Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects. As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.
Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.
For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
In their first season under head coach Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals showed a new commitment to defensive hockey. The improved defensive game didn’t take away too much from the offensive game though as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the rest continued to light up the score sheet. However, their season ended in familiar fashion with a second round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.
Over the Off-season, the Capitals said good-bye to Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Mike Green who left the team as free agents. They also traded Troy Brouwer, prospect Pheonix Coppley and a draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for T.J. Oshie. In free agency, the Capitals added Justin Williams. They also locked up Braden Holtby long-term for big money. He earned the raise with a season that saw him finish 4th in Vezina Trophy voting.
Players Drafted: Ilya Samsonov, Jonas Siegenthaler, Connor Hobbs, Colby Williams
Graduated: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt,
Washington Capitals Prospects
Top Prospect: Madison Bowey, Defence
Born Apr 22 1995 — Winnipeg, MAN
Height 6.01 — Weight 194 — Shoots Right
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2nd Round, 53rd overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Madison Bowey followed up on his huge breakout in 2013-14, with another 60 point season in 2014-15. He was even better, doing it in less games, and taking some time off to be a top defenceman for Team Canada’s World Junior Gold Medal squad. He also helped the Rockets to the WHL title with 19 points in 19 playoff games, and came up with six points in five games at the Memorial Cup. Coming from the defence factory of the Kelowna Rockets, Bowey looks to be the next in a long line of NHL defencemen that the junior program has produced.
Bowey’s game is defined by his great skating ability. His mobility is top notch, as he has very good top end speed, and acceleration; both in his forward and backwards skating. He has great pivots, excellent agility and very good edgework which allows him to cover a ton of ground out there. This skating ability allows Bowey to keep the play in front of him, as well to recover when he makes a mistake.
Bowey is an excellent puck mover with the ability to rush the puck or to make a strong first pass. He has a cannon of a slap shot from the point, and this can be seen in the 21 goals he scored this season. He needs to learn to keep it low and on net at times though. His passing and vision are decent and he can be a threat as a powerplay quarterback. One thing that really took his game to the next level was increased patience and poise with the puck this year. He seemed to rush plays a lot less, taking the time to find the smart play and move the puck more efficiently with his passing.
While the offence has broken out this season, its the combination of that along with Bowey’s defensive abilities that have him as a real top quality prospect. He has high hockey IQ, reads the play very well, and understands how to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Bowey has been willing to play a gritty game as he wins battles along the boards, and is a willing shot blocker, sacrificing himself for the good of the team. He’s raw though, and at times he can be a little bit over-aggressive and get himself out of position, either gambling to create a turnover, or looking for the big hit. These are areas he will need to curb going forward.
With Mike Green leaving for Detroit, Bowey will head to Caps camp with a real chance to make the team and step into the role that Green has held for years. That said, he will need to prove he is ready. He is still quite young, and it would not be a surprise to see him have to spend some time in the AHL first.
#2 Prospect: Jakub Vrana, Centre/Wing
Born Feb 28 1996 — Prague, Czech Rep.
Height 5.11 — Weight 185 [180 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by Washington Capitals in round 1, 13th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
After being the Capitals first round pick in 2014, Vrana had a solid season in the SHL with 24 points in 44 games. Thats good productions for an 18 year old in a men’s league. He also had three points in five games at the World Juniors, and 11 points in 13 AHL games (regular season and playoffs combined) after he came over to North America.
Jakub Vrana is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed, but its his elite acceleration and change of pace ability that really sets him apart and allows him to beat defenders one on one. He also has outstanding agility, edgework and lateral movement and this makes him very elusive off the rush. Vrana has decent balance, but he could be a lot stronger on the puck if he can add muscle and core lower body strength.
Vrana is a natural centre but can also play on the wing. His stickhandling is excellent, he has a wide variety of moves and is very good at protecting the puck. Vrana has very good vision and the passing skills to be a creative playmaker. His wrist shot is very strong and accurate, and he has the type of lightning-quick release that often fools goaltenders. Vrana really needs to add physical strength though. He can be manhandled in corners and in front of the net at his current size. He will need to improve this to be able to adjust to the NHL game. Its not for lack of effort though, Vrana isn’t afraid to go to those dirty areas, and he isn’t intimidated, its merely a factor of adding muscle. He was better this year than he was in his draft year, but still has a ways to go. He does have good hockey sense.
