Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 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 2019 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 2019-20 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
Coming off the organization’s first Stanley Cup Championship, the Capitals largely avoided the dreaded Stanley Cup Hangover in 2018-19. It was a strong debut for new head coach Todd Reirden. Star winger Alex Ovechkin won another Rocket Richard trophy, leading the league in goals. The Capitals finished with 104 points, good for first place in the Metro Division. However, things didn’t go quite as well in the playoffs. They lost in the first round, falling in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
This brought about some changes in the off-season. Matt Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade that brings Radko Gudas to Washington. Other moves included signing Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik, and Brendan Leipsic. Meanwhile, Andre Burakovsky was traded to Colorado. Free agents Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, and Nathan Walker have all moved on. Further improvements on the team that ended last season will need to come from the team’s prospect pool.
Top Prospect: Ilya Samsonov
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born February 22nd, 1997 — Magnitogorsk, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #22 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Coming to North America, Samsonov needed some time to adjust to the change in ice and angles. He started slowly but seemed to come on in the second half of the year. In 36 AHL games, he put a 2.70 goals-against-average and an .898 save percentage. He had similar numbers in the playoffs, with a 2.99 goals-against-average and .897 save percentage.
Samsonov has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goaltenders today at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. Samsonov makes the most of that size, coming out to challenge on plays, and reducing the amount of the 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.
Samsonov does a good job of recovering quickly from goals against and being ready to make the next save. Over his time in both the KHL and AHL, he has shown that he can remain focused at all times, whether that is facing a ton of shots behind a weaker team or going through long periods without a shot. He is a natural leader who should also grow into that role for Hershey and eventually Washington.
Samsonov will come to camp looking to make the team but is likely to 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 22 years old. 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 2020-21, eventually even pushing Holtby for the starter’s role.
#2 Prospect: Alex Alexeyev
Defence — shoots Left
Born November 15th, 1999 — St. Petersburg, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 200 lbs [191 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, #31 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Alexeyev put up 10 goals and 43 points in 49 games with the Red Deer Rebels last season. However, a knee injury suffered in March cut his campaign short. Before his injury, he played for Team Russia at the World Juniors, picking up six points in seven games and coming home with a bronze medal.
Alexeyev has strong skating ability, with good speed in both directions. He generates that top speed in just a few strides. This ability to get up to speed quickly, both moving forward or backward helps him to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Alexeyev also has good edgework, agility and pivots. These also help him play an effective two-way game. Alexeyev has a strong lower body. He has good balance and a powerful stride. He is strong on the puck and wins battles in the corners, as well as clearing the front of the net. This has worked well in juniors but he may need even more strength as he heads to the pro game.
Alexeyev has good vision and passing skills. He can start the play with a good pass out of his own end, as well as quarterback the play from the blue line. Alexeyev has the skating ability to retrieve dump-ins and loose pucks as well as the poise to move it out of danger in his own end. He can lead the rush but also makes smart passes to get the transition game going. Alexeyev does not force plays. If he is skating up the ice and does not like the way things look, he is not afraid to stop, turn back to his own end and try it again.
Alexeyev also has a hard slap shot and has done a better job in finding shooting lanes. He can work on keeping his shot low to allow his teammates to grab deflections and rebounds. He has started to use his agility to walk the line and create better shooting and passing lanes from the point. When there is no lane there, he keeps the puck moving, and makes the safe play rather than try something creative to generate a scoring chance. When his shot is taken away, Alexeyev needs to do more, both with and without the puck to find open spaces and create shooting angles.
Alexeyev defends well on the rush, keeping opponents in front of him, and forcing them to the outside. He can throw a big hit when given the opportunity and makes good use of his physical capabilities that way. However, when he is defending in the zone, he can sometimes get himself out of position by looking to be more physical. Alexeyev will need some coaching on his positioning. He needs to be better at cutting down the passing lanes and staying with his man instead of chasing the puck carrier.
It is hoped that Alexeyev will be ready to go in the fall, but the Capitals have not released a lot of updates on his knee injury. It has been quite some time since the injury and there have not been reports of surgery, so it is likely he will be ready to go. That said if there are any lingering issues the Capitals are likely to take their time. Alexeyev will likely start in Hershey as he begins to adjust to the pro game. He could be a call-up if the Capitals hit injuries this year. He could make the team on a full-time basis in 2020.
