Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” – a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. As I continue my alphabetical journey, I bring you a look at the Washington Capitals.
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Dmitry Orlov (60 NHL Games) is graduated
Braden Holtby (21 Regular Season games, 14 Playoff Games) is still included amongst prospects.
Top Prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Centre
Born May 19 1992 — Chelyabinsk, RUS
Height 6.03 — Weight 187 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Washington Capitals in round 1, #26 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Kuznetsov is an absolute stud prospect. At the World Junior Championships, his 13 points in 7 games led the tournament in scoring, and his hat-trick against Team Canada in the semi final helped propel Russia to the Gold Medal game. It would be the second straight Gold Medal game for Kuznetsov who was also on the 2011 World Junior Champions. Kuznetsov also scored 41 points in 49 Games in the KHL last year, good enough for 14th in KHL scoring. His 19 goals had him in a tie for 18th place among KHL players. He led Traktor Chelyabinsk in scoring, and helped them to finish the regular season at first overall in the league. In the playoffs, he scored 7 goals and 9 points in 12 games, but it was not enough as Traktor Chelyabinsk fell in the conference final. He’d go on to play in the IIHF Men’s World Championship and win a Gold Medal with Team Russia, scoring 6 points in 10 games.
Kuznetsov has all the talent in the world. At 6’3, he has the ideal size that teams crave down the middle in the modern NHL. He could stand to bulk up a little, but there will be time for that. He’s an outstanding skater, with great top end speed, excellent acceleration and changes of pace, super edgework and agility, and is strong and balanced on his skates. Combine that skating ability with his silky smooth hands, wide variety of creative moves, a fearlessness to try anything, and the ability to do all this with the puck while skating at top speed, and you have a player who is an absolute nightmare to defend off the rush. Add a lethal wrist shot and release, and its almost not fair to defenders and goalies alike. If there is one area that Kuznetsov has to work on though, it is his playmaking. He has great passing skills and can make crisp hard passes through the tiniest of openings when he wants to; however setting up teammates is something he just doesn’t do often enough. He’s already a sniper, if he could add playmaker to his game as well, he could be a legit NHL superstar.
Kuznetsov’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. He understands defensive zone hockey and positioning and attempts to keep his man to the outside when defending down low on the cycle, but he needs more strength to make it happen consistently. He is willing to engage in battles for pucks on the boards, but again, just needs more physical strength to do so effectively. Kuznetsov has good instincts and anticipation which helps him to cause turnovers and transition from defence to forward.
Kuznetsov recently signed a two year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL, and as such it will be at least a couple years before he comes to North America. He’s NHL ready now, and would be a Calder Trophy candidate should he be joining the Caps roster. Kuznetsov has all the talent to be a superstar centre, and might be the best non-NHL player in the world right now. The problem is getting him out of the KHL and to North America. If the Caps can do that in two years, (and Kuznetsov will only be 22 when his KHL contract expires), they’ll have a great young player ready to step right into the NHL, and ready to help lead the offence going forward.
Top Prospect #2 Braden Holtby, Goaltender
Born Sep 16 1989 — Lloydminster, SASK
Height 6.01 — Weight 202 — Shoots R
Selected by the Washington Capitals in round 4, #93 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
With fellow young goaltenders like Semyon Varlamov (now with Colorado of course), and Michael Neuvirth previously ahead of him on the depth chart Braden Holtby has been developed slowly by the Capitals. The young goaltender has spent most of the last 3 seasons backstopping the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Over the last two years, he’s seen some NHL playing time in the regular season, but has mostly been the guy transitioning from Hershey to Washington and back when a fellow goalie gets hurt. In fact Holtby was in Hershey late in the regular season when opportunity knocked. When the Caps saw injuries hit both members of their goalie platoon, Neuvirth and of course Tomas Vokoun, they called on Holtby to finish the regular season and to backstop the club at the start of the playoffs. Holtby was quite simply phenomenal in the playoffs, and helped the Caps upset the then defending Champion Bruins in 7 games. He continue his superb play into the second round of the playoffs, where he would bar the door on the first place Rangers for most of the second round before suffering his own 7th game defeat.
Holtby plays the classic butterfly style. He has quick legs and great lateral movement which helps him to take away the bottom of the net. His glove hand is razor sharp and takes away the top portion of the net. He has excellent puck-tracking ability and does a great job of staying square to the shooter. He plays an aggressive game, getting well out in his crease, cutting down angles and allowing his big frame to take away as much of the net as possible. Holtby is also excellent in his puckhandling ability, and is not afraid to leave his crease often acting like a third defenceman. He shows a cool and calm demeanor inspiring confidence in teammates and not allowing himself to be rattled by goals against or traffic in front of the net. Rebound control is good for a young goalie when he stays in his technique. A highly athletic goalie, Holtby can at times abandon his technique and rely on pure athleticism. While he will make some great looking saves by doing this, it also gets him in to trouble with rebounds and getting out of position. If he can fix that flaw, and reduce instances of that, he has the potential to be a top tier NHL Starter.
