20 players down, and at last we make it to the final five in our look at the top 25 under 25 years old in the Capitals organization.
As a reminder, in crafting this list we combined two factors: a prospect’s potential, and how close he is to the NHL. For instance, in the long run, Alexeyev will probably be better than Siegenthaler, or at least has a higher ceiling. But Siegenthaler has already put in some great seasons as a pro, as Alexeyev has only played one season in the AHL so he has more to prove.
And here we go...
5) LHD, Alexander Alexeyev, 20yo, KHL
One of the silver linings of there being no pro hockey in North America right now is that it gives Alexeyev a big opportunity to play in the KHL, which is a step up from the AHL time he would have gotten this season. So far he’s been used everywhere from top pair to bottom pair, left side and right side. That’s a lot of inconsistency in playing time and positioning but the kid is taking it in stride and running with it.
While his offense has been nothing to write home about - he has posted just five points in 22 games - he’s also playing against men in the second best league in the world at the young age of 20. And for Alexeyev right now, it’s not about points, it’s about gaining experience that will help him develop into a NHL player. By all accounts he’s holding his own, averaging the third-most minutes per game at almost 17 minutes. That says a lot about a 20-year-old playing in the KHL.
Alexeyev has a bright future with top-three potential. He’s big, has some mobility, and decent offensive ability. This is probably his last year not playing in the NHL... that is, if the Caps can find a place to fit him in to their lineup. Right now they’re loaded on the left side, which is certainly a good problem to have but can make it tricky to juggle opportunities for some of the younger kids climbing the ranks.
4) RW, Daniel Sprong, 23yo, NHL
One of the elements that has been missing in the two years since winning the Stanley Cup is a deadly third line like the Burakovsky-Eller-Connolly trio that played such a huge role in that 2018 run. Well, the Caps took a great step in trying to re-create that line with the acquisition of Sprong, who can duplicate that Connolly scoring potential on the third line.
But there’s a lot more to his game, as well.
In his one true NHL stint, Sprong scored 14 goals and five assists in 49 games for the 2018-2019 Ducks. That’s good for 23 goals and 32 points over a full season, which he accomplished while averaging fourth-line time. Should he crack the Caps’ lineup, Sprong will be on a much better team in a better situation. It’s still up to him to earn the playing time but he was easily their best player in the mini-training camp before the bubble season, and he’s been working extremely hard this offseason. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Sprong work his way up the lineup, as he certainly still has the ability to be a top-six player in the NHL.
Sprong’s best skill is his ability to shoot while in stride. It’s a difficult feat to master and he’s one of the better players at it (the best being someone like Nathan MacKinnon). If he has all that talent, why hasn’t he been in the NHL full time? Hard to tell. What we do know is he has a legit offensive talent and if Capitals can capture it they’ll have a young offensive impact player on a budget-friendly contract for the next two years.
3) LHD, Jonas Siegenthaler, 23yo, AHL
It was mentioned in the Martin Fehervary segment that neither he nor Siegenthaler would be considered “sexy” draft picks. They won’t wow you with offense - but their speed and shutdown ability are very good, and they are at their best when they aren’t noticed. That applies even more to Seigenthaler than Fehervary, who brings some offensive chops that Siegenthaler may lack. But what Siegenthaler doesn’t have in offense, he more than makes up for with his work in the defensive zone.
The big Swiss defensemen has only accumulated about 1100 minutes in five-on-five time over the last two seasons, but he’s used that time to absolutely shut down the other teams offense. According to Bill Comeau’s visuals, Siegenthaler has been in the 97th percentile in Expect Goals Against relative to teammates, which puts him in elite territory. Granted, he is not facing other teams top end players by any means. He ranked just 27th in percentile playing against elite talent. But for what he’s been given he has thrived.
What’s next for the defensemen is gaining that experience and increasing his ice time to face tougher players to prove he can do more. If he can, he could end up slotting in as a shutdown partner on the top pair alongside John Carlson - something that is desperately needed with Michal Kempny having struggled since his return from injury (and now likely missing most of the next season). For now, that seems to be Brenden Dillon’s job to lose, but Siegenthaler is right there in the wings in case he’s needed to step in.
2) G, Ilya Samsonov, 23yo, NHL
Watching Braden Holtby depart from the organization that drafted him, and the team that he led to a Stanley Cup, was certainly tough - and while it was the right move for both team and player, it likely wasn’t possible if the Caps didn’t have someone like Ilya Samsonov just about ready to take over.
The Russian played in 26 games last season and posted 16-6-2 with a .916 sv% and a 4.34 goals saved above average, which is promising for a rookie. He did falter a bit after a hot start and ended the season with some really rough outings, but it’s possible some if not all of that can be chalked up to the team in front of him struggling even more
The good news is that with a new defensive-minded coach, he should, in theory, get more help this season. A stronger team in front of him combined with his already evident skill could mean a big year for the young netminder.
The only real blemish on his short career so far is the off-ice accident that injured him during the pause and prevented him from playing at all while the team returned to play in the bubble. Thankfully he’s had lots of time to heal and all signs point to him making a full recovery and being ready to go in time for training camp (whenever that may be). That’s good news for the team, because Samsonov has a bright future and the Caps are certainly hoping that he can backstop them for years to come.
1) LW, Jakub Vrana, 24yo, NHL
What else is there to say about our boy Jakub Vrana? It’s crazy to think he’s already 24 years old. Despite a bit of uneven play, Vrana hit career highs in goals, assists, and, obviously points in the 2019-20 season - and he hit those marks despite playing 13 fewer games than the season before. He was on pace for 62 points over a full season and given his lack of power-play time and lower ice time in general, he was very efficient in racking up those points. In fact, among players with at least 500 minutes played this past season, he ranked 14th in 5v5 points per game per NaturalStatTrick... 14th! That’s more than Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Elias Pettersson, etc.
He’s had to do most of his work at even strength because he really hasn’t gotten as much of a shot on the power play as the rest of the first and second line players. He’s fifth among forwards on the team in power-play ice time, but that’s with less than two minutes per game compared to well over three minutes for the guys ahead of him. Considering the fact that the team’s extra-man crew struggled all season with their zone entries, that seems like an area in which Vrana could be helpful. We’ll see what the new coaching staff decides to do with him.
Vrana is a future 30-goal scorer with the potential to hit 80 points a season - but to do that, he’ll need to up the ice time and get a little more consistent. The Caps would be smart to sign him to a long contract now before he has one of those seasons, as he’s about to enter the final year of a cap-friendly bridge contract and could command double what he’s making. Regardless, he’s got sky-high potential and could be poised for a breakout season... if given the chance to do so. Stay tuned.