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Washington Capitals’ Prospect Final Season Grades

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With most developmental leagues shutting down for the year, one last look at the Caps’ prospect pool.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Due to the ongoing pandemic, almost every hockey league around the world has shut down operations for the year - so it’s time to hand out some early end-of-year grades for the Caps’ prospects! Each grade takes into account what was expected of the individual prospect and what they did with the time given to them. “B” being doing exactly what they were expected to do.

AHL - Hershey Bears

The AHL, like the NHL, has suspended their season, which is a shame because the Bears were one of the best teams in the league; as things stand, they are the third-best team in terms of point percentage. They’d also allowed the third-fewest goals and had the second best penalty kill. Offensively they were a bit more mediocre, sitting just above the middle of the pack in goals scored and boasting a power play ranked 23rd overall - but a lot of that can be traced to having lost two of their better offensive players in Joe Snively and Mike Sgarbossa for over a month. They also just acquired Daniel Sprong who was a huge boost offensively.

Hopefully the AHL at least plays the playoffs because the Bears have a great team that can compete for the title.

Daniel Sprong RW
Season: 44GP 12G 21A

There’s plenty to read about Sprong here, and you can probably tell that I’m a big fan of him. In his five games with the bears he scored six points, all primary. He fast, has a great offensive mind, and a top end shot.

Outlook: In my opinion, he’s a top nine NHL forward right now. Think he could do wonders in the NHL, he could be the new Brett Connolly for the Capitals. Issue is he isn’t waiver exempt, meaning next year if he’s sent down at the beginning of the year he could get claimed. It’s why the Bears getting back onto the ice is so important, the Capitals need more time to look at him. He’ll also have pre-season to show off next season IF they have it. Could see a scenario where this season gets pushed so far into the summer the pre-season for 2020 could get cancelled.

Grade: A (for the Bears)

Alexander Alexeyev LHD
Season: 58GP 3G 18A

Alexeyev had a strong rookie season. He didn’t blow the doors off and that’s okay. He never looked out of place and that speaks volumes. He ended up 11th in rookie scoring but it’s important to note he didn’t get top unit power play time which would have boosted his numbers. He was a great PP quarterback in Juniors. He’s big, smart, two-way player that can play in all situations. He’s like a bigger Orlov.

Outlook: The big Russian still looks like he’ll be a strong two way top four defensemen in the NHL. He just needs to stay healthy, which has been his biggest negative. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get NHL games next season.

Grade: B+

Axel Jonsson Fjallby LW
Season: 61GP 12G 11A

After skipping out on the AHL last season to return to Sweden, Fjallby stuck around this season, only missing one game total. He’s proven to be a buzzsaw player that’s great defensively, especially on the penalty kill, and has some skill to dish out offensively. His speed is top end and creates a lot of chances.

Outlook: Fjallby looks like he’ll be a very good bottom six winger that will thrive on the penalty kill, much like where Carl Hagelin is now in his career. He probably doesn’t have much else to learn in Hershey but one more year in the AHL couldn’t hurt.

Grade: B

Brian Pinho C/W
Season: 62GP 20G 17A

What a season Pinho had. After only putting up 12 points in 73 games last year, Pinho smashed that number with 25 more points in 11 less games. It was good for fourth on the team, but first among the young kids after the vets (Mike Sgarbossa, Matt Moulson, Phillip Maillet). He was utilized at both center and wing up and down the lineup, so the fact he put up solid numbers without much consistency says a lot.

Outlook: Even with the good year it’s hard to tell where Pinho fits in at the NHL level. If he makes the NHL than fourth line center makes sense, maybe a long shot he could be a third liner, but probably unlikely. He’ll be 25 in May so his time is just about up. He needs to really impress the Caps next season to earn a spot.

Grade: B+

Beck Malenstyn RW
Season: 46GP 7G 8A

Malenstyn had a fine season as a bottom six forward for the Bears. He was one point shy of last year’s totals in 28 less games. It would be nice to see him in a role to show off his offense a bit more, he did hit 30 goals in juniors. Maybe next season he’ll get a chance. He did get three games with the Capitals this season but you can tell he needs more cooking.

Outlook: Malenstyn has been known as the Tom Wilson for the Bears. He’s big at 6’2” and nearly 200 pounds, he’s fast, and he hits like a train. He doesn’t have the offensive skills as Wilson, but could easily see him being an impact fourth line winger for the Caps at some point.

Grade: B

Liam O’Brien LW
Season: 59GP 10G 19A

O’Brien was on pace for his best professional season ever before it was cut short. He got a good chunk of top six time and did well with it. He’s usually just scoring goals so it was good to see him spread out the wealth when playing with better talent.