Prospect #3: Connor McMichael
The Capitals drafted McMichael with the 25th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on McMichael. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #4: Martin Fehervary
Defence — shoots Left
Born October 6th, 1999 — Bratislava, Slovakia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 194 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2nd round, #46 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Playing in the SHL, Fehervary had limited ice-time last season. He scored one goal and seven points in 45 games for HV71. He also put up three assists in nine games in the playoffs. Fehervary represented Slovakia at the World Juniors, scoring one goal and five points in five games and being named a top-three player on his team.
Fehervary is a very good skater. He has very good speed and excellent acceleration in both directions. He also has strong edgework and crisp pivots. Add in excellent agility and Fehervary’s skating is an asset that helps him at both ends of the ice. He is able to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. While Fehervary has decent size, he can add muscle to his frame. This would help him to be stronger on the puck and to win more battles on the boards and in front of the net.
Fehervary has some skills, but the offence is not the key part of his game. His strong skating is combined with decent puck handling skill to retrieve pucks and skate them out of danger in his own zone. He can make a move or two in the neutral zone but is not one to carry the puck up the ice. Instead, he is a stay at home defender, preferring to be cautious.
Fehervary also makes a decent first pass out of the zone. However, he is not that creative with the puck when he has it at the opposing blue line. He prefers to move the puck quickly with a simple pass, rather than control the puck and try to make a play. He also needs work on his slap shot and wrist shot. Fehervary does not get a lot of power on them and could also use his agility to open up more shooting lanes. He may just lack the offensive instincts to be a big contributor despite some skills.
Fehervary uses his strong skating ability to help him play a strong defensive game. He shows good positioning and uses his agility to keep his man in front of him and maintain gap control. Fehervary doesn’t throw huge hits, but he is not afraid to use his size to be physical in the corners and in front of the net. His quick stick creates turnovers and Fehervary is quick to transition those into offensive opportunities.
Fehervary heads over to North America this season and is likely to start in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. The Capitals hope that with increased ice-time the 2018 second-round pick can take the next step in his development. He’s likely a couple of years away from challenging for a spot on the NHL club.
Prospect #5: Brett Leason
The Capitals drafted Leason with the 56th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Leason. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #6: 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
Johansen’s second AHL season was derailed by injury. An upper-body injury cost him nearly three months in the middle of the season. Even on his return, Johansen took a while to work off the ring-rust before finally finding his game again at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Overall, he put up three goals and 14 points in 45 games. All in all, it must be considered a disappointing season for the younger brother of Nashville Predators centre Ryan Johansen, especially after the promising 2017-18 campaign.
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 and will need to stay healthy to get it. 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 2020-21 season.
Prospect #7: 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 second pro season in North America and even got in some significant NHL time. He put up two goals and four assists for six points in 34 games with the Hershey Bears. He also played in 26 regular-season games and four playoff games for Capitals, scoring four assists.
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 full-time spot on the blue line. Given his play last season, he has a leg up on claiming that spot. He did not look out of place with the Capitals last season and should be part of the bottom pairing going forward.
Prospect #8: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born February 10th, 1998 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round, #147 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Jonsson Fjallby started last season with the Hershey Bears but struggled to make an impact as an AHL rookie. After just two goals and three points in 16 games, the Capitals loaned him back to Djurgardens in the SHL. He put up just one goal and 10 points in 36 regular-season games. Jonsson Fjallby had a remarkable playoff run though, with seven goals and 12 points in 19 games. His play helped Djurgardens reach the SHL final, but things were not to be as they fell to Frolunda.
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 further 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 over the years.
Jonsson Fjallby is likely headed back 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.
Prospect #9: Riley Sutter
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born October 25th, 1999 — Calgary, Alberta
Height 6’3″ — Weight 210 lbs [191 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 3rd Round, #93 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
A lower-body injury suffered in late December cut short what was a promising season for Riley Sutter. In 38 regular-season games, he put up 14 goals and 27 assists for 41 points, breaking the point per game barrier for the first time. Sutter also played in three post-season games for Everett, picking up one assist.
