Before the team hits the ice for the official beginning of camp, we’ve got some more business to take care of — namely counting down the Caps’ top 25 players under the age of 25 (and if you missed our first installment last week, un-miss it here).
Let’s dive right in to the top 10...
10) Brent Johnson, RHD
USHL: 47GP - 11G - 21A
The Skinny: After playing 16U AAA hockey, Brent stepped right into the USHL and thrived as a top pairing player on a pretty bad team (14th out of 15 teams). This is how productive he was in the USHL:
- ES Primary Points/Game: 3rd (1st among first year draft eligible)
- Primary Points/Game: 4th (2nd among first year draft eligible, behind Luke Hughes)
- Total Points/Game: 9th (6th among first year draft eligible)
- Primary Points/60: 4th (2nd among first year draft eligible, again trailing only Luke Hughes)
Most USHL players drafted usually have a year of USHL under their belt before their draft year. For instance, the fourth-overall pick this summer, Luke Hughes, played 28 games in the USHL during the 2019-20 season; Johnson played AAA. That’s a big difference, yet Johnson thrived in his first USHL season. If he’d had a full USHL season before this past season, he probably would have been even better - although had he done so, he may have been drafted earlier and the Caps wouldn’t have been able to select him.
Potential and Comparable: Okay, this is where I get a little bonkers. I absolutely love Johnson and think his ceiling is crazy high, like top pairing high. He has great skating ability and is incredibly smart, it’s his best trait. It allows him to create offense and anticipate the opponents’ next move (anticipation might be his best tool). His vision and passing ability are all high end as well that help put up points. His shot isn’t super hard but is very accurate. Power will come with the stronger he gets.
Strong effort displayed here by Brent Johnson @sfstampede (#6) reading the play, battling hard for the puck, coming out on top with it, then finding an open Cole Sillinger (#34) who makes no mistake! #2021NHLDraft #USHL pic.twitter.com/6cDPUEct3X— Dylan Krill (@dylan_krill) March 21, 2021
A good comparable in terms of style of play may actually be the Rangers’ Adam Fox... not that he will necessarily have the same ceiling as Fox, but the two do play a very similar style of hockey and were pretty darn close in their USHL draft year point stats. See below:
While Johnson was better in even strength primary points per game but a bit behind in the rest of the stats, Fox was getting nearly two more minutes a night. It’s also worth noting Fox had a lot more talent around him when he was drafted from the USHL in 2016. His team included Clayton Keller (2016 seventh overall), Kieffer Bellows (2016 19th overall), Joey Anderson (2016 73rd overall), Trent Federic (2016 29th overall), Ryan Lindgren (2016 49th overall), Josh Norris (2017 19th overall), Quinn Hughes (2018 seventh overall), and Brady Tkachuk (2018 fourth overall). That’s a load of talent for Fox to work it.
By comparison, these are the drafted players Johnson had to work with: Cole Sillinger (2021 12th overall) and Jack Smith (2020 102th overall)... that’s it.
What’s Next: Johnson accepted an offer to got to the University of North Dakota. It isn’t definite that he’ll play there, as he can return to the USHL, but it’s looking like he’s headed off to the NCAA. The only real player of note on the team is Jake Sanderson, the left-handed defensemen selected fifth overall in 2020. This could be good or bad - good if Johnson gets to play with him and they can feed off each other, but the downside would be that Sanderson could take away minutes from Johnson, especially on special teams.
9) Brett Leason, RW, 22yo, 6’5” 225lbs (Previously Ranked 16th)
AHL: 33GP - 9G - 11A
The Skinny: Leason is a resilient player and that’s why teammates and the organization love him so much. He went undrafted his first two years of eligibility but kept working and getting better before putting up a mammoth D+2 season in the WHL. He went to Hershey the next season and, as is the case for most rookies in Hershey, got very limited minutes putting up 14 points in 50 games. But he worked hard over the summer, then came out and had a very good year (albeit still with limited ice time).
