Washington Capitals: The Caps' 7 Most Untouchable Prospects
While the official version of the 2012-2013 Washington Capitals remain on a lockout-induced hiatus, that does not mean that the members of the Caps—both present and future—are just sitting around and doing nothing.
To the contrary, Caps players and prospects are playing in all sorts of locations all over the globe for a variety of teams.
The past few years, the Caps have been as good as anyone at drafting prospects and then letting them develop into good NHL players. Some projects have taken longer than others to be sure, but the end result for quite a few of these prospects has usually been very good.
Braden Holtby is an example of this. The 23-year-old goaltender became a hero for many Caps' fans with his tremendous playoff run last spring where he very nearly got the Caps to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998.
John Carlson is another fine example of how the Caps system, as far as prospects are concerned, has been working. The young defenseman became an integral piece of the Caps defensive puzzle last spring and he was rewarded with a six year, $23.8 million contract just before the lockout took hold (Washington Times).
There are others such as Dmitry Orlov, an up-and-coming blue-liner for the Caps, and Marcus Johnasson, who has a ton of potential to be a very good forward for Washington.
At the 2012 NHL entry draft, the Caps put together, by most accounts, a very solid draft. The influx of talent added quite a few more potential "can't-miss" prospects to the organizational pool.
Which ones are the best? Who will eventually rise up and claim a roster spot? Which Caps' prospects have superstar potential?
Let's take a look at seven Caps prospects who should be considered untouchable over the next few years.
7. Stanislav Galiev
Stanislav Galiev was selected in the third round of the 2010 NHL draft by the Caps. He has already drawn some comparisons to Alexander Semin—which would obviously be a good thing since Semin will be playing in Carolina this year (NBC Washington).
Galiev is a very strong skater who has good hands and a very good shot. He has exceptional speed and very good vision on the ice.
The main knock on him is that at 6'1" and 188 pounds, he's a bit on the small side.
But the talent is there and the work ethic—a quality Semin seemed to lack from time to time—is also there.
Galiev showed what a force he could be during his time with Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. This was particularly true during the 2010-2011 season when Galiev scored 37 goals and had 28 assists in 64 games played.
Those are very good numbers and if Galiev can translate that to the NHL, he could definitely be a top-six forward.
Galiev was plagued by a wrist injury last season and only played in 20 games, but in the playoffs he was a force as he scored 16 goals and had 18 assists in just 17 games.
Galiev has made the jump to the Hershey Bears this season to see if his game might be ready for the NHL. He is off to a slow start as he only has an assist in eight games played.
But look for Galiev to start to catch on and start scoring again very soon.
Keep your eyes on this one as he could definitely be a force for the Caps in the next couple of years.
6. Connor Carrick
Connor Carrick was drafted in the fifth round by the Caps in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
The young defenseman has exceptional speed and is not afraid to play physically. Those are two very good qualities for a blue-liner to have, particularly if the Caps continue moving in the same direction their defense was headed last season.
Carrick has shown the potential to be a two-way defender. While playing for the US National Development Team from 2010-2012, Carrick scored eight goals and had 17 assists in 89 games.
This is a young man with a good head on his shoulders. He is taking classes at the University of Michigan, where he was originally slated to play this season, and is playing hockey for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.
Thus far, Carrick looks to be a bit ahead of the game in his first season with Plymouth. He has three goals and five assists in 14 games played. He also has eight penalty minutes.
That's not a bad start at all.
Carrick is only 18 years old, so he will need time to develop. But all indications thus far are that this is a defensive prospect the Caps can't let slip away.
5. Riley Barber
Riley Barber is a right winger taken by the Caps in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL draft.
He's another 18 year old with tons of potential taken by the Caps.
Are you sensing a theme here yet?
At 6'0" and 194 pounds, Barber has a better size than Stanislav Galiev. Barber is also very willing to use that size to his advantage, and he truly seems to enjoy a more physical style of play.
Barber has good speed and even better hands.
Like Connor Carrick, Barber made his mark last season as a part of the United States National Developmental Program. In 60 games played last season, Barber had 21 goals and 15 assists.
His performance was enough to convince the Caps to spend a draft pick on him. It is a move, I believe, that will pay off quite well for the Caps in the coming years.
Barber is playing at the University of Miami (Ohio) this year and he is off to a good start. In just six games played, he already has four goals and four assists.
If he continues to generate numbers at that clip, a call up to Hershey or perhaps the Reading Royals might not be far off in the future.
This is a young man to absolutely watch and he could ultimately be a top-six forward if he continues to progress. He checks in as another untouchable prospect for the Caps.
4. Chandler Stephenson
Chandler Stephenson was drafted by the Capitals in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft as a left winger.
Yes, again, he's another 18 year old taken by the Caps with great upside potential.
At 5'11" and 192 pounds, Stephenson is obviously on the smaller side.
But that is about the only real flaw in Stephenson's game—and he can always put on some muscle.