Holtby will battle Michael Neuvirth for the starting job with the Capitals this season. In fact, given his playoff performance Holtby may have the edge in this battle going into camp. Unfortunately for Holtby, due to the fact he played 7 games in 2010-11 and 14 games in 2011-12, he will not be eligible for the NHL’s Calder Trophy.
Top Prospect #3, Stanislav Galiev, Left Wing/Right Wing
Born Jan 17 1992 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.01 — Weight 188 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Washington Capitals in round 3 #86 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
As this past season began, Stanislav Galiev was one of many returning Saint John Sea Dogs looking to defend their 2011 Memorial Cup Champion crown. Unfortunately Galiev was hurt in training camp (broken wrist) and he only played 20 games for the club. However fully healthy in the playoffs, Galiev went on an absolute tear. In 17 games, he scored 16 goals and 34 points, and was the leading goal scorer and point getter in the QMJHL playoffs as the Sea Dogs won another league title. Unfortunately the club was unable to defend the crown at the Memorial Cup, losing in the semi-final to the host and eventual Champs, the Shawinigan Cataractes.
Galiev has shown high level offensive skills in the last two years. His stickhandling and puck protection are extremely good. He also has a strong lower body and is well balanced on his skates. This makes it difficult to knock Galiev off the puck. He plays a great cycle game and works the puck down low buying time for teammates to get open. A talented playmaker, Galiev has the ability to pounce quickly when opportunities present themselves, and makes crisp tape to tape passes to teammates. He always had a hard and accurate shot, but Galiev has worked to greatly improve his release over the last couple years. His improved release fools goalies and has led to an increase in his goal scoring production.
Galiev’s defensive game was a huge question mark when he was drafted, but has improved a lot over the last two years. He has good anticipation and causes turnovers in the defensive zone. Galiev is a willing backchecker now, who has solid positional skills and the willingness to get involved in physical battles along the boards. He still has the bad habit of gambling a little and looking for the turnover and transition game a little bit too much. However, while it remains unlikely that Galiev will ever be a contender for the Selke trophy, he has developed his defensive game to the point that he can be trusted late in a tight hockey game. His biggest flaw is a correctable one, as it comes from his lack of bulk and physical strength in his upper body. Adding some muscle to his frame would help Galiev in all aspects of the game.
It is widely expected that Galiev will begin his pro career in the AHL this season, playing for the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.
Sleeper Prospect: Patrick Wey, Defence
Born Mar 21 1991 — Pittsburgh, PA
Height 6.02 — Weight 200 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Washington Capitals in round 4, #115 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
After being drafted out of the USHL as a member of the Waterloo Blackhawks, Wey choose to pursue his education in the NCAA, playing for the Boston College Eagles. At BC, Wey has been a big part of a successful program, winning the Frozen Four as a freshman, and playing big minutes as a junior on a second Final Four Championship club.
Wey was originally projected as an offensive defenceman coming from the USHL. However that offence just hasn’t translated at BC. He has just 20 total points over 3 seasons with the Eagles. Wey however still shows that he is an elusive skater with decent quickness, acceleration and top end speed. In his own end of the ice he is able to skate the puck out of danger. He also makes a good first pass and gets the transition game going. However Wey has not really shown a willingness to join the rush, instead preferring to play a more stay at home role.
Wey is a good defensive defender who is extremely strong positionally. His good agility and strong backwards skating make him hard to beat off the rush. He has a quick stick and causes turnovers and transition through his defensive play. While Wey is not overly physical and will not wow anyone with a big hit, he does battle hard along the boards and has shown the willingness to do the dirty work in front of the net. He does need to get stronger before reaching the NHL, however.
Overall I think Wey’s upside is limited to being a potential #6 or #7 defenceman at the NHL level. He’s not my ideal pick for a sleeper, but he’s the best there is in the Washington organization that fits the criteria. (Note: Holtby also fits the criteria, but I don’t think he’s a sleeper anymore).
In the Capitals we see a team with absolutely elite top end talent. In Kuznetsov and 2012 Draftee Filip Forsberg, they have absolute studs at forward. In Braden Holtby we see a goalie with number 1 potential. Meanhile in Galiev they Caps have an intriguing player who has all the talent but needs to bulk up, and they just drafted his polar opposite in Tom Wilson, who has all the bulk, grit, and strong two way play you would want in a junior player but whose overall skill level is questioned. In those five players the Capitals have top end talents and one through five, the Capitals group stacks up with any in the NHL. However, the Capitals lack depth behind those prospects. Overall we see a very good system and one that is a contender to be in the top 10 groups in the NHL, but can’t quite challenge for the absolute top spot (full 30 team rankings coming next week).
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