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The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2022-23, Part III

Wrapping up our look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25 with the final five.

Photo by GETTY IMAGE

20 down, five to go - here are the top handful of players under the age of 25 in the Caps’ organization.

5) Alexander Alexeyev, LHD, 22yo, 6’4” 214lbs (Previously Ranked 5th)
NHL: 1GP, 0G, 0A, 0PTS
AHL: 68GP, 1G, 18A, 19PTS

The Skinny: Alexeyev actually had a down year in Herhsey, at least offensively, which came as a surprise after a great year in the AHL and KHL last season, but his skill set and ability are too good to kick him out of the top five. This last season in the AHL was reminiscent of the last season Jonas Siegenthaler played in the AHL, with a hint of disinterest - which sounds bad, but is mostly just human nature. After playing in pro leagues overseas, against grown men (Siegenthaler in the NLA in Switzerland and Alexeyev in the KHL), the AHL is a step down. Alexeyev is NHL-ready and his mind was probably mentally there, so his game likely suffered as a result. Siegenthaler got picked on for that, but once he got to the NHL, he was stellar and is now a top-tier defenseman in the NHL. The same could hold true once Alexeyev gets to the NHL.

Potential and Comparable: Alex is a big-bodied blueliner with good skating ability who is able to contribute at both ends of the ice. He remind me a lot of Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm; neither is truly elite at one thing, but both are very good at just about everything. You can throw them out there in all situations and they will help your team win, whether that’s killing penalties, pitching in on the power play, or helping to lock down a lead. Alexeyev easily has top-four potential, but the downside is that he’s had some big injuries already in his young career. He’ll need to stay healthy to develop into a top-four defensemen.

What’s Next: After waiting in the wings for a few years, it finally seemed like Alexeyev was going to get to be a NHL starter this upcoming season - but an offseason shoulder surgery will keep him out for at least the first couple of months. When he is cleared to play, he’ll probably need a rehab stint in Hershey, but will then hopefully be able to go back to the Caps to stay. He would have to pass through waivers if they officially sent him down to the AHL, so don’t expect the Caps to take that chance. Hopefully when he gets back he can win that bottom pairing spot and stay there.

4) Hendrix Lapierre, C, 20yo, 6’0” 185lbs (Previously Ranked 8th)
NHL: 6GP, 1G, 0A, 1PTS
QMJHL: 40GP, 21G, 30A, 51PTS

The Skinny: Lapierre had a fun start to the season, making his NHL debut out of camp and getting a goal in his very first game. He stuck around with the Caps for a total of six games before heading back to juniors, and sending him back was 100% the right call. As great as it was to see Hendrix in the NHL you could tell he just wasn’t ready. He needed to get stronger and process the speed better before becoming a full timer.

Back in the QMJHL he was his team’s first-line center, and was tearing it up in that role until, for some reason, his team put him on the wing. He then moved back to the third-line wing before ending the season as the third-line center. It was absolutely baffling why they did that to Lapierre after he thrived in his top-line role; when he was dropped down the lineup, his production also understandably dropped.

Even with all of that, he still had a strong season, improving his shot mentality and scoring 21 goals, which is an improvement he needed to add to his game because opponents were just assuming he was going to pass every time he was in front of the net.

Potential and Comparable: Hendrix is an elite playmaker who uses his hands and vision to set up his teammates. Maybe it’s because they are both high end playmakers, wear the same number and are big-time goofballs, but Lapierre seems reminiscent of someone like Evgeny Kuznetsov. Another player (who strangely also wears 92) who has a similar vibe, minus the goofiness, is Ryan Johansen. The hope is Lapierre can inherit their playmaking ability but be better defensively than either. Lapierre is certainly capable of being a top-six skilled center; the question is how far can he go. When the Capitals drafted him they believed he could be a legit, two-way, top-line center. The last three seasons have been wild with injuries, the pandemic, and position moving. Can he come out of it and be what the Capitals think he can be?

What’s Next: Lapierre will take take the big step into the pros and play for the Bears next season. The hope is the new coaching staff there plays the younger kids more and Lapierre gets at least top-six center time with big power play minutes. Hopefully he can cook for 1-2 years in the AHL, then be ready to jump into NHL action (and in the meantime can be an injury callup when needed). The future is murky with Nicklas Backstrom, but ahead of him there’s still Dylan Strome, who will likely get the second-line center position, as well as Connor McMichael in his way, but I’m sure Lapierre will love the competition.

3) Aliaksei Protas, C, 21yo, 6’6” 225lbs (Previously Ranked 4th)
NHL: 33GP, 3G, 6A, 9PTS
AHL: 42GP, 8G, 16A, 24PTS

The Skinny: Like many other rookies last season, Protas was probably very surprisedto have gotten such a long look in the NHL. And of all the rookies, it was Protas who might have stood out the most. His defensive impacts were among the best on the team, if not the best. Interestingly, according to PuckIQ, Protas played 80 minutes against elite competition and he put up a dangerous 50.6% Fenwick. That isn’t earth-shattering on its own, but considering Protas was a rookie and probably not playing with top-end teammates most of the time, that’s really impressive and just shows how good he is defensively. He even impressed the coaches so much he got some top-six shifts. You could tell he wasn’t exactly ready for that role but it had to be a great experience that will only help him grow as an impact player.

Potential and Comparable: The reason I love Protas so much is that he’s such a unique player, with considerable size but also an elite hockey mind, above-average hands and passing ability, and a heavy shot. There’s a little Nik Antropov or Nick Bjugstad in him, but overall I think he’s closer to a guy like Mark Stone. Stone also made his NHL debut at 21 scoring eight points in 19 games playing on the third line, while Protas scored nine points in 33 games getting fourth-line minutes.

