Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Washington Capitals Prospects
Many thought that 2016-17 would finally be the Washington Capitals year. Once again, the team looked great in the regular season. They won their second straight President’s Trophy. Unfortunately, they also failed to get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, falling to their familiar rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
The loss brought about big changes in Washington. Defenceman Nate Schmidt was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Free agency ravaged the roster with Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner all signing with new clubs. The team re-signed centre Evgeny Kuznetsov, winger T.J. Oshie, and defenceman Dmitry Orlov to new big deals. However, this created a cap crunch and Marcus Johansson was traded to the New Jersey Devils. The additions have been few and far between, as Devante Smith-Pelly is the Capitals biggest free agent acquisition.
2017 NHL Draft Picks: Tobias Geisser, Sebastian Walfridsson, Benton Maass, Kristian Roykas Marthinsen
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 continued his brilliant KHL play with a .936 save percentage over 27 games. He also had a .949 save percentage in three playoff games. While he’s been a backup at Metallurg, he’s always performed well when called upon. He had a 2.11 goals against average and .930 save percentage for Russia at the World Juniors.
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.
According to Eliteprospects, Samsonov is signed with Metallurg through the end of the 2017-18 season. Vasily Koshechkin will likely continue as the Metallurg starter, though Samsonov seems to get more and more games each year. The Capitals have a 27-year-old Vezina winner in Braden Holtby in their net, so can afford to be patient with Samsonov.
#2 Prospect: Jakub Vrana
Center/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born February 28th, 1996 — Prague, Czech Republic
Height 5’11” — Weight 190 lbs [180 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #13 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Vrana got his first taste of NHL action last season, but struggled scoring only three goals and three assists in 21 games. He was very good at the AHL level with 19 goals and 36 points in 49 games. However, Vrana failed to make an impact in the AHL playoffs, going pointless in seven games.
Vrana is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed, but it is 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. He has gotten stronger on the puck as he’s added muscle on his frame. He could still do more though.
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 has improved during his AHL time. He will never be confused for a Selke candidate, but his positioning and effort level are coming along. He can be taught, and good coaching will continue to improve this area.
The Capitals have lost a lot of offence this off-season. Vrana will be counted on to take a role in the top nine, and to help off-set some of those losses. He seems likely to start the season on the wing, given the fact that the Capitals are deeper at centre.
#3 Prospect: Christian Djoos
Defense — shoots Left
Born August 6th, 1994 — Gothenberg, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 162 lbs [183 cm / 73 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 7th round, #195 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Djoos’ offensive production exploded at the AHL level. He scored 13 goals and 58 points in 66 games for Hershey last season. He also added eight points in 12 playoff games. Djoos led all AHL defencemen in assists.
Djoos is a good, but not great skater. His speed and acceleration are above average. He can certainly keep up with the play, but he does not blow you away either. His agility and edge work are good, helping him to keep attackers in front of him, and open up passing and shooting lanes from the point. He also has good pivots. Djoos quickly transitions from offence-to-defence as well as the other way around. He needs to be stronger, in order to win battles on the boards and clear the front of the net.
Djoos is an outstanding play maker. His vision and passing skills are top notch. He has the puck handling to move the puck out of danger, and can make a quick pass to star the transition game. Djoos is also good at the long stretch pass. He can quarterback things from the point on the power play, with the poise to wait for opportunities as well as the skill to thread the needle on tight passes that present themselves. He also has a good slap shot and one-timer.
Djoos works hard in the defensive end. His positioning is sound and his gap control is good. He also cuts down passing lanes with an active stick. Djoos is not afraid to block shots. He suffers from a lack of size and strength though, and can be overpowered by bigger forwards. His biggest asset is retrieving pucks quickly and starting the transition to limit the time spent in his own end.
The Capitals lost three defencemen who finished last season as key parts of their team this off-season. This creates a void, and an opening for a player like Djoos who has two years of North American pro experience. He comes to camp looking to perform and win one of the open jobs.
#4 Prospect: Travis Boyd
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born September 14th, 1993 — Hopkins, Minnesota
Height 5’11” — Weight 184 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 6th round, #177 overall at the 2011 NHL Draft
Boyd, playing his second pro season, emerged as the Hershey Bears leading scorer with 16 goals and 63 points in 76 games. He also added eight points in 12 playoff games. The former Golden Gopher is turning heads at the AHL level.
Boyd is another good, but not great skater. His stride is long and fluid, and so his acceleration and top end speed are good. He is also shifty, with good agility, edge work and pivots. Boyd has decent lower body strength and a low centre of gravity allowing him to win board battles and protect the puck down low.