Outlook: O’Brien will be 26 this summer and hasn’t cracked the NHL lineup consistently yet. It’s doubtful he’ll ever be a full time NHL player, at least for the Capitals. He’s probably a lifetime tweener.

Grade: B

Martin Fehervary LHD
Season: 56GP 4G 10A

Fehervary had a very good rookie season in North America. He didn’t look out of place at all, even at the NHL level when he started in six games in Washington. The kid is so smart and has the wheels to execute his plays. He also has a great physical game and can chip in offensively. The only smudge on his game this season is he went scoreless in his last 16 games. But the 14 points in his first 40 games is a better sample size. He also played on the right side quite a bit, which makes one think they might be grooming him to play on the right side in Washington next season if needed.

Outlook: Fehervary looks like he’ll be a strong top four, smooth skating shut down defensemen at the NHL level. He’s a good mix between Jonas Siegenthaler and Alexeyev; he might not be as good defensively as Jonas or as offensively potent as Alexeyev, but he isn’t far off from either. He’s NHL ready now and could easily be a starter for the Capitals next season.

Grade: B+

Garrett Pilon C
Season: 61GP 18G 18A

Pilon, like the rest of the Bears, had a really slow start to the season. After only scoring 4 points in the first 16 games he rattled off 32 points the last 45 games (and that includes going scoreless in the last three games). He played both center and wing in top nine but probably played his most games on the second line winger. He’s been getting better at both ends of the ice and really finding his game. He’s smart, has great vision, and a deadly shot from in close.

Outlook: Pilon still has middle six NHL potential. Next season will be really telling for him. He needs to cement himself in top six for Hershey and really put up some points to prove his worth it.

Grade: B+

Joe Snively LW
Season: 45GP 12G 12A

Like Pilon, Snively had a slow start to the season, just two points in the first 15 games but 22 his last 30. He also was out almost a month due to injury and had a slow start coming back from that, just two points in seven games. But when he was in the lineup most the time he was getting top six and top powerplay time, which is a great sign.

Outlook: Snively was a college free agent and those players rarely turn into anything but there’s something there to Snively’s game. He’s small but very quick and tenacious, and he has a hell of shot. The issue is he just turned 24 a couple months ago so he doesn’t have much time. He needs to have an amazing year next season if he wants a chance with the Capitals. They have a lot of young forward talent coming up and not much room.

Grade: B

Shane Gersich LW
Season: 54GP 10G 8A

I’ll be the first to admit I was hyped on Gersich after his breakout sophomore season but so far he hasn’t panned out. His rookie year in the AHL was okay not great with 24 points in 66 games, but he scored six less points in 12 less games this season. Gersich has great speed and a shot he doesn’t use enough, but he hasn’t put it all together like many hoped.

Outlook: At this rate, maybe a fourth liner, but guys like Fjalby and Malenstyn could beat him out for that position. Next year is his final season to show off, because if not then there certainly won’t be a future with the Capitals. He needs to show up big time and blow everyone away.

Grade: C

Lucas Johansen LHD
Season: 9GP 0G 2A

Oh, Lucas Johansen. Johansen had a very good rookie defenseman season in the AHL two years ago with 27 points in 74 games, but since then he’s only played 54 of the possible 138 games due to three different injuries. In my opinion, there’s not a more important development timeframe than the AHL, it’s crucial young players get time there. Johansen has missed a crucial amount of time so it’s hard to not think Lucas may never recover.

Outlook: Once projected to be a smooth skating, two way defensemen with top four ability, it’s now hard to see Johansen making the NHL at all. He needs to be 100% healthy next season and grab a top pair position with the Bears and not let go. Even then the issue is Alexeyev, Fehervary, Siegenthaler, and possibly Bobby Nardella have all passed him on the depth chart. So even if he does turn his career around it’s hard to see him playing for the Capitals. Best bet is he kills it next season then the Capitals ship him off for a good return.

Grade: C

Connor Hobbs RHD
Season: 16GP 1G 1A

Hobbs, like Johansen, had a lot of promise but injuries have been holding him back. In his three AHL seasons he has played just 119 of the possible 214 games, and that doesn’t include if this AHL season went a full season because he was out with a shoulder injury no matter what. So it could have been 119 games out of the possible 228 games. But whether it was the injuries or something else, Hobbs looked like he just wasn’t adapting to the pro game all that well.

