Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today we look at the Washington Capitals Prospects.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Washington Capitals Prospects
When the 2017-18 season started, most thought that the Washington Capitals, two-time reigning President’s Trophy Winners, would take a step back. On defence, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt were all with new teams. Up front, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson also had new homes. The Capitals would take a step back in the regular season but it was not a big one. They finished first in the division but sixth in the league. The playoffs would be a different story though. The Capitals took a step forward, breaking their second-round curse and winning the first Stanley Cup in Franchise History.
The off-season brings change, once again. The team could not come to an agreement with head coach Barry Trotz, who left for the New York Islanders. Taking over is long-time assistant Todd Reirden. Backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik were traded to Colorado, with the Avs buying out Orpik, and the Caps re-signing him at a cheaper price. The move gave the team the cap space needed to re-sign top defender John Carlson. In fact, the team kept most of their free agents, with centre Jay Beagle as the only loss who made a significant contribution in the playoffs.
2018 NHL Draft Picks: Alexander Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Kody Clark, Riley Sutter, Mitchell Gibson, Alex Kannok-Leipert, Eric Florchuk
Graduations: Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd (age),
Top Prospect: Ilya Samsonov
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born February 22nd, 1997 — Magnitogorsk, Russia
Height 6’4″ — Weight 203 lbs [193 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #22 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Samsonov, once again, proved why he is one of the best goalie prospects in the world last season. In 26 KHL games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he put a 2.31 goals-against average and a 0.926 save percentage. He was solid in the playoffs as well, with a 2.30 goals-against, and 0.913 save percentage. Following the conclusion of the KHL season, Samsonov inked his entry-level contract with the Capitals.
Samsonov has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goaltenders today at 6-foot-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 has improved his rebound control, though this is still something that can better. It 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.
The Capitals have indicated that Samsonov will start the season in the AHL with Hershey. He is not far from NHL ready, but he needs to play games. He should not be a back up at just 21 years old. Samsonov has spent the last two years backing up Vasily Koshechkin in the KHL. He needs to play at least 50 games this year and that won’t happen with Braden Holtby in Washington. Expect Samsonov to start pushing for an NHL job in 2019-20, eventually even pushing Holtby for the starter’s role.
#2 Prospect: Alexander Alexeyev
The Capitals drafted Alexeyev with the 31st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Alexeyev. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Lucas Johansen
Defence — shoots Left
Born November 16th, 1997 — Vancouver, British Columbia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 182 lbs [188 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #28 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
In his first AHL season, Johansen put up six goals and 27 points in 74 games for Hershey. The younger brother of Nashville Predators centre Ryan Johansen, he made a nice adjustment in his move from junior hockey to the professional game. He played big minutes and in all situations for the Bears, including being relied upon against the other team’s top lines.
Johansen is a two-way defenseman whose game is based on his smooth skating. Good agility, edgework, and strong pivots give Johansen the ability to change directions, and transition quickly and effectively from offence to defence. His good lateral movement allows him to keep the play in front of him in the defensive end, or to walk the line and open up shooting lanes in the offensive end. Johansen has decent speed and acceleration. He could stand to strengthen his lower body and have a more powerful stride and better balance.
Johansen is able to add to the attack with a strong first pass setting up the transition game. He also has good poise, and the stickhandling ability to avoid forecheckers and skate the puck out of his own end. Johansen has a good sense of when to lead and/or join the rush and when to hang back in his own end. Working the line, he has the vision and passing ability to quarterback the power play. He also has a strong slapshot which he is able to keep low and get on the net, even when facing heavy traffic. High hockey IQ allows Johansen to always seem to make the right play with and without the puck.
Johansen defends the rush well by keeping defenders in front of him and forcing them to the outside. He has a quick stick, and poke checks the puck away from attackers. He uses his long stick, and long arms to really cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Johansen is not much of a big hitter, but he is willing to work hard in front of the net and battle for pucks in the corners. He is more likely to work to establish his position on a forward and tie up their stick than to clear the front of the net. Johansen is an extremely smart player, who reads the play well and has good positioning. He can create turnovers, and quickly transition those into offence when he does.
With the Capitals defence group relatively set, Johansen will have a tough time cracking the lineup out of training camp. He also needs a little bit more development time to round out his game. Johansen could be called up to the big club if injuries hit, but is unlikely to take on a full-time NHL role before the 2019-20 season.