Boyd is an outstanding play maker. He anticipates and thinks the play very well. It seems like he knows where his teammates and opponents are going, before they get there. Extremely poised with the puck, he protects it and slows the play down, waiting for teammates to get open. When they do, he can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas. Boyd does not look to shoot very often. He is almost always thinking pass. Boyd has a decent shot and release, but could add more power. He should shoot more, just to keep opponents guessing.
Boyd is good in the face-off circle. He also works hard to help support the defence down low, and to take away passing and shooting lanes. He can sometimes get caught puck watching and losing his man, but has done this less often in recent years. Good lower body strength helps him to be strong on the boards and in front of the net.
Boyd plays both right wing and centre. He can also play the point on the power play. There is room for Boyd to win a spot in the Capitals top nine if he comes to camp and plays well. He has plenty of experience in college and the AHL, so the time is now.
#5 Prospect: Connor Hobbs
Defense — shoots Right
Born January 4th, 1997 — Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Height 6’1″ — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round, #143 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Hobbs had a breakout season with the Regina Pats, increasing his career high in goals by 12 and assists by 32. He led all WHL defencemen in goals and points; as well as establishing Regina’s franchise record for defencemen goals, assists, and points. Hobbs was named a first team WHL All-Star.
Hobbs is an outstanding skater. He has great speed in both directions, as well as very good acceleration. In junior he can join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and still get back defensively, though he may have to pick his spots more in the pro game. He also has very good agility and edge work 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 net. He also has a strong wrist shot. Hobbs is an excellent play maker, 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.
Hobbs heads to the AHL where he will 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.
#6 Prospect: Madison Bowey
Defense — shoots Right
Born April 22nd, 1995 — Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height 6’2″ — Weight 209 lbs [188 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2nd round, #53 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Bowey suffered through an injury plagued season with the Hershey Bears. He put up three goals and 14 points in just 34 games. He also added two goals and four points in 10 playoff games.
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 has not quite found the same offensive game at the pro level that he did in junior. He is a good puck mover with the ability to rush the puck or to make a strong first pass. Bowey 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 would help him take his game to the next level. Bowey finds the smart play as well as moving the puck efficiently with his passing.
While he is 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.
The Capitals hope that Bowey comes to camp ready to make the jump to the NHL. There is room for him in the line-up, but he still must make that adjustment to the speed of the game. If he can do that, he can have a long and productive NHL career.
#7 Prospect: Lucas Johanssen
Defense — shoots Left
Born November 16th, 1997 — Port Moody, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 179 lbs [185 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #28 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Johansen’s point totals regressed just slightly with the Kelowna Rockets last season. The team was not as strong offensively as it had been the previous season, and Johansen refined his defensive game as well.
Lucas Johansen is a two-way defenceman whose game is based on his smooth skating. Good agility, edge work, 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 defensive 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 stick handling ability to avoid fore checkers 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 slap shot which he is able to keep low and get on 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 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.
Johansen looks to make his mark with the Hershey Bears this year. He is likely a year or two away from NHL action. There are still aspects of his game that could use some rounding out.
Sleeper 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 was having a strong season when a hand injury cost him time. Overall he would finish with 13 goals and 27 points in 39 games for the Hershey Bears. He also put up five points in 12 playoff games. It took some time for Barber to get over the hand injury and get his shot back to 100%. He also got in his first three NHL games last season.
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 has taken on a similar role in the AHL.
Barber heads to camp competing with Vrana and Boyd 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.
The Capitals are very strong on defence. In addition to those named above, they also have Jonas Siegenthaler, a stay at home defender who will challenge Djoos and Bowey for a spot in camp. They also have Tyler Lewington progressing through the system, though he is a bit of a project. They added three defencemen in this year’s draft, though did not pick until the fourth round. The Capitals also appear strong in goal, Holtby is young, Philipp Grubauer recently came through the system, Samsonov is one of the world’s best goalie prospects, and Vitek Vanecek is also progressing nicely.
They are not nearly as deep up front. Nathan Walker hopes to be the first Australian to suit up for an NHL game this season. The former third round pick, is a grinder who could fit into a fourth line role. Chandler Stephenson is a centre who seems best suited for a bottom line role as well. He does not put up huge points, but does well in his own end. Garrett Pilon is an undersized centre who put up offence for Kamloops last season. He moves to Hershey this year. Adding offensive firepower, especially on the wings, will be a key for the Capitals going forward.
Embed from Getty Images