Prospects have already played a significant role in the Washington Capitals' season. And so far, the team has only played three games.
To prove my point, Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com wrote the following passage about the Capitals before the puck dropped on opening night:
Adam Oates has made his share of bold decisions since becoming coach of the Capitals last year and he made another today when he told rookies Tom Wilson, Michael Latta and Connor Carrick they’ll be playing in the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Wilson, 19, has three games of NHL experience, all in last year’s playoffs. Latta, 22, and Carrick, 19, will be playing in their first NHL game.
But what about other prospects besides Wilson, Latta and Carrick?
Here is a prediction of the four Washington Capitals prospects most likely to be called up in 2013-14. This list is based on the predicted order of each prospect's call-up, with an ETA of when they will join the team.
Note: All statistics updated through Oct. 8 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
Washington's snakebitten blueliner Jack Hillen severely injured his leg in the game against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 3. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post tweeted the extent of the injury the following day:
Jack Hillen is undergoing surgery today, Oates said. The defenseman is expected to miss months.— Katie Carrera (@kcarrera) October 4, 2013
The Capitals quickly signed 22-year-old Swedish defender Alexander Urbom, a former prized prospect of the New Jersey Devils. Urbom has played a total of 14 regular season games in the NHL, with two goals, a minus-two rating and nine penalty minutes. Yes, that number of PIMs means that Urbom does have one regular season NHL fight to his name, according to HockeyFights.com.
Head coach Adam Oates spoke to Mike Vogel of the Caps' Dump 'N Chase blog about Urbom shortly after the signing:
He is a big, strong kid. [He] skates good, uses his body well. And he fought [Montreal’s Brandon] Prust [in a preseason game] the other night. He’s got huge potential. I don’t think his offense has come out yet. He has upside potential, he’s big and he skates good. I really honestly feel that when our organization works with guys, I think we can make guys better. I want that to be our calling; I really and truly do. Here’s a kid who is not playing for New Jersey – they’ve got depth issues as well. If we can make him better, he upgrades us. There is no secret potion. If he upgrades, he plays. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t.
Urbom immediately moves up the Capitals' defensive depth chart, according to The Hockey News, slotting in behind Steve Oleksy and head of Dmitry Orlov. This means Urbom would be the first D-man to get a sweater in case of another injury. Or, he would get a sweater if Oates decides to dress seven defenders. Either way, Caps fans should see Urbom make his Washington debut sometime soon.
ETA: October 2013
Philipp Grubauer is officially sent back to Hershey - no surprise.— Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey) September 26, 2013
The German goaltender did get a taste of the NHL last season. In two games played, Grubauer surrendered five goals for a .915 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average. That includes a scoreless performance in his NHL debut on Feb. 27, when he stopped all 14 shots he faced in relief of Braden Holtby.
Grubauer should get another taste of big league action this season. The 21-year-old is currently third on the Capitals' goaltending depth chart, according to The Hockey News. He will most likely be the first goalie to receive a call-up if Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth miss any time.
ETA: November 2013
Once upon a time, Dmitry Orlov was a rising star in the Capitals organization.
In 2011, Orlov was ranked fourth among the Capitals' top 10 prospects, according to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. And during the 2011-12 season, Orlov impressed two different head coaches enough to suit up for 60 games, totaling three goals and 16 assists with a plus-one rating and 18 penalty minutes in the process.
But then Orlov's ascent began to slow. First, he did not make the Caps' playoff roster for the 2011-12 postseason. Then, due to a combination of an injury, a shortened season and the emergence of Steve Oleksy, Orlov was marginalized in 2012-13, playing only five games for the Capitals. As a result, he needed to be reevaluated.
GM George McPhee touched on this when he spoke to Tim Leone of PennLive.com on Sept. 4 about Orlov:
We drafted this guy in the second round [in 2009] because we think he had some upside to be a real good player, and he's shown us that when healthy he plays the game pretty well. We think he's learned enough in Hershey and is ready to do something here. We're not sure at this point how much. But can he get to be a top-four D? We hope so, but it's up to him. He's got to show us.
That quote was made before training camp. Orlov did not show the Caps enough at that time, and he was assigned to the Hershey Bears instead.
Now, Orlov's next chance to show the Caps what he is capable of has seemingly been delayed. According to The Hockey News, the native of Russia is currently behind newly acquired Alexander Urbom on the Capitals' defensive depth chart. Ironically, Orlov was selected ahead of Urbom in the 2009 NHL Draft, according to Hockey-Reference.com, and has played in 51 more regular season games in his brief NHL career.
Clearly, Orlov is lagging behind Urbom in something. Orlov better figure out what that is if he wants to stick with the Capitals the next time he's called up.
ETA: December 2013
Much consternation has been experienced by those following the development of the Capitals' number one prospect, according to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. In fact, Igor Kleyner of RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com recently declared that "the ongoing drama of Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s impending jump to the NHL is relentless. Informally, we call this drama Fifty Shades of Red, one for each of his forecasted dates to end our second Long National [Capital] Nightmare by putting on the red sweater we thought he’d have been wearing for a couple of years by now."
Believe it or not, this drama may be coming to an end in the next few months, thus culminating in Kuznetsov's debut with the Washington Capitals later this season.
Capitals GM George McPhee reassured everyone on Sept. 12, in a statement tweeted by Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com:
#CapitalsTalk GM George McPhee says Evgeny Kuznetsov shoulder injury to sideline him 'probably 4-6 weeks' Hopes to have him at end of season— Chuck Gormley (@ChuckGormleyCSN) September 12, 2013
Then on Sept. 27, Ted Starkey of SBNation DC tweeted that another major obstacle to Kuznetsov's departure from his home country had finally been cleared:
RT @dchesnokov: Evgeny Kuznetsov will not be conscripted into the Russian army. Russian Army official made new yesterday saying it was a...— Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey) September 27, 2013
Capitals fans who have become cynical by experiencing Kuznetsov's numerous vacillations as well as other delays may yet witness the arrival of the Capitals' long-awaited prospect before this NHL season is through.
Barring any unforeseen complications, of course.
ETA: April 2014