#4 Prospect: Connor Hobbs
Defence — shoots Right
Born January 4th, 1997 — Regina, Saskatchewan
Height 6’1″ — Weight 197 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round, #143 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Hobbs was well on his way to a solid rookie season in the AHL, but his season was interrupted by a fractured wrist. He ended the year with three goals and 16 points in 44 games for the Hershey Bears.
Hobbs is an outstanding skater. He has great speed in both directions, as well as very good acceleration. He can join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and still get back defensively. Of course, now that he is in pro hockey, he is learning to pick his spots better than he did in junior. He also has very good agility and edgework which allows him to be elusive on the rush, and to open up shooting and passing lanes in the offensive zone. Hobbs has good balance and is strong on the point.
Hobbs showed off all the offensive skill that one would want in a defenceman. He has a bomb from the point and knows how to get it through shooting lanes, and on the net. He also has a strong wrist shot. Hobbs creates shooting and passing lanes with his lateral movement and ability to walk the line. He shows poise and patience at the point. Hobbs is an excellent playmaker, both from the point and off the rush. He can set up teammates with crisp passes and has the vision and creativity to spot openings. He is also very good at handling the puck.
Hobbs skating ability is a real asset in the defensive zone. He keeps attackers in front of him and forces them to the outside. Hobbs is not afraid to play physical but must remain disciplined and not get himself out of position chasing pucks or looking for that big hit. The skills are there, but the execution is a work in progress. He showed some improvement in his first pro season but still needs a bit more time.
Hobbs should head back to the AHL where he will continue to refine his game over the next year or two. The Capitals could have a late round steal here, but there is still some polishing to be done.
#5 Prospect: Axel Jonsson Fjallby
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born February 10th, 1998 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 170 lbs [183 cm/77 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round, #147 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Jonsson Fjallby had a solid season with Djugardens in the SHL with seven goals and 16 points in 42 games. He was even better in the playoffs with six goals and eight points in 11 games. Jonsson Fjallby also played for Sweden at the World Juniors, picking up two goals and four points in seven games and bringing home a silver medal.
Jonsson Fjallby is an extremely good skater. He is lightning quick with a good first step, excellent acceleration, and very good top-end speed. Jonsson Fjallby can fly through the neutral zone and is the first one in on the forecheck. He has a low centre of gravity which gives him very good balance. With his powerful stride, Jonsson Fjallby can fight through checks on the rush and is strong on the puck protecting it in the cycle and winning battles on the boards. His edgework and agility are also decent. He can manoeuver through traffic, both with and without the puck.
Jonsson Fjallby plays a straightforward but effective game. As noted, he is quick to get in on the forecheck. He forces defenders into mistakes and turnovers as he loves to finish his check. Jonsson Fjallby is also strong in the cycle game. He keeps the puck moving and makes the safe pass to a teammate to keep possession. If Jonsson Fjallby gets the opportunity, he takes the puck hard to the net. He is also willing to get to the front of the net and cause havoc without the puck. Jonsson Fjallby has a good wrist shot from furhter out, and his release is quick.
Jonsson Fjallby’s game is all about hard work and persistence. He is not the most skilled player with the puck on his stick, and would rather go through a defender than around them. His passing game is all about maintaining possession through simple plays and not necessarily about the creativity to create scoring chances. He works best as a complementary player on the line, rather than one who should be expected to drive the offence.
Jonsson Fjallby’s grit and physical game are apparent in all three zones. He is hard on the backcheck, providing support to the defence and willing to play a physical game in the corners or clearing the front of the net. He is good at creating turnovers and transitioning them into offence, effectively anticipating plays and cutting down passing lanes. Jonsson Fjallby has been particularly effective on the penalty kill for the Swedish Junior Team.
Jonsson Fjallby signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals this spring. He is likely headed to Hershey in the fall. He may never become a big scorer but Jonsson Fjallby could have a career in the NHL as a third line energy player and penalty killer. He is likely a year or two away from being NHL ready.
#6 Jonas Siegenthaler
Defence — shoots Left
Born May 6th, 1997 — Zurich, Switzerland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 220 lbs [191 cm / 100 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2nd round, #57 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Siegenthaler played his first full pro season in North America, putting up six goals and six assists for 12 points 75 games. He also played in three games for the Swiss National team, though he did not pick up any points.