Vrana’s defensive game needs work. At the lower levels he’s the type of player who always had the puck, and as such never really learned proper defensive positioning, or the effort level he needs to give in his own end of the ice. It is certainly something that can be taught, and with good coaching this aspect of his game can be improved.
Vrana is likely to need at least a year in the AHL in order to round out his game, but has big potential long-term. The Caps could use him as an injury call-up this year, but the majority of his season is likely to be spent in Hershey. At his age, his contract will slide as long as he spends nine games or less in the NHL.
#3 Prospect: Stanislav Galiev, Right Wing/Left Wing
Born Jan 17 1992 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.01 — Weight 188 [185 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 3, #86 overall 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Stanislav Galiev has taken the long route to the NHL, spending more time in the ECHL than the AHL through his first two pro seasons. However, he broke out in a big way this season, putting up 25 goals in 67 AHL games. He also got in his first two NHL games with the Caps and scored his first NHL goal.
Galiev’s 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 has always had a hard and accurate shot, but Galiev has worked to greatly improve his release. His improved release fools goalies and has led to an increase in his goal scoring production. He’s also shown more of an ability to get to the front of the net
Galiev’s defensive game 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 in the AHL in tight games.
Galiev should be given every opportunity to make the Caps out of camp this year. Due to waiver rules, its time for him to make that transition.
Super Sleeper: Riley Barber, RW
Born Feb 7 1994 — Livonia, MI
Height 5.11 — Weight 185 — Shoots Right
Drafted by Washington Capitals in the 6th round 6, 167th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
To be clear Riley Barber, is not the Caps fourth best prospect. In fact I would choose guys who qualify as sleepers in Connor Carrick and Philipp Grubauer ahead of him if our “sleeper” was all about the best player who is a fourth round pick or later. However since Carrick and Grubauer have seen some significant NHL time, though not 50 games, I am not going to highlight them as “sleepers”. The purpose of this category is to be all about an interesting player who hasn’t gotten a lot of hype.
Riley Barber had another great year with the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks putting up 20 goals and 40 points in 38 games, and helping the team to a conference championship. This sixth round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2012 is looking like an NHL draft steal.
Barber is an outstanding two way player with great instincts and hockey sense at both ends of the ice. He is very good on the cycle game, protecting the puck extremely well with strong balance, and being very hard to knock of the puck. He wins board battles despite his size and can really work the puck down low. He also is willing to get to the front of the net and battle for position for tip ins, rebounds and converting a pass from a teammate. Barber has good vision and can find open teammates in front of the net when he is cycling. Barber is a good skater, who has very good top end speed and acceleration, and also the strength and balance to fight through checks and get to the front of the net.
Barber’s defensive game is well developed. He works hard in his own end and provides good back pressure. He shows his grit on the backcheck and his smarts in cutting down lanes and causing turnovers. He is quick to transition the puck and can create odd-man counter attacks when he does create a turnover. Barber has become an important penalty killer for the Redhawks.
Barber has signed an Entry Level Contract with the Capitals, and so his college career is now done. Expect to see him playing with the Hershey Bears in the AHL this year.
The Capitals drafted Ilya Samsonov this year, giving them a top notch goaltending prospect. With Grubauer, and 2014 draftee Vitek Vanecek also in the system, they are amongst the best stocked teams in the NHL at the position. Jonas Siegenthaler was a nice pick on the blueline, and he joins Carrick, Bowey, and Christian Djoos as blueline prospects in the system. Up front the Caps don’t have a lot beyond Vrana, Galiev, and Barber following the graduations they had this past season. That said, it isn’t too much of a concern, as all those graduations mean that the current forward group still has a lot of youth in players like Kuznetsov, Burakowsky, Latta, Tom Wilson and Marcus Johansson.