Earlier this week we took a look at 20 of the top 25 players under 25 in the Caps’ organization; now it’s time to wrap things up with a look at the final five.
5) Lucas Johansen, 21yo, LHD, AHL (ranked 6th in 2018-2019)
Having Johansen ranked here might ruffle some feathers as he hasn’t been extremely impressive as a first round pick. But the left handed defensemen still has a lot of potential and a lot more to show. Last year in the AHL was supposed to be his breakout season but due to a two month leg injury in the middle of the season Johansen was never really able to prove it. After putting up nine points 17 games, he put up only five points in 28 games when he returned from injury. That’s the difference between a 40 point AHL season (third in his positional age group) and a 14 point AHL season (35th in his positional age group). Obviously, the injury played a good part in his lack of production.
That’s all doom and gloom but there’s no denying Johansen’s ability. He’s an amazing skater with good two-way play. He’ll never rack up high point totals but he’s reliable, smart and can chip in when needed. The issue for Johansen is since the Capitals are loaded with left handed defensemen, his margin for error is very small. He needs to have a big, healthy upcoming season or he’ll find himself on another team soon.
4) Jonas Siegenthaler, 22yo, LHD, NHL (ranked 15th in 2018-2019)
It was odd when the Capitals traded up in 2015 to select Jonas Siegenthaler in the second round. He certainly wasn’t a sexy pick, being labeled as a big, mobile defensemen with little offensive upside. Siegenthaler continued to develop in Switzerland playing against men as an 18 year old then having a promising 2016-2017 World Junior Tournament. His first year in the AHL was decent, but nothing to write home about. His 2018-2019 AHL started rocky as it still looked like he wasn’t adapting to North America, but then it all changed once he was called up to the NHL.
For some reason Siegenthaler adapted extremely well to the NHL more than the AHL. It was like a switch was flipped. In his 26 games with the Capitals, Siegenthaler was a shutdown defensemen that also pushed the puck up ice and helped create scoring chances. It was only 30 games so the sample isn’t huge, but what he’s shown is very promising. If he could turn into a Michal Kempny than the Capitals have a player on their hands. The issue is he will be battling with Christian Djoos for the bottom pairing spot next to Radko Gudas, though there will always be injuries and a chance for him to solidify position in the lineup.
3) Alexander Alexeyev, 19yo, LHD, AHL (ranked 7th in 2018-2019)
If you ever wanted a bigger version of Dmitry Orlov then you’re in luck because the Capitals have one in their system. Alexeyev is a giant of a Russian with great two way ability that can suffocate opponents in the defensive zone and let loose a no look seam pass through the slot to a teammate for a wide open net goal. He’s smart, agile, skilled, and- like most of our Russians- is a goofball. He had a good year in the WHL and was on pace for 14 goals and 60 points if he didn’t miss time due to injury. He also cleaned up at the World Junior in January when he put up two goals and four assists in seven games, good for second among all defensemen.
The only downfall to Alexeyev is health. He’s already had multiple knee injuries throughout his young career (which is a blessing in disguise because he was projected to go top 10 in his draft year but didn’t due to injuries). He had a knee injury so bad last season that he was carted off the ice and Steve Richmond thought Alexeyev’s career could have been over. Good news is he was at prospect camp in June and looked great. Alexeyev iterated that he’s 100% and ready to start in the AHL. The ceiling is high for Alexeyev, a top pairing defensemen, but he needs to stay healthy if he ever wants to reach that level.
2) Ilya Samsonov, 22yo, G, AHL (ranked 3rd in 2018-2019)
After having an amazing KHL career, including the best 19 year old season in league history, Samsonov made his way over to North America to join the Hershey Bears in the AHL last season. It was not a pleasant start for Samsonov or the Bears as they started the season with a five game losing streak and posting a 14-18-2 through December. But as the calendar turned so did the Bears along with Samsonov. In the last 23 games of the season Ilya put up a .925sv% and a 1.88GAA. And of the 42 goals he gave up in the 23 games, 16 were on the penalty kill. With a half decent penalty kill his numbers would probably look even better.
Samsonov is the prize jewel of the Capitals prospects and it’s not crazy to think that he is the key to the Capitals future success. If he can develop and reach his potential he will open a lot of doors for the franchise. Not only could he turn into a game stealing, elite talent to help the Capitals win for the next ten years, but he will allow the Capitals to not fall into the trap of signing Braden Holtby to a very expensive very long contract that will handicap them for awhile. And with all of the extra cap space the team could keep affording talent to keep them competitive.
1) Jakub Vrana, 23yo, LW/RW, NHL (ranked 1st in 2018-2019)
It took a bit longer than expected, but the Capitals were able to lock down Vrana to a two year $3.5M AAV deal. Jakub was able to solidify himself into a top six role last season, scoring 24 goals and 23 assists for the Capitals with minimum power play time. His 21 5v5 goals ranked him 21st among all forwards and he was 34th in primary points per 60 minutes. Basically, at 5v5 Vrana is a top end talent that still has another level to get to.
The issue with Vrana is he’s left handed. This essentially boots him out of any type of power play time with elite passers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov taking the first powerplay unit. He still gets second unit power play time, but often that unit gets the last 15-30 seconds of the man up advantage so it’s hard to capitalize. And as long as Vrana is regulated to that second unit it will be very difficult for him to hit that 30 goal mark.
But if that’s the only problem with Vrana than that’s a great problem to have. Let the power play giants do their thing while Vrana still scorches the opponent at even strength. And maybe the lack top power play time is a blessing, because with this bridge deal if Vrana had more power play opportunities he could come out of his contract asking for a lot more.