For the purpose of this series, a prospect will be defined as an under-25 player in the Capitals system who was not on the team’s roster for the majority of last season. This allows us to focus on guys who many know little about. You will not see players like Stan Galiev, Philipp Grubauer, or Andre Burakovsky on this list.
Travis Boyd exceeded most people’s expectations last year. The 2011 sixth round pick and product of the University of Minnesota led all Hershey centers in scoring in the 2015-16 season and is looking like a prospect the Caps may be able to use as soon as this year. Boyd is on the small size at 5’10” but plays a solid all-around game. He is quick in his movements and has a knack for getting off his shot in tight spots.
Boyd is a good distributor of the puck from the center position, although his lack of a strong physical presence may limit him to scoring line opportunities to start. In the Caps development camp over the summer, Boyd was clearly the best center in camp. His sneaky puck skills were on full display, and he may get a long look in training camp, as he should.
Jonas Siegenthaler is a bit of an enigma. He is, by all accounts, a defensive defenseman. He plays well in his own zone. He plays physically when he needs to. He even gaps well on rush chances. But he also has the makings of a puck-mover, albeit not a true offensive defenseman. For a man his size, Siegenthaler can skate very well. His first pass out of the zone and his instincts with the puck are also quite good, especially for someone billed as a defensive defenseman. The only knock against him is his shot.
This is why I have Siegenthaler listed above Bowey. He has all the makings of a true two-way defender with both size and skating ability. If his shot develops with increased strength, he could be the total package. He will be playing in Hershey this year, and we all will be able to see how his game translates to North America.
Lucas Johansen reminds me of Matt Niskanen, though with more offensive flash. If his defensive game develops like Niskanen’s did, he will be a strong two-way defender. He can skate well and is not small by any means, but he certainly doesn’t use his body as a weapon yet. His shot is not yet elite, but it will improve with improved strength.
During the development camp scrimmage, Johansen made a few ill-advised plays with the puck. In one play, he tried to beat a forechecker wide up the boards and turned the puck over, leading to an odd-man rush. In another, he turned the puck over at the offensive blue line while trying to pass the puck to his partner. Both are plays that can lead to goals against and must be limited.
Johansen will play again this season for the Kelowna Rockets, unless he makes the Capitals out of camp, and will try to keep the good plays that come from his creativity and cut out the bad ones. The balance is a tricky one to find, and hopefully he does so quicker than Dmitry Orlov has.
Ilya Samsonov comes in as the undisputed top rated goalie in the Capitals’ farm system. With two more seasons under contract in Metallurg of the KHL, it will be a long time until Caps fans get an extended look at Samsonov, but he has impressed in the brief glimpses we’ve had. His size is immediately noticeable when watching Samsonov play, and he uses it in the cage playing a strong positional game.
Despite his reputation as a positional goaltender, Samsonov displayed some great reflexes as well during the development camp over the summer. During the scrimmage, he stopped the majority of shootout and penalty shot attempts with a poke check, all but one by my count. Most goalies will agree that a well-timed poke check requires hand-eye coordination and good reflexes. Some have questioned Samsonov’s glove, so that will be something to keep an eye out for.
Mitch Korn has the ability to bring out the best in his goaltenders, so hopefully Samsonov gets as much time to learn under Korn as possible. Samsonov played behind Vasily Koshechkin all of last year in Metallurg and will try to supplant him as starter this season.
Jakub Vrana has a tantalizing combination of skill and speed. The 2014 13th overall pick only played 36 games for the Hershey Bears due to an early season wrist injury that required surgery, but in those 36 games his offensive talents were evident. Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan has stated his wish for Vrana to see some time in Washington this season, and an injury on a scoring line could lead to a long-term call-up.
Vrana already possesses the offensive skill and mind to compete on the offensive side of the rink for the Capitals. He still has to prove that he can contribute in the defensive zone as well. Vrana tends to float a bit in the defensive zone, sometimes leading to a breakdown. While he isn’t totally shy about going into the corners, bigger defensemen have been able to push him around a bit.
With increased strength and a commitment to the defensive side of the ice, Vrana will be a game-breaker for the Caps. The question is: how soon.
The exact order was a hard one for me to finalize. Those listed seven through three could have been in any order, and I would have a hard time disagreeing with it. The good news is that that is a good problem for the Capitals to have. They have a pretty deep top ten with a few outside the top ten that have rising potential.
For the three top defensemen, I have Johansen rated the highest because of pure ability. He has all of the tools, and when he puts them together he will be a very good defenseman for the Caps. Siegenthaler over Bowey is one that many will not agree with, and it comes down to projections. Bowey should be a good defenseman. I don’t necessarily see him as dynamic offensively though. Siegenthaler has a lot of room to grow his game, not because he is not good already, but because his skill set gives him a high ceiling.
Boyd over Barber was a tough one. I like Barber a lot. It came down to the most recent info I had on the two guys, the development camp scrimmage. Playing against prospects, Boyd showed more skill than I thought he had. Barber was Barber. Barber has the better chance of making any impact on the next level, but Boyd may have a slightly higher ceiling.
Opinions on prospects are usually widely varied, so many readers or experts may have a different top five. In my mind, that is great. Leave your top five, and tell me why I am wrong.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.