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The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2021-22, Part I

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

In creating this list, we looked at two factors: the player’s potential and the player’s proximity to making it to the NHL. It leans more towards potential but playing well enough to look ready for the NHL is a positive as well. So a player like Axel Jonsson-Fjallby may not have as high a ceiling as Bogdan Trineyev, but Axel has put in the work and looks closer to making the NHL roster and thus is ranked higher.

Also to note that the “Potential and Comparables” section are not predictions on who that player will become, just their ability to reach a certain point in their development and a player they have a similar style to. If I say a player compares to Wayne Gretzky it does not mean they will become Wayne Gretzky. In fact, most players never reach their potential so don’t get up in arms when I make a comparison.

Players that graduated: Shane Gersich, Joe Snively, Bobby Nardella

25) Lucas Johansen (Previously Ranked 23rd)

The Skinny: Since 2006, the Capitals have hit on all of their first round picks (outside of Anton Gustafsson with the 21st pick in 2008). Every first round pick since then has turned into a top six winger, a top three defensemen, or starting goalie, which is a hell of a run. But it looks like Johansen might be a first round miss since 2008 and it technically isn’t the Capitals fault (unless you blame them for not taking Alex DeBrincat like they should have).

Johansen was looking really good through his junior career and the first year in the AHL, but since then he has been severely injured. Over all the last three seasons, of the 171 available games, Johansen played just 59 of them. And over the last two season, of the 95 games he played just 14. Brutal.

Potential and Comparable: Johansen was looking like a legit top four defensemen before his injuries. He is an amazing, smooth skater that can get all over the ice. He isn’t a pure offensive defensemen but does enough he can pitch in and wouldn’t drag anyone down. Now that he’s missed so much development time it’s looking unlikely he’ll hit that potential. There’s still a chance the Capitals can at least extract a good bottom pairing defensemen out of Lucas.

What’s Next: The Capitals must still see something in Johansen because they signed him to a one year contract extension this summer. It’s probably a show me contract. If Johansen can stay healthy and prove he can still play they’ll probably extend him again. If he is a hurt mess again it’s doubtful he’s back with the Capitals next summer.

24) Kody Clark, 21yo, 6’3” 185lbs (Previously Ranked 24th)
AHL: 19GP - 7G - 2A

The Skinny: Clark had a decent year with the Bears while playing on the bottom six. He tied his point total from last season in 12 less games, which is some good progression. He’s a big kid (shocker) that has a nice release that’s due to him using his length to get everything behind his shot.

I’ll always be down on Clark due to the fact I thought there were a handful of really good players available when Capitals selected Clark. He has a lot of prove to show he was the right choice in the second round in 2018.

Potential and Comparable: If Clark makes it at the NHL level it’s probably one thing: a goal scoring third liner. He doesn’t have the skill to be top six and probably won’t fit too well on the fourth line, though he does have some edge to his game.

What’s Next: Clark will be in Hershey for probably the next couple seasons. It’s hard to see him pushing other top six wingers out of their spots so he’ll most likely be in the bottom six again. He also needs to stay healthy. In his first two seasons he’s had injuries that have kept him out longer term.

23) Damien Riat, LW/RW, 24yo, 6’0” 181lbs (Previously Ranked 12th)
AHL: 33GP - 3G - 6A

The Skinny: Riat finally made his jump over to North America last season but it didn’t go exactly as planned. Some of that could be the time on ice (12th among forwards at even strength time), but you’d still like to maybe see a little bit more from him, especially since he played so much with Connor McMichael. He played well in Switzerland through out his professional career there and since he’s 24 with his first year in the AHL the expectations were higher.

Riat is a speedy winger with some edge to his game. He has a great shot as well that he takes advantage of anytime he’s in the slot. He’s also reliable defensively that can play on the penalty kill.

Potential and Comparable: I always saw a lot of the Kevin Labanc in Riat, but Labanc went through Canadian juniors then got into the AHL at the age of 20. That’s a lot of time to develop into the North American game, Riat didn’t get to North America until he was 23/24. Labanc has thrived now into a top six NHL forward and Riat didn’t produce much in the AHL, so doubtful he reaches that comparable.