Stone’s points are more impressive when you consider points-per-game, but he also got almost two more minutes at five on five, and did so with better players. Stone ultimately exploded the season after, scoring 64 points in 80 games while playing on the top line. Very doubtful Protas hits those totals, but that’s most likely because it’s doubtful he’ll get top-line minutes, let alone top-six or even top-nine time.

The best part of Protas’s game, though, is that his floor is so high so at the very worst you’re probably getting a high end third line center, which is great for a third round pick.

What’s Next: Unfortunately for Protas, he is one of the few players who doesn’t need to go through waivers, so if the Caps have to choose between taking a chance on losing a player on waivers (Joe Snively, Henrik Borgstrom, Leason, Fjallby, Garrett Pilon, etc.) or just sending Protas down, it’s likely they opt to do just that. Protas is NHL-ready, but the team would probably rather see him get top minutes in the AHL rather than sit in the press box night after night in the NHL. Hopefully this will be the only year where this is an issue, however, and they should try to find a top-nine spot for him in 2023 and beyond.

2) Martin Fehervary, LHD, 22yo, 6’2” 203lbs (Previously Ranked 6th)
NHL: 79GP, 8G, 9A, 17PTS

The Skinny: It was a tale of two seasons with Fehervary in 2021-22: the time before he got COVID and after he got COVID. In the first few months of the season, Fehervary was playing some really solid hockey, putting up positive possession numbers while on the top pair - but he contracted COVID at the end of December and missed several weeks, and when he returned, his possession numbers plummeted. That’s not to say it was all due to his sickness, nor will we know for sure if that had any impact. Some of his relative decline was probably just adapting to playing a long, harsh NHL season that a rookie needs to be physically and mentally ready for. Still, with everything, you could see the potential in his game. Fehervary is only going to get better.

Potential and Comparable: Nate Schmidt seems like a good comparable for Fehervary. Both are very smooth, powerful skaters who are good at both ends of the ice. It’s not a perfect comparison, since Fehervary is more physical and Schmidt has more offensive skill, but they share a lot of the same qualities. If in the end the Caps wind up with a good #2 or #3 defenseman, which it looks like they will, that’s a great piece to have on your blueline for years to come.

What’s Next: Fehervary will definitely be in the top-four for the Capitals this season, but he’ll need to prove that the last half of last season was more getting used to the NHL and getting over COVID than that being who he actually is. I’d bet big bucks he’s more of the first half season than the back half season.

1) Connor McMichael, C, 21yo, 6’0” 187lbs (Previously Ranked 3rd)
NHL: 68GP, 9G, 9A, 18PTS

The Skinny: Somewhat unexpectedly, McMichael stayed in the NHL for the entire season last year, and didn’t look out of place most of the time, either. Even though his ice time and linemates were widely inconsistent, he put up strong results for a twenty-year-old. How inconsistent were his linemates? Well, he played 68 games, 712 minutes total, and in those 68 games, his most frequent linemates were Lars Eller and Daniel Sprong; together they played fewer than 56 minutes together. That’s 7.9% of his total ice time. By comparison, teammate and fellow rookie Axel Jonsson-Fjallby played just 23 games, 257 minutes total, and he got over 71 minutes with his most-frequent linemates (27.7% of his ice time). Adapting to the NHL is hard for any rookie, but it no doubt was harder when you get shuffled around and never get to find consistent rhythm with linemates. Still, he played extremely well. And to add the cherry on top, he played 162 minutes against elite competition and posted a 53.6 FF%. That was third-best behind Garnett Hathaway and Marcus Johansson. Impressive.

Potential and Comparable: I’ve always seen a lot of Bo Horvat or Travis Konecny in Connor McMichael, especially Horvat. Both come from the same junior team, and have similar size and scoring ability. Horvat definitely has more of a bite to his game than McMichael, which comes with a heavier set, and McMichael is a better playmaker than Horvat, but they are both very similar in a lot of other ways. Horvat is a legit top six center that can hover around 60+ points, which is what McMichael is looking like. Connor’s underlying stats and impacts at both ends of the ice when he was a center was absolutely stellar. The coaches seem to agree with that assessment; as Laviolette has mentioned, they like him at center more than wing.

What’s Next: McMichael should be a full-time NHLer again this season. It’ll be interesting to see where the coaches use him, because that second-line center spot will now likely be taken by newcomer Dylan Strome. Eller will probably start as the 3C but Laviolette wasn’t scared to move him to the fourth-line wing to give McMichael a chance at 3C last season. At the very least, McMichael should see top-nine time on wing or center this upcoming season. Wherever he ends up, hopefully it’s with consistent linemates.

Top 25 under 25 in terms of Potential

As stated at the beginning, these lists are made by mixing potential with those that look NHL-ready - which means that some players with high potential may have ended up lower-ranked than those with a lower ceiling but more NHL-ready. So just for fun, here’s a list based solely on pure potential:

  1. Ivan Miroshnichenko
  2. Aleksei Protas
  3. Hendrix Lapierre
  4. Connor McMichael
  5. Brent Johnson
  6. Ryan Chesley
  7. Alexander Alexeyev
  8. Vincent Iorio
  9. Martin Fehervary
  10. Clay Stevenson
  11. Alexander Suzdalev
  12. Ludwig Persson
  13. Mitchel Gibson
  14. Joaquim Lemay
  15. Henrik Rybinksi
  16. Brett Leason
  17. Hakon Hanelt
  18. Garrett Pilon
  19. Bogdan Trineyev
  20. Lucas Johansen
  21. Oskar Magnusson
  22. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
  23. Martin Hugo Has
  24. Tobias Geisser
  25. Kody Clark