Outlook: Once looked as a possibly good second pair offensive defensemen, it’s highly unlikely that happens now. It would be interesting to see if the Capitals move him to wing, which he did a lot in Junior hockey. Maybe less responsibility will let him show off his offensive skill. Issue is Caps need right handed defensemen right now more than any other position, they don’t need more depth wingers.

Grade: C

Brett Leason RW
Season: 50GP 3G 11A

The way Leason was “developed” by the Bears doesn’t seem to be in his best interest so far. He was given a lot of bottom six, fourth line time, with no special team time. That really doesn’t help develop young players. The good news is Leason is a fighter, every time it looked like his hockey career was going to end he worked over the summer and adapted his game to take it to a new level. Hopefully he’ll take this poor season to heart and work on what he must to be a legit player in the AHL next season.

Outlook: There’s still a good middle six winger in Leason at the NHL level. He has high hockey IQ, work ethic, and a hell of a shot. He just needs to make sure he comes out next season playing in a way that the coaching staff can’t keep him in the bottom six.

Grade: B-

Bobby Nardella LHD
Season: 41GP 4G 27A

What a rookie season Nardella had. He tied for 19th most points among defensemen, but seventh in points per game among those who played at least 30 games. And among rookie defensemen he was fourth in scoring but second in points per game among those who played at least 30 games. Only 15 of his points were even strength, which isn’t bad because points are points, but going forward it would be good to see him use his offensive abilities at 5v5. It’s important to remember the Bears over all are a very mediocre offensively coached team so it could just be the environment as well.

But what’s so impressive about Nardella’s season is he played all of three games the first two months (and scored three points), but he kept it up, didn’t let that hold him down and when he got a chance made the most of it. That’s a great character trait to have in a player.

Outlook: Usually college free agents are nothing, but Nardella is certainly off to a good start. He needs to get stronger and work on his defensive game, but he’s shown flashes of an offensive defenemen at the NHL level. Right now, it’s probably just third pairing, but next season we’ll get a better picture at what he can bring at the next level.

Grade: A

Colby Williams RHD
Season: 31GP 0G 6A

Williams is Williams. He’s a steady leader but brings little offense or much else to his game. The only good news for him is he’s right handed.

Outlook: Probably a AHL lifer, maybe gets a few call ups to the NHL.

Grade: B

Vitek Vanecek G
Season: 31GP .917sv%

Vanecek had his best season yet in the AHL. With Bears playing so poorly the first couple months both Bears goalies took a beating, but Vanecek bounced back very well. He was voted into and took home the MVP for the All Star game. There isn’t much Vanecek can prove at the AHL level anymore. It’s time Capitals give him some ice time and with his contract going into a one-way deal next season they’ll have to unless they want to take a chance losing him on waivers.

Outlook: Vanecek definitely has NHL ability. He’s incredibly athletic and never gives up on the play. Think at the very least he should make a good backup, which we all know is incredibly important in this league. It will be interesting to see if Caps play it safe next season and get a vet to play behind Ilya Samsonov or give Vanecek a chance. Hopefully it’s the latter.

Grade: B+

Riley Sutter C/RW
Season: 25GP 1G 3A

Sutter missed over the first month of the season on injured reserve. Once he got in he settled on the fourth line, both center and wing. It’s just unfortunate there were so many players ahead of him, it would have been nice to see him get a little top six time to see what he can do. He’s a big boy that brings that Sutter family style of good defensive play, though he has some offense to bring too.

Outlook: It’s safe to assume Sutter has bottom-six upside. He was solid enough last year in Juniors to think he had a chance to become a good third liner, although obviously that took a hit with just 25 games played last year. But he’s still young, only 20, so plenty of time to still develop.

Grade: B-

Kody Clark RW
Season: 31GP 3G 9A

The Clark pick for the Capitals in 2018 was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time, especially with a slew of better players available there in the second round (Akil Thomas, Kiril Marchenko, Filip Hallander, etc.). That first impression wasn’t changed much by this season with the Bears. Like Sutter, Clark spent over the first month on injured reserve. When he did get into the lineup he was used in the bottom six, mainly the fourth line, so can’t blame him too much.

Outlook: There’s a chance that Clark can turn into a goal-scoring third liner, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Grade: B-

ECHL - South Carolina Stingrays

Krisofers Bindulis LHD
Season: 50GP 6G 17A

There isn’t too much to say about Bindulis. He’s a left handed defensemen in an organization stacked with left handed defensemen. He’s 24 in the ECHL. Hard to see him breaking up higher in the ranks.

Outlook: Hard to see him becoming much of anything. The best case scenario, the 1% chance, is maybe a number six defensemen at the NHL level but doubt that ever happens.

