Washington if an injury occurs. It would be perfect for Fjallby to learn under fellow Swede Hagelin; both play very similar styles: fast, smart, great defensive play that also have some offensive skill. A bottom six position is most likely Fjallby’s endpoint but he has the potential to be one of those key cog players that every team needs to lift the Cup that can play through out the lineup, like a Hagelin.