This was a tough year for prospect evaluation, as COVID had a major impact on development leagues everywhere. Some were canceled, like the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), some had quirky schedules like the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and many had shortened seasons with no playoffs like the American Hockey League (AHL).
At the time of this writing just about every league is wrapped up except the East Coach Hockey League (ECHL); the Capitals don’t have any prospects playing for them, though they do have one they should sign (and more on that later).
For now, let’s get into it, starting with the top developmental league: the AHL.
AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE
Connor McMichael, 20yo, Center
33GP – 14G – 13A – 27PTS
Might as well start with the Capitals top prospect. With the OHL cancelled, McMichael was able to spend his season in the AHL, which usually isn’t allowed. Though his point total isn’t insane he had a terrific season leading his team in goals and points as a 20 year old, which is all sorts of impressive because it means he wasn’t being carried by anyone. His strong season eventually earned him a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team, something a Hershey Bear forward has never done before.
What’s crazy is he probably could have had more points if the Bears trusted their young talent more. The majority of his time was spent with Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Damien Riat. Those are good players, but Fjallby is a fourth liner and Riat is spending his first season ever in North America, can’t be easy for a 20 year old to work with those players. Imagine if he spent most of his time with more established AHL players with skill like Garrett Pilon (16 points in 14 games), Phillipe Maillet (21 points in 16 games), or even Matt Moulson (24 points in 32 games). McMichael probably averages around a point a game with those players.
The question is what will happen with McMichael this upcoming season. General Manager Brian MacLellan in his post season presser certainly made it sound like they don’t want to rush Connor so don’t expect him to make the team out of the gate; but this isn’t a bad thing. Him going back to Hershey to be the number one center there getting a ton of time to sharpen his skill can only make him better. Expect him to get the call up whenever a top nine player gets hurt for the Caps though.
Brett Leason, 22yo, RW
33GP – 9G – 11A – 20PTS
Leason has had an interesting hockey career. He wasn’t drafted his first or his second draft eligible year. So in order to get more time he spent his whole summer working on the part of the game that was lacking: his skating. His improved skating earned him more ice time in his third draft season while in the WHL and he killed it (89 points in 55 games), which got him drafted in the second round to the Capitals.
The same concept can be applied to Leason in his AHL career. His first year wasn’t the greatest: he was playing mainly on the fourth line, some third line, with no powerplay time. He was only able to muster 14 points in 50 games (0.28 points per game). Well, he went out and worked hard and came back even better to put up 20 points in 33 games (0.61 points per game). And it’s a shame the season was short because he was starting to heat up by getting more ice time and powerplay time as the season went on (13 points in his last 15 games).
Hopefully next season with the Bears he gets legit top six minutes while getting top powerplay unit time as well. Right now the Capitals are pretty deep at wing so he probably isn’t making the team but could definitely get a game or two.
Joe Snively, 25yo, LW
30GP – 6G – 11A – 17PTS
Snively had good season but with his skill set there was definitely an expectation for him to put up better numbers. He had 0.53 points per game in his first AHL season, this season he slightly improved to 0.58, which is fine, but again at some point he needs to take that next step. If he was younger his pace would be fine, but at 25, Snively needs to be putting up closer to a point per game in the AHL in order to get a legit look in the NHL.
He is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Caps could not re-sign him if they wish, but the talent is there to probably give him one more season to see what he can do. There’s still NHL skill there but it’s up to him to finally break through to prove he belongs.
Martin Fehervary, 21yo, LHD
24GP – 3G – 14A – 17PTS
I have a confession to make, as a prospect hound, I feel shame for not noticing that Fehervary was putting up some good numbers with the Bears. Last season he had 14 points in 56 games; he scored three more points than that in 32 less games this season. His 17 points was also fourth among all U22 players and his 0.71 points per game was tied for second among all U22 players who played at least 10 games. It’s not that he never had an offensive ability in him, it’s just odd it’s taken off like it has.
MacLellan has always been a huge fan of Martin, ever since he was drafted. That love was noticeable in his post season comments, all but saying Fehervary will definitely be on the Capitals roster next season. He’s more than ready and the Capitals desperately need his speed. Don’t expect him to put up huge offensive numbers in the NHL, that isn’t his game, but he looks like a player that will be an analytical darling that will be good at shutting down scoring chances against and skating up the ice with puck control.
Garrett Pilon, 23yo, C/W
14GP – 4G – 12A – 16PTS
Pilon had fantastic, albeit short, season in the AHL. There tends to be a trend in the Hershey’s history, where the first two years of a young players career in Hershey, tend to be pretty low on ice time and chances. This was Pilon’s third year on the team and was finally given the minutes at even strength and power play that he deserved and proved his worth.
For some reason the Capitals called Pilon up to the Taxi squad March 22nd and kept him there all season. Definitely wasn’t the best thing for his development; him staying in Hershey getting top line time would have been a wiser decision. He was on pace to be over a point per game player.
He’s ready for the NHL and is at the magical age of 23. That’s the age you need to start getting a forward into the NHL if you want them to stick there. Issue is the Capitals forward group, as of now, is set so there isn’t any room. Could probably get away with having him one more year in the AHL but would need NHL time after that. Or maybe he ends up being a trade piece: he’s young, skilled, quick, can play center and wing, and has top nine skills. Could make a good addition to many teams.
Axel Jonsson Fjallby, 23yo, LW
31GP – 10G – 5A – 15PTS
Of all the Hershey players I’d bet on being in a Capitals sweater next season it would be Fjallby, yes, even over McMichael. He’s a player you can have as your 13th forward who spends most his time practicing and sitting in the box and it won’t hurt his development. Why? Fjallby is what he is: a very fast, smart, fourth liner with a ripper of a shot. There’s nothing else more he can learn in Hershey and him not playing there won’t stunt his development. But if you have McMichael or Pilon or Protas or Leason or any other skilled forward sitting in the press box most nights it will hurt their development.
