Steve Richmond, the Washington Capitals’ Director of Player Development, spoke to the media on Thursday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. He had some strong praise for several of the team’s prospects.
Richmond believes Swedish forward Axel Jonsson-Fjällby and 2018 draft picks Alex Alexeyev, and Martin Fehervary, are all close to being NHL players and could get games next season.
Jonsson-Fjällby is a standout two-way player who excels at skating and the defensive side of the game. AFJ started the season with the Hershey Bears before opting to return to his Swedish League team, Djurgardens IF in the fall, believing he could develop better last season in his home country. After scoring one goal during the regular season, AJF had seven goals and five assists in 19 playoff games, helping lead Djurgarden to the SHL Finals. Djurgarden lost to Frölunda HC in six games, but AJF scored in the team’s final game of the series.
“I think he’s close,” Richmond said. “He’s played against men for the last two years. Last two years in the playoffs, he was probably their best player on Djurgarden. This year, he went to Game [Six] of the Finals and he was their best player. I think he’s close. He’s got the speed. He’s got sneaky skill. He works hard. He’s going to work hard obviously the next two months. I think he’s going to surprise people at camp.”
Richmond also stated that the Capitals harbored no ill will for Jonsson-Fjallby leaving Hershey in the middle of the season to return home to Sweden.
“We’re disappointed (he left Hershey) because we wanted him,” Richmond said. “We gave him the option and he took the option. There’s nothing against that. We gave him that opportunity. He was playing well in Hershey. It was his first time away from home. He had the opportunity to go home and play with his team that was a really good team. It was tough for him. He came back at the end of the year. If they would have gone on a playoff run, he would have gotten some games. It’s a clean slate. There’s nothing against him. We put it in the contract, he took the option. Now we move on.”
Another player Richmond is high on is 2018 first-round pick Alex Alexeyev. The Russian defenseman registered 43 points (10g, 33a) in 49 games for the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL during the past season and was named the Red Deer Advocate Male Athlete of the Year in March. Alexeyev is expected to start next year in Hershey.
“He could play [NHL] games this year if he keeps progressing,” Richmond said. “He played 30—35 minutes if they need him no problem. On the power play, he just dominated. It’s time. He could have probably played in the American League last year.”
Alexeyev’s rise to the NHL will depend on how he handles his new challenge.
“Everything gets ramped up speed wise, intensity of the game (in the AHL). He’s going to be playing against bigger, stronger guys,” Richmond said. “He was one of the bigger stronger guys in junior. Now he’s just going to be a guy, maybe on the weaker side because he’s still a little boy playing against men. I think the biggest thing is the speed of the game and how fast things happen versus junior. He’s playing against 35-year-old men. Before he’s playing against 15, 16-year-olds, so he can do whatever he wants out there. It’ll be a big step, but it always is. But we’re patient, we have time for him. We don’t have to rush him, we’re lucky.”
Richmond finally praised Slovakian defender Martin Fehérváry who played with HV71 of the SHL last season. Fehérváry has played the last two seasons for Slovakia’s national team in the World Championship. The blueliner was one of the fastest players in the tournament this past year.
“We’re all big fans of his. I think he has a chance to play in the NHL this year,” Richmond said. “He does everything well. He’s a great skater. He competes. He works hard off the ice and on the ice obviously. He’s smart. He’s really close. Him and Alex are really close. He’s been playing against men for two years. That’s a big difference when you’re playing against men for two years. He’s played in a World Championship two years in a row. He’s played against the big boys – not of the intensity of the Stanley Cup Final – but pretty good step for him up from junior hockey. He’s close. He’s a heck of a player.”
Richmond concluded his conversation praising Shane Gerisch who did not put up big numbers in Hershey last season. He said he was the best player in camp.
“He’s just got to use his speed and his tenacity and his nastiness, which he has, all the time, and he’ll be a really hard guy to play against in the National Hockey League,” Richmond said. “If you’ve been watching him here this week, I think he’s been the best guy out there. Just playing with energy, speed, and just competing. When he does that, he’s a factor.”
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