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For players like Tom Wilson, the door is wide open to grab a roster spot.
With the Caps offense in such disarray, many young prospects are going to have every opportunity to earn permanent roster spots.
The reality of this scenario was confirmed by McPhee at a press conference on July 8, when he seemingly tried to convince himself that this year's free-agency class just was not good enough to invest in. As reported by Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, McPhee thinks his team is fine just the way it is.
We went through the process and analyzed every player and said does this player fit in with us and at what price and everything else. You keep coming back and saying he’s not better than what we have. Or he might be a touch better than what we have, but the guy we have is a good player at the right price. Why do that? We like our team. We’re a solid NHL team.
With McPhee feeling that way—and assuming he won't make any additional moves in free agency—then the success or failure of the Caps for the 2013-14 season might hinge on the young guns of the franchise.
The Caps are relatively loaded with young talent, all of them eager to prove themselves ready to compete at the highest level possible. The fact that they will all get an opportunity is beyond fortuitous—it is fantastic and a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
First, the Caps have Tom Wilson, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft. Most figured it would be a couple of years before Wilson skated with the Caps. Instead, when the team needed a lift after Martin Erat was injured in Game 4 against the New York Rangers, the Caps turned to the 19-year-old right winger.
He played well in three games against the Rangers in the playoffs. Of all the prospects at the recently completed development camp, Wilson is the most NHL ready of the lot. He now wants to stay in Washington and not go back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
NHL.com ran a good article on Wilson recently, recapping his rise to perhaps becoming a full-time member of the Caps. This excerpt demonstrates that Wilson may have outgrown the OHL and is ready to take a major next step:
A case can be made that the 6-foot-4, 217-pound power forward has outgrown the OHL, where in 60 games last season (regular season and playoffs), Wilson had 32 goals, 75 points and 145 penalty minutes. He was voted the best body checker in the OHL Western Conference for the second straight season in a coaches' poll.
This echoes what I have said previously—that Wilson has nothing more to gain from playing in the OHL and he is too young to play in the AHL.
Wilson is going to be a tremendous player, and I am excited to see what he can do with the Caps.
Second, the Caps have Michael Latta. With Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks gone—and with Evgeny Kuznetsov's status up in the air—the Caps have a shortage of quality centers. That means Latta is going to get an opportunity to earn a roster spot.
He knows that Hendricks' departure leaves a void to fill on the Caps; fourth line. He seems to be the one who wants to assume that role. In an interview with Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, the young center showed that he recognizes the unique opportunity he has:
As a young, right-handed centerman that kind of plays a role similar to Hendricks, I see him leave and I’m sure Caps fans are upset and I heard nothing but good things about him, but he leaves and maybe that opens up a spot for me. You never know. It’s nice for myself, personally and selfishly that he’s gone, so we’ll see. Hopefully I can do what he did and earn a spot here.
Most Caps fans were fond of Hendricks and hated to see him leave. But Latta offers a dimension to his scoring game that Hendricks arguably did not have.
If you look at what Latta did after he was traded to the Caps, it has to give you hope. He played in 14 games for Hershey, was the third-line center and scored three goals. The general consensus was that he was a hard worker, very determined and eager to make a name for himself.
The Caps also have Riley Barber, who has a great hockey pedigree and is also eager to show what he can do. Plus, there's Connor Carrick, another Caps' prospect who left an impression on the coaching staff at development camp. And don't discount Dmitry Orlov, Madison Bowey and Tomas Kundratek, discussed earlier.
Could there also be a chance for the Caps' first-round pick from the 2013 NHL draft, Andre Burakovsky? Perhaps.
And we have not even discussed the open door that would be presented to Kuznetsov—if he ever shows up of course.
With the Caps needing to bolster their offense and McPhee unwilling to do anything in free agency, the young prospects are going to get a rare opportunity to shine.