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Prospect Pool Overview: Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals lack high-end talent in the team's prospect pool. Tony Ferrari takes a deeper look, and which players have the best chance of becoming impact NHLers.
Hendrix Lapierre

There’s no other way to put it. 

The Washington Capitals have one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL. They lack high-end talent and depth at just about every position. Much like Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, they have been a team gunning for the Stanley Cup every year since Alexander Ovechkin’s rookie season. 

The Capitals and Penguins have done the same as Crosby and Ovechkin’s careers ride a parallel: sell the farm to compete for a cup while the generational talent is on the roster. The Caps have made the playoffs every year since 2007, aside from a miss in 2013-14 that’s largely attributed to a coach who was a square peg in a round hole.

They’ve made some intriguing picks over the last couple of years as they’ve kept their first-round picks for the most part. Hendrix Lapierre almost made the Capitals out of camp last year and even scored his first NHL goal but ultimately was sent back to the QMJHL. Lapierre blends puck skill and skating to transport the puck up ice and then he has the vision and passing ability to make plays offensively. The 2020 first-round pick should make the jump to pro hockey this year and could have a shot at sticking in the NHL as he did last year.

Alexei Protas is a big center who will throw his weight around and pound the puck at the net. He also has impressive hands around the net and the ability to create havoc in tight. Protas is excellent at supporting teammates in transition even if he doesn’t carry the puck through the middle of the ice all that efficiently. His skating is a major issue and will likely be the biggest hurdle to becoming a full-time NHLer. He struggles to keep up as the game speeds up, but he sees the ice and uses his size to help make up for being a step behind defensively.

The Capitals drafted all-around forward Oskar Magnusson in the seventh round in 2020 and although his offensive game at the pro levels in Sweden hasn’t really popped off, he has shown a processing speed and two-way game that helps make him a good contributor even when he’s not filling up the scoresheet. 

Axel Jonsson Fjällby is a bottom-six forward who got some time with the Caps last year. He isn’t going to be a high-end point producer but he fills the bottom of the lineup energy role. Jonsson Fjällby could be a cheap option at the bottom of the lineup as soon as this upcoming season.

Alexander Alexeyev is a defender who is aggressive in the neutral zone, attempting to thwart transitions into his own zone with an active stick. His skating is sloppy and he can get his feet tangled up within himself but he has good instincts and makes a great first pass. 

Vincent Iorio isn’t as stout defensively but his passing and ability in transition are what stands out for him. He finds teammates through traffic in the neutral zone and understands the nuances of the breakout game. He is a bit of a reactionary defender which can get him in trouble as he jumps a lane or mistimes a play but there’s room to grow there. 

Brent Johnson is an interesting blueline prospect in that he has so many tools such as his crisp passing and slick puck handling. He does need to refine some of his skating technique but overall moves fairly well, he could just serve to improve the agility and quickness a bit.

2022 NHL Draft Class

Round 1 (20 Overall) - Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylya (VHL)
Round 2 (37 Overall) - Ryan Chesley, D, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
Round 3 (70 Overall) - Alexander Suzdalev, LW, HV71 Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 3 (85 Overall) - Ludwig Persson, LW, Vastra Frolunda Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 5 (149 Overall) - Jake Karabela, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Round 6 (181 Overall) - Ryan Hofer, C, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Round 7 (213 Overall) - David Gucciardi, D, Michigan State University (NCAA - BIG10)

In the feel-good moment of the draft’s first round, Ivan Miroshnichenko went to the Capitals with the 20th overall pick. The highly touted Russian was a top-five player coming into the season but up-and-down play to start the season saw his stock drop. In March of this year, Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, same cancer that Mario Lemieux had, and put a premature end to his season. He has a long road ahead of him as cancer takes a massive toll on anyone’s body but his treatments have been completed and he is back skating, hoping to resume his play this season. 

Ryan Chesley, a USNTDP defenseman, was the team's second-round selection. A smart, all-around defender who has the tools to do so much more than he has thus far in his hockey career, the intrigue and “what if” that so many saw in his game had some believe he could be taken in round one. He leans defensively at the moment but skates well and can make excellent passes in all three zones. Chesley could be a steady, do-it-all blueliner for the Capitals in a few seasons.

The third round featured a couple of Swedish wingers in Alexander Suzdalev and Ludwig Persson. Suzdalev has incredible hands and creativity in his game that makes hockey so much fun. He has speed and makes passes in motion with accuracy. Suzdalev can be a bit chaotic at times and although his speed is very good, his acceleration can be an issue. He needs to improve his first couple steps but if he does that, he could be a very skilled offensive playmaker with some ‘wow’ factor. Persson is a bit more of a 200-foot player who uses his speed and pace defensively to pressure opponents and he gets to the net offensively. While he doesn’t bring the same dynamism that Suzdalev brings, Persson brings a steady game in all three zones. He isn’t the most impressive puck carrier, but he can move the puck and works hard consistently.

Jake Karabela does a lot of things well but nothing truly stands out. He looks like someone who'll have a decent AHL career but may struggle to become an NHLer if he can’t take a major step in some regard. 

Ryan Hofer was drafted as a third-year eligible forward under a point per game. That doesn’t lend itself to success generally but the Capitals identified something in his game that they value. 

Their final pick was also an overage player, second-year eligible David Gucciardi. The Michigan State defenseman is a good skater who plays a physical game and can make some nice plays in transition. He isn’t a dynamic offensive player and he likely isn’t going to be a major difference maker but some tools could develop him into a bottom-pair puck mover who can get the puck up ice in transition and handle lower-end defensive matchups.

Strengths

The Capitals' strength is on the left wing, mostly thanks to the most recent draft. Miroshnichenko is a highly touted player that plays with skill and physicality. His shot is heavy and has the potential to beat goalies clean from a distance and his hands are good from in tight. Suzdalev has speed and unreal puck skill. He has impressive hands and tools but needs to bring them all together. Persson fits the Jonsson Fjällby mold a bit. He works hard, plays quickly, and pressures opponents but doesn’t have the creativity or skill to optimistically be more than a middle-six player.

Weaknesses

The Caps need a lot in their prospect pool. Defense is the most glaring need though. Some players such as Johnson or Chesley could work out to be middle-of-the-pack defenders at the NHL level. Iorio and Gucciardi are perfect fine prospects. The talent level isn’t nearly enough with any of these players when you look at what kind of players become impact players at the NHL level.

Next Man Up: C Hendrix Lapierre

After getting a stint with the Capitals last year and some available spots within Washington’s forward group, Lapierre seems like the obvious choice to make the jump. He is a high-level playmaker and can bring a depth element of scoring to the lineup. The Capitals have plenty of aging veterans who still maintain the ability to score and produce offensively, but Lapierre’s young legs carrying the puck up ice in transition could be a valuable asset. The Capitals need to start seeing their young players come in and claim spots in the lineup because the old guard is aging quickly and won’t be around forever.

Prospect Depth Chart Notables

LW: Ivan Miroshnichenko, Axel Jonsson Fjällby, Alexander Suzdalev, Ludwig Persson
C: Hendrix Lapierre, Jake Karabella, Alexei Protas
RW: Oskar Magnusson, Henrik Rybinski. Bogdan Trineyev
LD: David Gucciardi, Alexander Alexeyev
RD: Vincent Iorio, Brent Johnson, Ryan Chesley, Martin Hugo Has
G: Garin Bjorkland, Mitchell Gibson

For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition

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