Stephenson's strengths far outweigh this. He has good speed and very good hands. He has some skill moves well beyond many 18-year-olds.
He has great ice vision and is a natural playmaker who can take the shot himself or who can decide to pass the puck to a teammate.
The Caps will also love his versatility as he can play center or on the wing equally well.
Currently, Stephenson is in the WHL playing with the Regina Pats.
It was last season with Regina when Stephenson's game really came to life. Last season, Stephenson scored 22 goals and added 20 assists in 55 games played.
This season, again with the Pats, Stephenson is off to a good start with four goals and six assists in 12 games.
Chandler Stephenson has all the skills and intangibles needed to be—eventually—a top-six forward for the Caps. His already existing skill, combined with how he is progressing, makes him an untouchable prospect for the Caps.
3. Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson was taken with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Caps.
To say the sky is the limit with this kid might be an understatement.
At 6'4" and 203 pounds, Wilson does not have the same size problems as other forwards mentioned thus far. In fact, Wilson is pretty big for an 18-year-old right winger.
And Wilson absolutely knows how to use his size to his advantage. He is always willing to lay a punishing check on an opponent, and he is more than willing to drop the gloves if need be.
He cycles the puck well and has an active stick.
Wilson is also a very effective leader and he has shown this during his current stint with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. Wilson, despite his own young age, has become someone that new players can turn to for guidance and advice.
Wilson also provides a good template for many players as to what you have to do to be a first-round pick.
Wilson probably needs to work on being a bit more creative if he is going to fit in with the Caps, but that is something that will come to him with time and experience.
Last season with the Whalers was Wilson's best as he notched nine goals and 18 assists in 49 games. In the playoffs, though, Wilson really stepped up his game with seven goals and six assists in 13 games. Wilson also had a very solid plus-10 rating during the playoffs.
This season with the Whalers, Wilson is off to a good start with two goals and eight assists in just eight games. He has been slowed by a hand injury, but I expect to see him really excel once he recovers.
Tom Wilson has it all. He could probably be a third or fourth line winger with the Caps right now. Finishing this season in Plymouth will provide Wilson with some valuable experience that will round out his game nicely.
He is clearly an untouchable prospect for the Caps and one I personally can't wait to see hit the ice at Verizon Center.
2. Filip Forsberg
When the Washington Capitals were able to select Filip Forsberg with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, they had to consider themselves very lucky.
Many expert analysts—as well as many amateur analysts such as myself—felt that Forsberg was a Top 5 pick.
When he fell to No. 11, the Caps would have been nuts to pass on him.
Well, George McPhee is many things, but crazy is not one of them.
Forsberg was one of the best shooters in the entire draft and creates huge matchup problems for the defense. The opposition has to respect Forsberg's pure skill, speed and skating ability or he will make them pay.
He is relatively light with a 6'2", 181-pound frame. Despite that, he is not afraid to get physical and actually seems to look for someone to hit at times.
That actually sounds a bit like another member of the Caps who has been quite successful—Alexander Ovechkin.
He is a good playmaker, but could stand to improve in this area a bit more. Yet he is a natural scorer with no real weakness in his game.
Currently, Forsberg is biding his time in Sweden playing for Leksands of the Allsvenskan league.
Last season, Forsberg netted 10 goals and had 10 assists in 53 games played.
This season, Forsberg is off to a strong start as he has scored seven goals and notched five assists in 16 games.
Forsberg has top line forward written all over him. Not only is he untouchable—he could be a superstar.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov
Ironically, the Caps' most untouchable prospect may be the one the Caps themselves have the most trouble touching.
Evgeny Kuznetsov was selected No. 26 overall by the Caps in the 2010 NHL draft.
Although he has yet to play a single minute in the NHL, and although he will remain in Russia for at least another year and a half or so, Kuznetsov has all-star potential.
The 20-year-old center can do it all. He can skate with the best of them. He can pass. He can score. He can make plays. He has fantastic vision. He has even improved his game as a penalty killer.
And at 6'3" and 187 pounds, Kuznetsov can be as physical as he wants to be.
He simply has it all, and he has it right now. There is little question if he was with the Caps right now, he could be a top-six forward.
To top it all off, his leadership abilities have improved so much so that Kuznetsov was named captain of the Russian Under-20 hockey team.
If there is a concern for Caps fans, it would have to be whether Kuznetsov will ever actually come to Washington and play. If he does, he is the type of player who could make people forget Alexander Semin very quickly.
One can only hope the Alexander Ovechkin is not so alienated by the eventual outcome of the lockout that he convinces Kuznetsov to stay away.
Currently, Kuznetsov is playing for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL. Last season, Kuznetsov scored 19 goals and had 22 assists in 49 games.
This year, Kuznetsov is again on pace for another stellar season with nine goals and 12 assists in 20 games.
There is not a better prospect anywhere in the Caps organization and the Caps need to do all they can to get Kuznetsov to the United States as soon as they can.