Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Washington Capitals Prospects
It felt like deja vu, as the Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy, but fell in the second round of the playoffs to their perennial rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The emergence of several young stars like Evgeni Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby gives the Capitals hope that things are about to change. An extremely talented core led by Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom may now have the support needed to get over that hump. While it may have been a second round loss, there has been some suggestion that Pittsburgh and Washington were the best two teams in the NHL last year. If they can find away to get by their old foe, perhaps the Capitals will be the team raising the cup next year.
The off-season hasn’t seen many major changes Washington. They traded for Lars Eller on draft night, and added Brett Connolly in free agency. The only real losses of note were Michael Latta, Jason Chimera and Mike Richards. While there was some movement. It was one of the quieter off-seasons in the NHL.
Washington Capitals Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Ilya Samsonov
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born Feb 22 1997 — Magnitogorsk, Russia
Height 6’4″ — Weight 203 lbs [193 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 1, #22 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Samsonov spent last season as the backup goalie for Mettalurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL, winning the Gagarin Cup in the process. Playing against men, he was extremely good with a .925 save percentage. He even got in six playoff games, putting up a .916 save percentage. Samsonov was excellent for Russia at the World Juniors, taking home a silver medal.
Samsonov has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goaltenders today at 6’4″ and 203 pounds. Samsonov makes the most of that size, coming out to challenge on plays, and reducing the amount of net that forwards have to shoot at. He is very athletic, and never gives up on a play, resulting in him being able to make some ridiculous saves.
Samsonov has strong legs, and gets side to side across the crease quickly and efficiently. He plays a tight butterfly and his legs kick out quickly to take away the bottom of the net. He has a fast glove hand and blocker as well. Samsonov skates backwards very well, and this makes him hard to beat on dekes. He comes out to cut down those angles, but backs up quickly if the shooter instead tries to go around him. His positioning is very good. He remains square to the puck even when moving around the crease.
In terms of weaknesses, Samsonov needs to work on his rebound control, though this is something that is a common problem for young goaltenders. He improved over his draft year. With good coaching, it can be developed over the next several years. He also doesn’t seem to handle the puck very well, though he also doesn’t do it very often.
Samsonov will be back in the KHL this year. It will be difficult for him to steal the starting job, but he should continue to push for more minutes. He should also be Russia’s number one goalie at the World Juniors. Samsonov will spend time developing in Russia before coming to the NHL. The Capitals can be patient. Braden Holtby is just 26 years old, and is established as a Vezina Trophy Winner.
#2 Prospect: Jakub Vrana
Center/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Feb 28 1996 — Prague, Czech Rep.
Height 5’11” — Weight 190 lbs [180 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 1, #13 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Vrana came over to North America on a full-time basis last season playing for the Hershey Bears in the AHL. A wrist injury suffered in November kept him out of the Hershey lineup for several months. However, when he did play, he was exceptional, scoring 16 goals and 34 points in 36 games. He added eight goals and 14 points in 21 playoff games. Hershey advanced to the Calder Cup Final. Unfortunately they were swept by the Lake Erie Monsters.
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, edge work and lateral movement. 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. However he has also spent a lot of time on the wing, especially in the AHL. He has the versatility to play all three forward positions. His stick handling 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 play maker. His wrist shot is very strong and accurate, and he has the type of lightning-quick release that often fools goaltenders.
Vrana has worked to add size and strength. He is much better in the corners and in front of the net than he used to be, though there is still room for futher improvements in physical strength. Vrana is not afraid to go to those dirty areas, and he isn’t intimidated. It is merely a factor of adding muscle. He also has good hockey sense, making smart plays both with and without the puck.
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. He can be taught, and good coaching will improve this area.
The Capitals forwards are deep and talented. They are a tough unit to crack, especially for a player as young as Vrana. While he was exceptional in the AHL, he also missed a lot of development time due to injury. Expect him to start the season in Hershey, but do not be surprised if he gets some games as an injury call-up.
#3 Prospect: Madison Bowey
Defense — shoots Right
Born Apr 22 1995 — Winnipeg, MAN
Height 6’2″ — Weight 209 lbs [188 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 2, #53 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Bowey had a strong rookie season with Hershey. He put up four goals and 29 points in 70 games. He scored six points in their playoff run, and was also a reliable member of the blue line.
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 edge work 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, but 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 power play quarterback. Increased patience and poise took his game to the next level in the second half of the seaosn. It took some time to adjust to the increased speed of the AHL, but once he settled down he did not rush plays. Bowey finds the smart play as well as moving the puck efficiently with his passing.
