The Washington Capitals' Best Prospect at Each Position Entering 2013-14 Season
In recent years, the Washington Capitals have managed to remain competitive despite dealing with a number of players signing big-money, long-term deals, and much of that has been due to the team's ability to identify and ultimately draft high-end prospects.
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, John Carlson and Karl Alzner are just a few of the players that the Caps have developed in-house, and that list is sure to get longer given the number of quality prospects in the team's pipeline.
Heading into what will be a pivotal season for the organization as a whole, here's a look at the Capitals' best prospect at each position.
Center: Evgeny Kuznetsov
As arguably the best prospect in the game not currently in the NHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov is the easiest choice for this list.
Simply put, the young Russian is one of the most dynamic prospects in recent memory, and given his production in the KHL and at major international tournaments (he was MVP of the 2012 World Juniors), it almost seems to be a foregone conclusion that he'll be a star at the next level.
With a silky set of hands, impressive speed and a flair for the dramatic, Kuznetsov is the type of prospect that a scout can hang his hat on for years, and when he does eventually make the trip over to D.C., one has to assume that he'll be ushered into a top-line role immediately.
A virtual lock for Russia's entry at the 2014 Olympics, the 21-year-old may be able to join the Caps (via CSN Washington) by season's end, and if that's the case, Washington could be a sleeper pick for the postseason come April.
Right Wing: Tom Wilson
Technically, one could make the argument that Tom Wilson's time as a prospect is coming to a close, given that the big winger suited up for three postseason contests for the Capitals in 2013.
But at this stage, Wilson isn't a lock to make the Caps' opening night roster this fall, as Adam Oates' squad has a wealth of talent up front, and it may not be in the 2012 first-rounder's best interests to be used sparingly at this point in his career.
If he does indeed return to the OHL's Plymouth Whalers following Washington's training camp, Wilson will continue to develop as a first-rate prospect, and he should be at most a year away from full-time NHL duty.
He's got the size, tenacity and raw talent to be an impact player in D.C. soon, but whether his true coming out party happens this season remains to be seen.
If Wilson hadn't had such a strong season in 2012-13, Riley Barber would be on this list, because the diminutive, yet skilled, Miami of Ohio winger had a breakout campaign with the Redhawks last year.
Left Wing: Andre Burakovsky
Though not a terribly well-known prospect going into the 2013 draft, Andre Burakovsky quietly climbed into the minds of NHL scouts last season, as the Austrian-born winger demonstrated his sublime skill with Malmo in Sweden.
While Burakovsky needs to add a physical dimension to his game, his shot and skating abilities were too enticing for the Capitals to pass up at No. 23.
He might be a couple of years away from NHL duty, but the 6'1" sniper, who put up 11 points playing in a man's league a year ago, will certainly benefit from another season of professional hockey before he makes the jump to North American hockey.
Defense: Connor Carrick
As a 2012 fifth-rounder, Connor Carrick was initially considered a long shot to be an everyday NHL rearguard at best.
But after a stellar rookie season with the Plymouth Whalers, the slightly undersized defender has suddenly become a coveted prospect, as Carrick registered 44 regular season points, along with another 18 during just 15 postseason contests.
For now, Carrick is still certainly a project, but if he continues on the trajectory he ended last season on, he'll be a solid two-way defenseman with considerable offensive upside for the Capitals, maybe even as soon as 2014-15.
Thus far, Carrick has put up solid numbers during both of his appearances with the United States on the international stage, so if he continues to put up points at the clip he did last season, he should be a lock for Team USA's entry at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
Goaltender: Philipp Grubauer
Yes, the Capitals have a pair of promising young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, but that doesn't mean that one more could hurt.
With the aforementioned pair occupying the crease in D.C., Philipp Grubauer will continue to ply his trade with Hershey, but that should serve the young German well, as he's developed nicely during his first two season of professional hockey.
Last year, the 21-year-old posted an impressive .915 save percentage during his two brief appearances with the Capitals, but even before that, Grubauer was solid in AHL play, and if he continues to progress at this rate, he could be knocking on the door in Washington very soon.
Assuming there aren't any major stumbling blocks for the talented young stopper, one has to think that he could spell the end of Neuvirth's time in Washington once the Czech native's contract is up two years from now.