Grade: B-

Europe

Damien Riat RW (NLA)
Season: 36GP 11G 11A

Riat had a good final season in the NLA even though he missed at least a month due to an injury. The good news is he signed a two year entry level contract (ELC) with the Capitals, squashing any concerns about him never making the jump to North America. He’ll most likely join the Bears and will hopefully get cemented into the top six. He’s been playing against men for years and won’t benefit from bottom six and no special teams time in the AHL. He’s a feisty player with a shoot first mentality. He doesn’t mind fighting his way to the slot to rip his shots.

Outlook: Riat might be the most underrated Capitals prospect as he’s been hidden away in the NLA for awhile. There’s a legit middle six scoring winger at the NHL level, but it really depends on how quick he develops. He just turned 23 so doesn’t have long to adjust to North America, impress in Hershey, then carve his spot at the NHL level. It will be difficult but doable.

Grade: A

Sebastion Walfridsson LHD (Allsvenskan)
Season: 52GP 2G 6A

Not much to say about Walfridsson. He’s a defensive defensemen playing in Sweden. He still hasn’t played in the SHL (he’s been playing the league below) so not really worth discussing until he gets there and proves his worth.

Outlook: Like Bindulis, Warlfridsson is a left handed defensemen in a system stacked with great left handed defensemen. It’s hard to see him ever playing on the Capitals, at least any time soon. If he does make the NHL it will be as a bottom pairing player most likely. But until he plays in the SHL it will be hard to project.

Grade: B

Kristian Roykas Marthinsen LW (Division 1)
Season: 40GP 7G 5A

Kristian was my favorite dark horse prospect for a couple years. He’s a pure shooter, doesn’t pass too much, which is something the Capitals always need. Roykas made the jump to North America for the 2018-2019 WHL season, which was great for his development, but then went back to Europe to play in the third tier hockey league in Sweden last year. He was fine but without knowing how he was used or the minutes he played, it’s hard to take away much besides his low output.

Outlook: Like Walfridsson, Kristian needs to make it to the SHL before really projecting what he could be. Right now, it’s not looking great. Roykas is only 20, so there’s still time, but would like him to make the jump sooner rather than later.

Grade: B-

Tobias Geisser LHD (NLA)
Season: 25GP 0G 2A

Geisser was sent from the AHL to the NLA due to overcrowding on the blue line in Hershey, which is better for his development. He’s a very mobile defensive defensemen with absolutely zero offensive abilities

Outlook: Like Bindulis and Walfridsson, Tobias is stuck in behind a lot of great left handers. It’s hard to see him making his way to DC.

Grade: B

CHL - OHL, WHL

Connor McMichael C (OHL)
Season: 52GP 47G 55A

If you haven’t heard about McMichael then you must have had your head under a rock the whole season. No one knew this 25th overall pick last summer would end up being such a dominant force. For most the season he was wrecking the OHL more than any other player but after a sub par February his numbers lowered quite a bit. Still, he finished strong over all. This is where McMichael finished in the OHL this season as well among first year drafted players (D+1).

Points: 3rd / 1st
Points Per Game: 2nd / 1st
Primary Points Per Game: 2nd / 1st
Even Strength Primary Points Per Game: 4th / 1st
Even Strength Primary Points Per 60: 5th / 2nd
Shots Per Game: 2nd / 2nd
Goals: 3rd / 2nd

If it wasn’t for his rough February he probably would have been top two in all of those categories. And if he had more dynamic players around him his points would have really soared. McMichael had 26 more points than the second placed player on his team, which was a defensemen, Ryan Merkley. And that was with playing eight less games than Merkley. If he played those eight games McMichael would be around 40 more points than the rest of his team. This means he wasn’t relying on any one player, he was really driving his team, which is very promising.

Outlook: Originally, McMichael was looking like a good middle six player but now it’s hard not to peg him as a legit top six player, maybe even top line. He’s an offensive juggernaut that has an elite shot and good vision; he isn’t too shabby defensively either. It’s hard to see a world where he isn’t on the Capitals roster next season IF they can find top nine room for him. Would be a waste to have him on the fourth line or scratched. It’s also a question of where he’ll slot as a winger or center. Preferably it would be nice for him to stay at center, as top six centers are very tough to come by, but he’ll probably break into the NHL as a winger like so many younger players do. He has 30 goal potential in the NHL and he’ll be a big part in trying to keep the window open longer.