While he’s very good offensively, its the combination of that along with Bowey’s defensive abilities that make him 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 plays a gritty game. 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.
Bowey heads to training camp looking for a full-time spot on the Capitals blue line. While he may not quite be ready for the start of the season, he could get some injury call-ups. If he continues to improve at the AHL level, he could steal a full-time job later in the year.
#4 Prospect: Lucas Johansen
The Capitals drafted Johansen with the 26th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Johansen, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Jonas Siegenthaler
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 6 1997 — Zurich, Switzerland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 220 lbs [191 cm / 100 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 2, #57 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Siegenthaler spent the season with the Zurich Lions in Switzerland’s top Men’s League (the same team that Auston Matthews played on last season). He scored three goals and eight points in forty games. Following the Lions playoff loss, he signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals and got in six AHL games.
Siegenthaler is an excellent skater. He has good speed and mobility in all directions thanks to an extremely smooth stride. His pivots, edge work, and agility are all excellent, which allows Siegenthaler to be able to cover a lot of ice, and make plays in all directions. He is also very hard to beat one on one off the rush. His excellent balance is useful in winning those board battles, and clearing the front of the net.
There isn’t much of an offensive game from Siegenthaler. He does make a good first pass out of the zone, but is a true stay at home defender as he does not follow it up and join the rush. Don’t expect much from him in terms of stick handling, or setting plays up either. He moves the puck off his stick quickly, preferring to safely dump it into the corner rather than trying a creative cross ice pass.
Siegenthaler has good accuracy on his shot, but his wrist and snap shot have very pedestrian releases. He lacks power on his shot, whether that be his wrist, snap, or slap shot. He does show the ability to get it on net though, and keeps things low so that he can create rebounds for teammates. Siegenthaler is not one to pinch at the blue line and keep the play alive, preferring to back off and make the safe read.
Siegenthaler has ideal NHL size at 6’3″ and 220 pounds already. He’s not afraid to use that size to get involved physically. He’s not a big hitter, but he does battle along the boards and clear the front of the net. Siegenthaler maintains excellent gap control and positioning.
Siegenthaler forces attackers to the outside, and into poor shooting positions. He has an excellent understanding of angles and how to cut down the dangerous areas of the ice. Siegenthaler controls his man down low, and is excellent at playing against the cycle game, keeping the puck to the outside, and sometimes stripping it with a quick poke check. He uses his size and a long, active stick to cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Siengenthaler has very good defensive instincts. He reads the play well and anticipates where attackers are going to go with the puck. Siegenthaler could stand to add some muscle to his upper body, and this would help him even more in those battles as he moves to a more physical North American game.
Siegenthaler will play for the Hershey Bears this season. He needs to adjust to North American ice and continue to develop before he is NHL ready. Its likely a longer term project, as he looks to be at least a couple of years away from full-time NHL duty
#6 and Sleeper Prospect: Riley Barber
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Feb 7 1994 — Pittsburgh, PA
Height 6’0″ — Weight 198 lbs [183 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in round 6, #167 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Barber finished up his first season in the AHL with impressive regular season numbers. He scored 26 goals and added 29 assists for 55 points in 74 games. However, he didn’t have quite the same success in the playoffs. Barber struggled, scoring only one goal and four points in 17 games.
Barber is a good, but not great skater. His speed is above average, and he has decent acceleration. He also has the agility and edge work to avoid attackers, and find openings in the defence. Barber is strong on the puck, and he battles through opposing checks with his powerful lower body.
Barber is a strong 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. Barber wins board battles despite his size and can really work the puck down low. He is also 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. Barber shows his grit on the back check 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 was a key penalty killer in college and is starting to take on a similar role in the AHL.
Barber will likely start the year in the AHL, continuing to develop his two-way game. He has grown as a player every year since being drafted, and it would not be surprise if he continues to improve and finds himself playing a few games when injuries crop up.
The Capitals have continually replenished their team with strong drafting. The system has very good depth at the back-end. NHL goalies Holtby and Grubauer are still young, and the team has Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek and newly signed Adam Carlson in the system. The blue line is very well stocked with Bowey, Johansen, Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos, and Tyler Lewington. Beyond Vrana there are not any other blue chip forwards. Barber, Travis Boyd, Zach Sanford, Stanislav Galiev, Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker provide depth and are possible role players.