Plus how huge would it be to have Fjallby learn the NHL game under his fellow countryman, Carl Hagelin? What Hagelin is now is what Fjallby’s ceiling probably is: a reliable bottom six winger with high end speed that will wreak havoc on the penalty kill. The difference is that Fjallby can actually bury his chances with his hard, accurate wrister. He will be a safe bet to have five shorties a season.
Shane Gersich, 24yo, LW/C
33GP – 6G – 8A – 14PTS
Gersich’s is one of those rare players that never hit his ceiling but has adapted his game to fit a different style. No, he probably won’t be a top six goal scorer anymore, but he’s shaped his game to become a fourth line grinder, using his speed and nastiness to get in on the forcheck to win battles. Plus, he still has his shot to bury his chances. He’s 24 now, but like Fjallby he could probably start being the 13th forward and not hurt his development.
Brian Pinho, 26yo, C
10GP – 8G – 4A – 12PTS
Pinho took the similar route to Pilon; they played well in the AHL this season but were added to the taxi squad for the Caps and didn’t get a lot of playing time. Pinho became the Bears go to guy in defensive situations. He was used against the other teams top players, was used on the first penalty kill unit, and was always out there with an empty net (which have blown up his goal stats, five of his eight were empty netters). There’s a lot Nic Dowd in Pinho. He has the ability to come a very good fourth line center in the NHL. He’ll probably battle Fjallby to be the Capitals 13th forward this upcoming season.
Kody Clark, 21yo, RW
19GP – 7G -2A – 9PTS
As stated earlier, the Hershey Bears usually kind of shelter their young kids for two years then tend to give them more minutes in their third year. Clark just finished his second year so if he wants to make me feel better about taking him over someone like Akil Thomas, Kirill Marchenko, or Calen Addison then he needs to have a big third year in the AHL to make the pick worth it (sorry, I’m jaded with this pick).
He has the size and a great shot, but so far he’s managed 10 goals and eight assists in 50 AHL games. He’s had injury issues, shortening both his seasons, plus mix in some healthy scratches. He is still just 21 years old, so he has a year or two to really prove his worth, so hopefully he gets more time next season and starts piling up the points.
Damien Riat, 24yo, RW
33GP – 3G – 6A – 9PTS
After a very good professional career in Switzerland, Riat finally was able to come over to North America. He had a decent, not great first year in the states. It’s kind of expected for any player trying to adjust to North America ice to have a slow start, but Riat was given some good chances. He was stapled next to McMichael for most his ice time, though McMichael himself was also an AHL rookie, so it’s hard to read into the lack production that much. He’ll get top minutes again next season most likely, but he is 24 so he’ll need to get going sooner rather than later. He told Swiss news that he gave himself two years to make the NHL before he heads back to Europe. Next year is year two, so he better bring it.
Riley Sutter, 21yo, C/RW
25GP – 0G – 9A – 9PTS
Sutter had all of four points last season in 25 games, so he was able to more than double this season in the same amount of games. Pretty good. He’s been solely on the fourth line for the Bears the last two seasons, so it’s hard judge him on point totals. Hopefully he’s given more of chance over the next couple seasons. He has great size, work ethic, and comes from great pedigree that is the Sutter family. He has bottom six NHL potential and is still only 21 years old, so they have a little bit more time to cook him. No rush.
Lucas Johansen, 23yo, LHD
5GP – 0G – 2A – 2PTS
O Lucas Johansen. The Capitals rarely miss on their first round picks, but Johansen might be that rare miss. But it isn’t because of his play, he had a great freshman season in the AHL, putting up 27 points in 74 games. He isn’t known strictly for his offense, he’s more of a strong two way defender with high end skating ability. The issue is he can’t stay healthy.
Over the last three seasons, of the 112 possible games, Johansen played just 59 games. Even worse, over the last two seasons he played just 14 games of the possible 95. Just brutal health hits. He is a RFA this summer, it’s hard to see Capitals re-signing him but maybe they give him one more shot. He was once seen as a smooth skating two-way top four defensemen. He’ll need to have a huge, healthy season to prove he’s still worth it.
Zach Fucale, 26yo, G
11GP – 1.80GAA – .932sv%
When the Capitals go after a goalie it’s hard to ever argue with them. This the organization that hit on Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Philip Grubuaer, and most likely Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek over the last 15 years. So when the Capitals randomly signed Fucale last summer it maybe raised some eyebrows. He was an early second round pick back in 2013 so he was once viewed as one of the top goalie prospects in the game but he never found his game after that.
He played one game in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays letting only one goal in, then with Henrik Lundqvist missing the whole season due to heart problems he was called up to the AHL putting up amazing numbers. His 1.80 GAA was first in the league and his .932sv% was second in the league. The Capitals rewarded him with a two year extension and with the possibility of Vanecek not being protected and chosen by Seattle there could be an opening at the NHL level. Sometimes it takes goalies a little to get going, maybe Fucale is ready to take on the NHL?
Poor Malenstyn missed the whole season due to an achilles injury. The Capitals really like him and he was probably set to be the Capitals 13th forward if he was healthy. He fits the Capitals style: he’s big and can skates very well. He’s a mini Tom Wilson; he maybe doesn’t have the offensive skill but he absolutely crushes people with his speed and size. Him and Fjallby should make a very effective fourth line much like Hagelin and Hathaway do now. Here’s to him hopefully staying healthy going forward.
Check back later today for Part 2 where we look at the team’s prospects playing in Europe and other development leagues around the world.