Grade: A

Alexei Protas C (WHL)
Season: 58GP 31G 49A

Like McMichael, Protas was absolutely dominant during the season but had a really bad month (January) that really hurt his numbers. In one 17 game span he had just 12 points, which isn’t terrible but for Protas it was. That means in the rest of 41 games he put up 68 points. That was the Protas we were used to for three months. Still this is how he finished the WHL season among the whole league and D+1 players:

Points: 9th / 3rd
Even Strength Primary Points Per Game: 5th / 3rd
Primary Points Per Game: 6th / 4th
Primary Points Per 60 Minutes: 10th / 4th

Not crazy dominant but when you consider he was third round pick last summer, that’s some amazing value. He also led his team by 10 points even though he played six games less than the second ranked player on his team. So like McMichael he wasn’t getting too much help from his team.

Outlook: When Protas was first drafted he was looking like a good bottom six center, but now it’s looking like the Capitals landed a really good middle six center. He looks like a Lars Eller type player: a great two-way third line center that can jump up to your second line when needed, though probably shouldn’t stay there. BUT it would not be surprising if he morphed into a steady second line center. He’s a unicorn. It’s hard to think of another center (6’6” 205lbs) with his size and vision currently in the NHL. The closest is maybe the Dainius Zubrus who retired 5 years ago. If Protas can pan out for the Capitals they’d have something pretty special on their hands. He just needs to work on his skating to take that next big step.

Grade: A

Eric Florchuk C (WHL)
Season: 58GP 21G 36A

Florchuk looked like he was going to finish another mediocre WHL season but after he was traded to the Vancouver Giants he really found his place as a second line center. He put up 33 points in 25 to finish the season after putting up just 24 points in the 33 games prior with the Kamloops Blazers. It will be interesting to see if the Capitals want Florchuk to go to the Bears or go back to the WHL for one final season. With all the young players already on the Bears it would probably be best to send Eric back to the Giants to get lots of playing time to fine tune his game. He’d probably get buried in the AHL and play half the season in the press box.

Outlook: If Florchuk makes the NHL he’ll be a Chandler Stephenson type player, a Swiss army knife used in all situations in any position. He isn’t particularly strong in any one aspect of the game but can do it all at least decently. But if he never pans out it’s fine, he was literally the last pick in the NHL draft. It’s found money if he turns into anything useful.

Grade: B

Alex Kannok-Leipert RHD (WHL)
Season: 62GP 3G 19A

Alex had a really good season for a defensive defensemen. He was elected captain of his team and is a real leader that works hard and grinds it out, sacrificing everything for his team. He plays extremely physical and smart.

Outlook: Without analytics in Juniors it’s hard to tell if Alex’s defensive abilities are high end or not. Will he be just a defensive defensemen AHL lifer like Tyler Lewington or can he be a real shutdown guy at the NHL level like Jonas Siegenthaler? Time will tell. He has some nice tools, but can’t really predict what he’ll be at this moment. What we do know is it won’t be a high end player, which is fine for a sixth round pick. Getting even a number six defensemen is a win.

Grade: B

Hugo Has RHD (OHL)
Season: 21GP 0G 6A

Hugo had a wild season. He played on five different teams (seven if you include tournaments): three in Finland and two in the OHL. He didn’t play more than 20 games on any two teams. He wasn’t dominant, which is understandable considering all the teams he had to join and conform to. It’s great for his development that he made the leap to North America. It will be huge for him and the Capitals if he stays on this side of the pond to fine tune his game.

Outlook: He’s a raw player but has a lot of great tools including his size, skating, and smarts. Hugo turning into a bottom four player isn’t out of the question. It definitely won’t be any time soon, but he has time to develop.

Grade: B

NCAA

Benton Maass RHD
Season: 34GP 3G 7A

Maass still hasn’t lived up to his Freshman year but he at least had a bounce back season from last year. This season he was getting more top four time and sticking there, which is promising. He’s smallish but has decent speed, physical tools, and a great shot.

Outlook: Too tough to tell right now. He probably won’t turn out, but for a sixth round pick that’s fine. He needs to put together a promising senior year if he wants to stay in the Capitals organization.

Grade: B

Mitchell Gibson G
Season: 23GP .916sv%

Gibson got off to a great start his Freshman year. He hit a little rut towards the end that tanked his numbers but a .916sv% in a Freshman year is pretty good. It was the fourth best Freshman numbers in the NCAA. He’s isn’t the quickest or biggest but he thinks the game really well, reads plays well, and is technically sound.

Outlook: Right now Gibson is looking good but with how voodoo goalies can be it’s impossible to predict how they will turn out. Gibson needs to finish college then get into the AHL before we can really see what he could be.

Grade: B+

All stats provided by Pick 224 and visuals from Dobber Prospect