Sutter has very good speed. Once he gets going, he is tough to stop. He can take a defender wide off the rush and cut to the net. However, he does need to work on his first couple of steps and his acceleration. This can be a problem in shorter races to loose pucks, and in quick changes of direction. Sutter’s agility and edgework are decent but again could use a bit of improvement. His turns are a bit wide. Sutter has a long and powerful stride. He can fight through checks and keep moving forward. A strong lower-body gives Sutter excellent balance and helps him to win battles on the boards and in front of the net.
Sutter plays a north-south style of game. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and punishes opposing defencemen if he gets the chance. Sutter’s relentless pressure along the boards creates turnovers which he then translates into offensive opportunities. He uses his body to protect the puck in the cycle game and keeps it moving with quick passes to the open man. While he’s not creative in terms of his stickhandling, he can be creative with his passes, fitting the puck through tight areas and leading to scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Sutter is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker though. His wrist shot and one-timer are both particularly heavy and accurate. He could work on having a bit quicker of a release though. Sutter does most of his damage close to the net. He creates havoc at the top of the crease. Sutter has the soft, quick hands to pounce on rebounds and put them in the back of the net. He is also good at tip-ins and burying passes in tight.
Sutter plays a responsible defensive game. He brings his physical presence in his own end. He uses his size and his long stick to cut down passing lanes and is willing to put his body on the line to block shots. Sutter is a smart player who reads the play well. His anticipation helps him to create turnovers, which he can quickly translate into offensive opportunities. Sutter is a threat on the penalty kill. Though he seems to have made a permanent move to wing, Sutter was also good in the face-off circle.
Sutter leaves junior hockey behind and heads to the pro game. He will look to translate his breakout offensive campaign with Everett during his rookie season with Hershey. It is not clear if he can continue to be a scorer in the pros but instead, he projects as more of a third or fourth liner when he reaches the NHL level. Like the rest of his famous family, he should bring a gritty and tenacious style to the team.
Prospect #10: 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 had a solid first pro campaign, scoring 10 goals and 23 assists for 33 points in 71 games with the Hershey Bears. He also put up five assists in nine AHL playoff games. It was a good debut AHL season for the 20-year-old.
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 stick-handler, 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 a playmaker. He sees the ice well and can make strong passes through tight spaces. Pilon can slow down the play 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 back pressure 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 but has yet to spend a lot of time in the role with Hershey. He is also good in the face-off circle.
Pilon should continue his development this year. He will likely spend the season in Hershey as he has some areas of his game that need to grow. If injuries hit in Washington, he could be an option to fill in for a short stint. He is still a year or two away from a realistic shot at an NHL role though.
Sleeper 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 had a solid second season with the Hershey Bears putting up three goals and 18 points in 59 games. He also added 82 penalty minutes. Hobbs struggled a bit in the playoffs though with just one assist in nine games.
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 has the offensive skills that one would want in a defenceman. He has a bomb from the point and but must work to get it through shooting lanes, and on the net. He also has a strong wrist shot. Hobbs can create shooting and passing lanes with his lateral movement and ability to walk the line. He needs to be a bit more comfortable though as he doesn’t show the poise and patience at the point that he had in junior hockey. Hobbs can be a 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. He started last season slowly but seemed to be a lot more dangerous later in the season.
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 second 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.
Most teams who have spent as much time near the top of the NHL Standings as the Capitals have over the last five or six years have weak prospect systems. Now while the Capitals don’t have the strongest system in the league, their group is perfectly respectable.
As seen above it is a group that is particularly strong in goal and on defence. The Capitals also have Vitek Vanecek and Mitchell Gibson as goalies in the system. On defence, prospects worth watching include Joe Snively, Tobias Geisser, Tyler Lewington, Bobby Nardella, and Martin Has. Upfront, the team also has Beck Malenstyn, Damien Riat, Brian Pinho, Aliaksei Protas, Shane Gersich, and Kody Clark. The team lacks prospects who project as true top-six talents though.
Washington Capitals Prospects Main Photo:
HERSHEY, PA – DECEMBER 01: Hershey Bears goalie Ilya Samsonov (1) stops a shot with his chest protector while defenseman Aaron Ness (27) clears an opposing player from in front of the goal crease during the Springfield Thunderbirds at Hershey Bears on December 1, 2018 at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)