Siegenthaler is an excellent skater. He has good speed and mobility in all directions thanks to an extremely smooth stride. His pivots, edgework, 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 stickhandling 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 snapshot have very pedestrian releases. He lacks power on his shot, whether that be his wrist shot, snapshot, or slap shot. He does show the ability to get it on the 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-foot-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 clears 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. Siegenthaler has very good defensive instincts. He reads the play well and anticipates where attackers are going to go with the puck.
A little older and more experienced than the other Capitals defence prospects, Siegenthaler will go to training camp looking to claim a spot on the blue line. If there is an injury, or if the Capitals choose to keep eight defenders, he could have an inside shot at the position. His upside may not be as high as others, but he is probably the closest to being NHL ready of the Caps defensive prospects.
#7 Prospect Riley Barber
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born February 7th, 1994 — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Height 6’0″ — Weight 198 lbs [183 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 6th round, #167 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Riley Barber had another strong season with Hersey, putting up 20 goals and 38 points in 60 games for the Hershey Bears.
Barber is a good, but not a 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 off 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 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 was a key penalty killer in college and has taken on a similar role in the AHL.
Barber heads to camp competing for the open spots amongst the Capitals forward group. His defensive game, and ability to kill penalties could give him a leg up if the Capitals are looking for someone to fill those roles. At 24 years old, he’s been part of the Washington system for quite some time, and he needs to make an NHL impact soon.
#8 Prospect: Garrett Pilon
Center — shoots Right
Born April 13th, 1998 — Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Height 5’11” — Weight 188 lbs [180 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals- round 3 #87 overall 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Pilon was traded at the WHL trade deadline, going from Kamloops to Everett. He finished the year with 34 goals and 80 points in 69 games. He also put up 11 goals and 28 points in 22 playoff games as Everett went all the way to the WHL final before falling to the Swift Current Broncos. It was a heartbreaking end to a solid junior career.
Pilon is a good but not a great skater. He has a decent first step and good acceleration. Pilon’s top-end speed is very good and he can be dangerous on the rush as well as get in quickly on the forecheck. His agility and edgework allow him to be elusive both with and without the puck. Pilon has good lower-body strength and is strong on the puck. He wins battles on the boards and establishes his position in front of the net. Pilon is good at controlling the puck down low on the cycle. He shows a feisty side and is often found in the middle of scrums.
Pilon has a great wrist shot and a quick release. He also has a very good snapshot and can score on his backhand. Earlier in his junior career, there was criticism that Pilon did not shoot the puck enough, however, that is no longer an issue. In fact, he led the WHL in shots on goal last season. He is a good stickhandler, who can use his hands to create space to get that shot off. Pilon also has the ability to find soft spots in the defence, waiting for a teammate to set him up.
Pilon can also play the role of playmaker. He sees the ice well and can make strong passes through tight spaces. Pilon can slow the play down or speed it up as necessary to create a scoring chance. He has good hockey IQ and poise. He makes smart plays with the puck. Pilon has been used as a power-play quarterback, controlling play at the point. He can also play the same role on the half boards.
Pilon has a solid 200-foot game. He provides effective backpressure and supports the defence down low. Pilon is a smaller player but is not afraid to battle along the boards or help to clear the front of the net. He has been effective on the penalty kill in junior. He is also good in the face-off circle.
Pilon is ready to move up to the pro game. He will likely spend the season in Hershey as he has some areas of his game that will need development time. He is a couple of years away from a realistic shot at an NHL role.
#9 Prospect: Riley Sutter
The Capitals drafted Sutter with the 93rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Sutter. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Shane Gersich
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born July 10th, 1996 — Chaska, Minnesota
Height 5’11” — Weight 175 lbs [180 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round, #134 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Gersich’s numbers in his junior season were not quite as good as those from his sophomore campaign at the University of North Dakota. The team was not as strong as the previous year though. Gersich still scored 13 goals and 29 points in 40 games. He signed his entry-level deal with the Capitals, scoring one assist in three regular season game, and going pointless in his two playoff games.
Gersich is an outstanding skater. He has a lightning quick first step and excellent acceleration. This allows him to win races for loose pucks. His ability to change speeds can also create separation from defenders. He also has very good top end speed. Gersich’s edgework and agility are excellent. He can make extremely quick and sharp cuts. Gersich could stand to be stronger in his lower body, in order to improve his balance and be stronger on the puck.