He was on track to put up 30 points in 50 games, which would have doubled his point totals in the same amount of games last season. But he probably would have scored more points than that because he was getting better and better as the season went along. In his last 15 games he scored 13 points. A lot of that can be equated to getting more ice time and the addition of former WHL teammate Alexei Protas.
These guys have absolutely played together before. Protas and Leason connect to even the score at one! pic.twitter.com/Y3vOJRJ8JI— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) April 17, 2021
Potential and Comparable: Leason is a big kid that possess a very smart hockey brain. He also has an above-average shot and his passing is pretty darn good too. The very first comparable people put on him was Mark Stone: a big player with a high end mind and above average skills. I don’t think Leason will hit Stone’s defensive game, but I think he could be Stone-lite - probably not a top-six player, but perhaps a really good two-way middle-six forward.
But don’t count out Leason, because it seems every time someone does he improves his game and get better. This year in Hershey can tell a lot about his future. He just turned 22, which is still considered young in the hockey world. If he goes off next season he could be more than a third-line player.
What’s Next: The Capitals aren’t in any rush to play Leason with their depth and Leason still has plenty he can learn and improve as a professional in the AHL. It won’t hurt his development at all if he spent one more year in the AHL. He will be playing his third year in Hershey, which should be the year he’ll get legit top six and power play time. If he gets that he could go off next season.
8) Hendrix Lapierre, C, 19yo, 6’0” 181lbs (Previously Ranked 10th)
QMJHL: 21GP - 8G - 23A
The Skinny: Going into his draft year Lapierre was considered a top 10 pick with elite playmaking abilities and good work ethic - but a season of injuries limited him to just 19 games and 17 points. It was disappointing, but because of his down season it allowed the Capitals to snag him in the late first round. The great news is he stayed 100% healthy this past season, which is crucial for someone with a history of head and neck injuries.
His point total was great in its own right last season (31 points in 21 games) but when you consider how inconsistent his schedule and playing position shifted, it’s even more impressive. The QMJHL played in a bubble, so teams alternated between playing a handful of games and sitting out a week. On top of that Lapierre went from playing center to wing, so he had to adjust to playing a new position as well. If he played on a consistent schedule and stayed at center, there’s a good chance his point total would have been even higher.
On réitère notre demande... si vous lisez dans les pensées, on veut vous avoir!— Saguenéens (@SagueneensLHJMQ) October 11, 2020
On aimerait absolument savoir ce qui se passe dans la tête d'Hendrix Lapierre. #FierDetreSags https://t.co/kCm7hhVTbk pic.twitter.com/HWutXv8VSV
Potential and Comparable: More important than our thoughts on Lapierre’s potential is what the Capitals think about his potential, and after they drafted Lapierre, head scout Ross Mahoney noted that he thinks Lapierre could be a first-line center. If the Capitals were able to snag a number one center late in the first round, it will make any type of revamp after the Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era much easier... and don’t forget they also have Connor McMichael and Aleksei Protas waiting in the wings, as well.
There have been comparisons to Patrice Bergeron with Lapierre, but that’s a pretty big weight to lay on Hendrix. A more realistic comparison could be a Ryan Johansen-type, or even Evgeny Kuznetsov: someone with high-end playmaking ability, a pretty good shot that should be used more, good speed, and great hands. Hopefully, Lapierre has a more consistent and better defensive game than both of them and doesn’t have the off-ice issues. By all reports, Lapierre is a great kid with a great work ethic.
What’s Next: In good/bad news situation, Lapierre was traded from Chicoutimi Saguenéens to Acadie-Bathurst Titan. It’s good because this means Lapierre will be moved back to a top line center position and will get a ton of minutes, but the Titan are a bit of an unknown and they may have less talent for Lapierre to play with than he’s used to, after playing with players like Dawson Mercer, Artemi Knyazev, and Louis Crevier on his old team. As of now Acadie-Bathurst only has thee players on their team that have been drafted: a 2nd, 3rd, and 5th rounder. Hopefully Lapierre will get more ice time at center and have talent to play off of. If both those hit, Lapierre has a chance to blow up next season and shoot up this board.