What’s Next: Originally, Riat said he was going to give North America two years to see if he can play here but it was recently announced that he is going back to Switzerland, which is why he is so low on this list. That’s an issue for sure. It would have been much better if he stayed in Hershey, but if they weren’t going to promise him more minutes it’s understandable as to why he went back home. There’s still a small chance he comes back but hard to see unless Caps make room for him. If he absolutely tears up the NL next season then it’s a pretty good guess the Caps would give him a chance. If it’s just a mediocre season it’s a good bet he won’t be back in North America again.

22) Bear Hughes, C, 20yo, 6’1” 165lbs (Previously Unranked)
USHL: 35GP - 9G - 15A

The Skinny: Hughes hockey road has been an interesting one. Through pure hard work he forced his way into the WHL on a tryout (thanks to Stanley Cup winner Tyler Johnson vouching for him) and made the team after his draft year. He played rec league hockey until he was 16... that’s wild. The Capitals took a swing on him in the fifth round. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done in the WHL this past season but due to COVID he played in the USHL where he slotted in as their second line center.

Bear isn’t great at any one thing but his hard work is noticeable. He’s in every scrum, every board battle, and found in front of the net taking a beating. You can put him on powerplay and penalty and trust he’ll make the right choices.

Potential and Comparable: A player that reminds me of Hughes is Jay Beagle. That guy who will work his tail off every shift and do whatever is asked of him. A player that teammates and coach will love. I do think he has more offensive upside than Beagle though, but don’t know if he’ll ever break into the top six at the NHL level. That being said, Hughes didn’t take hockey seriously until he was 16 so maybe he has more to show. He’s a player that could shoot up this list next summer.

What’s Next: Most likely Hughes will go back to the WHL for one more season before making his way to the Hershey Bears, who are perfectly named for him.

21) Riley Sutter, C/W, 6’4” 207lbs (Previously Ranked 25th)
AHL: 25GP - 0G - 9A

The Skinny: Sutter had a good season for the Bears, more than doubling up his point totals from the previous season in the same amount of games. I know the numbers aren’t huge but he rarely plays off the fourth line for the Bears, like a lot of Freshman and Sophomore players in Hershey.

Sutter (like a lot kids on this list) is a big boy that have some good skating ability. He comes from that Sutter bloodline so you know his game is strong and responsible, that’s where his positive traits come from. He won’t wow you but you can trust him when you put him out there.

Potential and Comparable: The floor isn’t super high but he can turn into a reliable bottom six player that can play center or wing, much like the Capitals just saw with Michael Raffl when he joined them at the trade deadline. It’s not sexy but those players are needed.

What’s Next: There’s no rush to bring Sutter up to the NHL. Let him get stronger and try to round out his offensive game in the pros then bring him up when he’s needed. He’s one of the few on this list that could go up to the Capitals and learn a lot from just practicing with the squad and not hinder his development, so maybe he gets a call up this season.

20) Martin Hugo Has, RHD, 20yo, 6’4” 207lbs (Previously Ranked 21st)
Czech2: 4GP - 0G - 1A

The Skinny: Hugo has had a crazy two seasons. For the 2019-2020 season he played in FOUR different leagues, FIVE different teams, and was in two tournaments, for a total of 41 league and 21 tournament games played. But this last season he played on just one team for four games, and then two different tournament teams for 14 games. So he went from lots of teams and 62 played games to just a couple teams and just 18 games.

He was supposed to play a full year in the OHL, which would have done wonders for him but instead he played four game in a low Czech league. Hopefully, he decides to stick in North America to develop his game because he has some nice upside.

Potential and Comparable: Martin is a big kid that has some good skating abilities. Points should never be what he’s expected to bring but he has a nice two way game. The hope was to see his real potential by now but with his last two years being so crazy it’s hard to tell.

Again, it’s hard to come up with a comparable with the last two years being murky, but I always thought he had some Scott Mayfield in him. Big body that can skate well enough and help out at both ends. Next season should paint a more clear picture.

What’s Next: The hope is Hugo goes back to the OHL to develop his game more. It would be a much better choice for his overall game if he went there than return to some Czech league.