Gersich uses his speed to get in quickly on the forecheck and pressure opposing defenders. Despite his lack of size, he is willing to play a very physical game. He finishes his checks. Gersich forces defenders to make mistakes and creates turnovers. He also has an excellent wrist shot and a quick release that can beat opposing goaltenders from further out.
Gersich plays a very simple game. His stickhandling is decent, but he does not make a lot of moves to beat defenders and get into scoring chances. His passing skills are also very straightforward as he makes the smart and simple play. After moving the puck, he keeps his feet moving and works well with the give-and-go. There is a question though if he has the vision, hockey sense, and creativity to be a go-to forward.
Gersich improved his defensive game through his time with North Dakota. He keeps his feet moving and stays with his man in the defensive zone. He is also good at anticipating plays and cutting down passing lanes. Gersich is committed to a 200-foot game. However, there are still some issues as Gersich can be overpowered by bigger and stronger forwards when he tries to contain them in the cycle game.
Even though Gersich got in some time with the Capitals at the end of the year, and a couple playoff games, he still needs more development time. He will likely start the season with the Hershey Bears. If there are injuries in Washington, he could see a callup but is likely at least a year away from full-time NHL duty. His ultimate upside might only be as a bottom-six player.
Sleeper Prospect: Tobias Geisser
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 13th, 1999 — Sarnen, Switzerland
Height 6’4″ — Weight 200 lbs [193 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 4th round, #120 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Geisser spent last season with Zug in the Swiss National League. The Capitals top pick (4th round) in 2017, put up two goals and six points in 38 games. He also played in five playoff games but did not pick up a point. Geisser played for Switzerland at the World Juniors but did not pick up any points in five games.
Geisser is a very good skater for his size. Most big players have some issues in their skating, but they are minimal here. Geisser has good speed and acceleration in both directions, allowing him to cover a lot of space. His pivots are clean, and this allows him to quickly transition from offence to defence and vice-versa. He could use some work on his lateral agility though. Geisser needs to be better at walking the line in the offensive zone and staying in front of particularly quick forwards in the defensive end. He also could use some additional muscle in his lower body to improve his balance and play in the corners.
Geisser has not put up a whole lot of offensive production, but he does have some skills. To date, he has seemed content to play the role of a stay-at-home defender and does not take a lot of chances. He does not pinch in at the blueline or join the rush often. He may be more effective if he gains some confidence as his skating would allow him to take some more chances. Geisser also has a good slap shot but has some trouble getting it on the net. If he could walk the line it would help him open up more shooting lanes.
Geisser has very good vision and passing skills. He moves the puck up the ice quickly in the transition game and can even make a long breakaway pass to a teammate if one presents itself. In the offensive zone, he sees the ice well but often makes the safe and simple play. He could use some work on his stickhandling as well as opening up passing lanes with his movement at the blueline.
Geisser is a big and mobile defenceman. At 6-foot-4-inches tall, with a long stick, and excellent skating ability, he is very tough to beat in one-on-one. He can poke check an opponent and knock the puck off their stick. Geisser has excellent positioning and cuts down shooting and passing lanes very well but is not a physical defender. He does a good job of keeping attackers to the outside and funnelling opponents into bad shooting areas. He could again use some work on his lateral agility as particularly shifty forwards can give him some issues.
Geisser signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals this spring and will head to North America for his first pro season on this side of the pond. He may never be a big scorer, but he will need to work on handling the puck and moving it quickly in order to adjust to the limited time and space he will have in his own zone. Geisser is a former forward who has been converted into a defenceman. He is a project, but given his size and skating skills, could be a good one for the Capitals.
The Capitals system has one elite prospect in Samsonov but lacks depth overall. The team has consistently been one of the best team’s in the league and has traded a number of picks and prospects in recent years for trade deadline rentals. Even when they have picked, its been at the bottom of each round due to their strong records. There are some good prospects on the blue line but the Capitals really lack any form of high-end forward prospects at this point.
In terms of system depth, there is Nathan Walker, Beck Malenstyn, Kody Clark, Juuso Ikonen, Brian Pinho, and Damien Riat also in the system. The defence also features Martin Fehervary, Sebastian Walfridsson, Tyler Lewington, and Chase Priskie. In goal, the Caps also have Vitek Vanecek and newly drafted Mitchell Gibson.
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