7) Garrett Pilon, C/W, 23yo, 5’11” 187lbs (Previously Ranked 13th)
AHL: 14GP - 4G - 12A
The Skinny: Pilon has probably been the quietest Caps prospect that should be getting more attention. The third round pick has been gradually getting better and better each season he’s played whether in the WHL or AHL. His third year in Hershey finally allowed him to get the top six minutes he deserved and he put up 16 points in 14 games.
For some reason management felt that Pilon would be better off on the Capitals taxi squad where he was for months and eventually got one game for them. Seems like an odd way to use Pilon’s talents who probably would have been better off playing top minutes in Hershey. McMichael probably puts up more points if he got more time with the skilled Pilon.
Potential and Comparable: Pilon is a very skilled, quick center with above average vision and hard, accurate shot in close. He isn’t elite at any one skill but above average at all the offensive skills. He has the makings to become a good middle six forward that at his best can be a 40-50 point getter. Someone who should thrive on the third line but can jump into your top six and your powerplay when needed.
A good comparison is probably a step down from Anthony Beauvillier. Anthony is a legit top six winger, don’t think Pilon is exactly his level but can be the lite version of him. Versatile, quick, good vision, and good release in close. If Caps can get that out of a third round pick then it’s a huge win.
What’s Next: The issue for Pilon is that he’s NHL ready but there’s absolutely no top nine forward positions available for him and when they do open up McMichael will probably get first crack. Pilon also needs to go through waivers. It’s unlikely a team takes a shot on him (though they certainly should) so he will probably end up back in Hershey where he could put up some big numbers. I think it’s more likely you see Pilon packaged by the Capitals in a trade before we see Pilon on a consistent basis dressed in red. He’s NHL ready but the Caps don’t have the room.
6) Martin Fehervary, LHD, 21yo, 6’2” 203lbs (Previously Ranked 5th)
AHL: 24GP - 3G - 14A
The Skinny: I remember I was checking out mock drafts for the Capitals on CapFriendly months before the 2018 draft. A user there projected the Caps would take Fehervary in the second round. Knowing we had a million LHDs already in the system I snarked at it but the user said it’s been reported that Capitals brass have been watching the kid a lot in Sweden. And what do you know, a couple months later they drafted Fehervary. And three years later it’s easy to see why they loved Martin.
Fehervary had a strong season the AHL. He was his usual strong defensive self but what was surprising was he improved offensively. In his first year in Hershey he scored 14 points in 56 games. This season he scored 17 points in just 24 games; that’s 40 points in 56 games, which would have been a 26 point improvement from his freshman year. He tied with Alexander Alexeyev for first in even-strength primary points and primary points per game among all defensemen in the AHL. He was also first in even strength primary points per 60 minutes.
Potential and Comparable: Fehervary is a good sized defensemen (and by the looks of his offseason work out he could be getting even bigger) that has high end speed and a great hockey brain. Adding that all together that makes him a very good defensemen that has top four potential.
The first player that comes to mind when watching Fehervary is a Caps’ fan favorite: Nate Schmidt. Both have incredible skating ability with a brain for the game. I don’t know if Martin has Schmidt’s offensive potential (consisted 30-40+ points) but then again, Fehervary has had a better offensive output in the AHL than what Schmidt did at an older age in the AHL. But Schmidt has also received a good chunk of powerplay time in the NHL with Vegas and Vancouver, don’t know if Fehervary will get that with the Caps. Either way, it doesn’t matter, don’t look for Fehervary to be a huge point producer, his assets is killing opponents’ scoring chances and skating the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone.
What’s Next: By the sound of it, expect Fehervary to make the Caps roster. Nothing is ever guaranteed but General Manager Brian MacLellan loves him and head coach Peter Laviolette will love his skating ability and responsible defensive zone play. With the loss of Branden Dillon a hole opened up for Fehervary to get consistent time so look for him to take advantage of it.