19) Oskar Magnusson, 19yo, 5’10” 165lbs (Previously Ranked 18th)
J20 Nationell: 12GP - 3G - 6A
SHL: 8GP - 0G - 0A
HockeyEttan: 24GP - 6G - 7A

The Skinny: Oskar didn’t tear it up as I was hoping but it could also be to the fact he played across three different leagues last season during COVID, which can never be easy. He did get eight games in the SHL (third best league in the world) as a 18 year old, which is a good sign. He’s small but packs a good offensive package. He thinks the game very well and knows how to find lanes. Would be good for him to punch into the middle of the ice a bit more.

Potential and Comparable: Oskar certainly has top six skill set, but he has to cook longer and develop his raw abilities before he can get there. He is just 19 years old so he has time to work on his game and prove his worth over in Sweden.

What’s Next: Looks like for now that Oskar is destined for the HockeyAllsvenskan league, which is essentially their AHL. Hopefully he proves his worth and get SHL time again. It’s not until he’s playing in the SHL, that we will we really know what he can be.

18) Beck Malenstyn, LW, 23yo, 6’2” 198lbs (Previously Ranked 17th)

The Skinny: Down in Hershey, Malenstyn is known as their Tom Wilson. He’s a big physical, strong, fast forward that throws his weight around for some big, bone shattering hits. He doesn’t have offense ability that Wilson has but he puts himself in good position in front of the net and has a good shot (30 goal scorer in the WHL) he can capitalize on his chances.

Malenstyn was looking like he was going to make the Capitals roster this past season (which would have put him much higher on this list) but an unfortunate achilles injury had him miss the whole season. It would have been interesting to see if he made the roster and how many game he would have gotten if he stayed healthy.

Potential and Comparable: Malenstyn’s ceiling isn’t crazy high but he could certainly be a really effective fourth liner that every team needs. When watching this years Stanley Cup playoffs, a player named Ross Colton looked a lot like the way Malenstyn plays. Imagine having Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Malenstyn as your fourth line wingers. Two speedsters that play with a lot of grit and physicality, and have some nice offensive skills that can help pitch in goals at even strength and on the penalty kill.

What’s Next: With how close Malenstyn was to making the Capitals roster last season, they’d probably want him to play in Hershey for awhile first to make sure he’s in shape and gets ready to play in the NHL.

17) Hakon Hanelt, C/W/D
6’0” 183lbs
DEL: 22GP - 1G - 0A

The Skinny: The stats for Hakon certainly aren’t eye popping, just one goal in 22 games, but context is everything. First, Hakon was 17 years old when he played this past season (birthday June 1st). Second, it was against men in Germany’s top league. Third, he was playing very limited minutes while playing just on the fourth line. Fourth, he missed the World Juniors due to injury. Adding that all together it was understandable while his stats were not spectacular, but it also helps see as to why Caps took a shot on him: there’s a ton of upside.

Hakon is a shifty player that’s very versatile; yes, he’s even listed as a defensemen. He’s on the smaller side but he has no problem going below the line to retrieve the puck. He has speed and a great offensive toolkit, whose biggest asset is his vision. His hands are quick and protects the puck really well for someone his size.

Potential and Comparable: Too early to tell what Hakon can potentially do but he has a top six skill set. He’s raw and has years of development ahead of him to prove what he can do but there’s something more there for sure.

What’s Next: Hakon will be headed over to the QMJHL next season, which is great news. This means he’ll be going from playing fourth line minutes against men in Germany to kids his own age. It’s unknown at this moment what kind of time he’ll receive in the QMJHL but if his team can give him top six minutes and surround him with talent, he has the potential to absolutely explode offensively and move up this list. He has all the ability to end up being a huge steal for the Capitals.

16) Tobias Geisser, LHD (Previously Unranked)
6’4” 201lbs
NL: 50GP - 5G - 17A

The Skinny: I don’t know what got into Geisser offensively last season but he took a huge jump offensively in 2020. In the National League in 2019-2020 he scored two points in 25 games. In double the amount of games this season he scored 21 more points. That’s quite a jump.

But as good as those stats are, Geisser should not be considered an offensive weapon. He’s a big boy that has great speed for his size. Defense is more his game. He uses that speed and size to end opponents efforts in the defensive zone.

Potential and Comparable: A good comparable is our very own (and gone to soon) Jonas Siegenthaler. They are both Swiss defensemen with good size and speed that focus on the defensive side of the game. I don’t know if Geisser will meet Siegenthaler’s potential of being a strong top four defensive defensemen in the NHL but maybe Caps could get the lite version of Jonas and Geisser could be a defensively reliable defensive defensive that can play on the bottom four.

What’s Next: Geisser was on loan to the Swiss National League these past two seasons because there wasn’t enough room or time in Hershey. As of now, that could still be the case with Alexander Alexeyev, Bobby Nardella, Lucas Johansen, and Eddie Witchow all on the left side. It’s doubtful that Geisser would beat out Alexeyev or Nardella, but maybe could push past Johansen and Witchow. If he can’t find the time in Hershey he’d probably head back to the NL.

15) Mitchell Gibson, G, 22yo, 6’1” 187lbs (Previously Ranked 24th)

The Skinny: Gibson would probably been much higher up on this list (maybe top 10) if he played last season but due to COVID he wasn’t able to play anywhere. The year before he had a strong Freshman season at Harvard University. It would have been nice to see his Sophomore season.

Potential and Comparable: Goalies are voodoo but Gibson has a nice blend of tools. He isn’t the biggest but is really smart and makes the saves he needs to and has speed to him to make the highlight reel save.

What’s Next: Gibson is going back to Harvard for his Sophomore season and hopefully isn’t too rusty!

14) Bogdan Trineyev, 19yo, 6’3” 190lbs (Previously Ranked 19th)
MHL: 33GP - 15G - 15A
VHL: 22GP - 1G -1A
KHL: 3GP - 0G - 0A

The Skinny: Bogdan had a whirlwind year where he played 58 games across three different leagues: the MHL (Russian juniors), the VHL (Russian AHL) and the KHL (Russian NHL). He didn’t necessarily light up any single one of them but it’s a good sign that the VHL and KHL gave him time as a 18/19 year old. That means the coach likes what they see in Bogdan, and it’s understandable as to why.

Trineyev (like a lot of Capitals pick the last 5 or so years) is big and will only get bigger. He plays a physical game that will get nastier the strong he gets, but he isn’t just a meathead. He has some very good offensive skill sets as well. He finds his teammates easily and quickly in the offensive zone and uses his frame properly when in front of the net. His hands are also slippery, deaking both defensemen and goalies, so when you mix that with his size he can be scary.

Potential and Comparable: It’s so hard to forecast Russian players, especially those in the MHL as the league is very wild. There are teams in the league that just dominate and some that are just straight garbage. Right now, he looks like a solid middle six winger but again, more time is needed to really project him. He’s extremely raw but there’s something there where he could possible be more.

From what I’ve seen he kind of reminds of Warren Foegele, who we know has been a huge pest to the Capitals over the years. Nothing crazy elite about him but plays a good north south game with physicality and has the offensive capabilities to be more than a passenger on a line.

What’s Next: Trineyev will probably make the VHL team next season and hopefully the KHL soon after. It’s once he’s in the KHL that we will really be able to tell what he’s capable of. If he continues to refine his game while getting bigger, the Capitals could be getting a nice complementary piece down the road.

13) Vincent Iorio, RHD
6’3” 194lbs
WHL: 22GP - 5G - 7A

The Skinny: Iorio is a defensemen with a lot of intriguing tools. He’s big with a great brain for the game. He isn’t the fastest skater but once he gets going he’s hard to stop. His first pass out of the zone is accurate no matter the distance. His offensive skill set isn’t super high end but since he’s so good defensively anything average offensively is a huge plus.

He had a good year in the WHL playing on the pair behind Braden Schneider so he wasn’t getting those big minutes. He isn’t a pure offensive defensemen so it isn’t worth digging too far into it but his defensive transition game is so strong it’s no wonder why he was a second round pick.

Potential and Comparable: The first player that comes to mind when watching Iorio is Alexander Alexeyev. They play the almost the exact same way: they’re both very strong two way defensemen that might not be elite at one thing but very good at just about everything. Looking under a microscope you could probably say Alexeyev is slightly better offensively and Iorio is slightly better defensively, but that’s getting picky.

With the Alexeyev comparison I think Iorio can certainly become a top four defensemen. The only question that gets raised is Iorio’s size and age. He is on the older side and quite big, so maybe he only looks good at the WHL level is because he’s older and bigger, which could maybe be the case, but it’s hard to ignore how good his decision making is when his age and size aren’t playing a factor.

What’s Next: Iorio is going back for one more WHL season before moving to the AHL. He has the potential to really go off offensively next season. Not only will he be a seasoned vet and that’s been improving his game, but the guy that was sucking all the minutes in front of him, Braden Schneider (19th overall in 2020), will be headed off to the AHL, leaving Iorio with all the powerplay, penalty kill, and even strength time. With all that extra time Iorio could be one the higher scoring defensemen in the WHL, while still being one of, if not the best, defensively reliable defensemen.

12) Garin Bjorklund, G (Previously Unranked)
6’2” 179lbs
WHL: 18GP - .921sv% - 2.60GAA

The Skinny: Bjorklund had a slow start to the season but finished strong to have the third best save percentage in the WHL. He also faced the second most shots, but the player that faced the most shots played four more games and it was only by 61, so Garin would have probably faced the most if he played more games. His play caught the eye of team Canada who invited him to the World Juniors camp over the summer. It does not mean he’ll make the team, in fact he probably won’t unless he has a stellar start to the upcoming season. He certainly has that potential but he’ll need to actually do it to beat out numerous other top end Canadian goalies.

Potential and Comparable: Like I said earlier, goalie are voodoo and it’s hard to determine anything in this COVID scheduling. He’s big, quick, and never gives up on a play; things are looking good so far but he needs more playing time to determine what he’s capable of. What we do know are the Caps are top tier at drafting goalies so he’s worth keeping an eye on, like all Cap goaltenders.

What’s Next: Garin will be the starting goaltender for the Medicine Hat Tigers for the upcoming WHL season. Hopefully he’ll kill it and we’ll be able to watch him at World Juniors around Christmas time.

11) Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, LW, 23yo, 6’0” 185lbs (Previously Ranked 15th)
AHL: 31GP - 10G - 5A

The Skinny: Fjallby has been a fan favorite for quite some time now. It’s his buzz saw style of play with blazing speed that makes him so appealing. And, of course, the hair. He’s been improving his game every season in the AHL and was on pace for a career high in points this season. He’s one of those interesting players where he has more goals than assists over his career with the Bears: 24 goals and 17 assists. He was on pace for 25 goals over a full 76 AHL game season. It’s not too surprising since his speed gets him quite a few breakaways and odd man rushes where he can capitalize with his wicked wrister.

When he played in the SHL he was known as a clutch playoff performer. In his last two seasons in the SHL, he played 30 playoff games, scored 13 goals and 20 points (0.67 pts/game), while during the regular season he played 78 games with just eight goals and 26 points (0.33 pts/game). The point totals shouldn’t worry you too much since he consistently kept getting the least amount of minutes among forwards on his team. Unfortunately he hasn’t played in a playoff game for Hershey just yet due to the pandemic cancelling the playoffs the last two years, so we don’t know if that clutch play will carry over to North America.

Potential and Comparable: Usually I just focus more on players that will have higher ceilings, but Fjallby has that ability to be a really high end bottom six player in the NHL, and though it isn’t sexy, you need those players to win Cups. The Capitals probably don’t win their Cup without the clutch goals by the fourth line, specifically Devante Smith-Pelly.

A good comparable for Fjallby is what Carl Hagelin is now. A very strong bottom six player that’s elite on the penalty kill and can get you 20+ points every season. The difference between the two is while Hagelin has arguably the worst shot among forwards in the league, Fjallby’s shot is lethal. It’s hard, accurate, and fast. He might score 5+ shorthanded goals alone every season due to his speed and shot.

What’s Next: There’s really nothing else Fjallby could learn at the AHL. He’s one of the few players I’d have no problem at all if he was the 13th forward for the Capitals. It won’t hurt his development to watch the games from the press box, practice with the team, and get a game here and there. Plus, there probably won’t be a better mentor for him in the league than Hagelin.

Stay tuned for parts II and III later this month!