The 5 Prospects Most Important to the Washington Capitals' Future
Since Alex Ovechkin entered the league in 2005-06, the Washington Capitals have consistently enjoyed sizable contributions from young players, which is why the team has remained a postseason fixture for the past six seasons.
Beyond Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, Braden Holtby, John Carlson and Marcus Johansson have all become home-grown impact players for the Capitals, and that trend appears to be continuing, as the team has a wealth of talent in the pipeline.
Thus far, we've already seen a handful of rookies get chances to prove themselves in Washington during 2013-14, and they're only going to get better from here.
With that in mind, here's a look at Washington's five most important prospects going forward.
As arguably the best player not currently plying his trade in the NHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov is a very safe bet to be a consistent scoring threat for the Capitals—if he ever comes to Washington.
Since being taken with the 26th overall selection in the 2010 NHL draft, the Russian sniper's stock has steadily risen, and for good reason, as the 21-year-old has been a force at every level of play.
In 2012, Kuznetsov was named MVP at the World Junior Championships, as he piled up an astounding 13 points in six games with the Russian squad, which only further cemented his status as a blue-chipper.
And he's been just as solid during his time in the KHL, as the offensive dynamo has racked up 38 goals and 84 points in his last two seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
However, Kuznetsov has suggested that there's a very real possibility that he could end up staying in Russia for the considerable future, which would be a big blow to Washington down the road.
He's a lock to earn a spot on the Russian Olympic team this winter, which says a lot about the slick youngster's potential.
The Capitals have had a great deal of success in developing players coming out of the Swedish professional ranks, and the team hopes that will continue with 2013 first-rounder Andre Burakowsky.
Though he's at least a season or two away from contributing in Washington, Burakowsky's skill, speed and offensive instincts were too enticing for McPhee to pass up, and if he continues to progress, he could end up being yet another late Round 1 steal for the Caps.
Currently, the Austrian-born winger is skating with the OHL's Erie Otters, and so far, the 18-year-old appears to be adjusting well to the North American game, as he's notched nine goals and 18 points in just 13 games.
He's certainly still got some filling out to do, but he's got all the tools to be a valuable asset for the Capitals' offensive attack going forward.
It isn't often that a fifth-rounder finds himself with an opportunity to contribute at the NHL level less than 18 months after being drafted, but Connor Carrick's surprising development earned him that opportunity with the Caps early this season.
Yes, there were some obvious growing pains, and that's why the mobile rearguard was sent down to Hershey for further seasoning after just three games in Washington.
That being said, Carrick is a sublimely gifted defenseman, and he appears to be capable of assuming a role on Adam Oates' vaunted power play in the near future.
During his cup of coffee in Washington, Carrick demonstrated his potential with his spectacular breakaway goal against Calgary (his first as a pro), and once he becomes more responsible in his own end, he'll be a fixture on the Caps' back end.
Though Filip Forsberg was the story of the Capitals' 2012 NHL draft class, Tom Wilson has quickly reminded fans that Washington had two selections in the top 16 that year.
Since Forsberg was jettisoned to Nashville, Wilson's become the team's most promising prospect (at least in North America), and that's why he'll remain with the Capitals for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign.
No, he hasn't tallied a point yet, but that really doesn't represent the sort of impact Wilson's had during his first stretch of games in a Capitals uniform.
The points will come, but in the mean time, fans should be grateful for the physical presence the 19-year-old brings every night, and needless to say, his willingness to stick up for his teammates is a true indication of this young man's character as a hockey player.
Wilson's still growing into his massive frame, but once he fills it out, he'll start racking up numbers outside of the penalty-minutes column.
Though it's too early to tell for sure, early indications seem to suggest that McPhee and his scouting staff uncovered another hidden gem when they took Riley Barber with pick No. 167 of the 2012 draft.
Since then, Barber's become a very intriguing prospect, as the undersized 19-year-old authored an extremely impressive freshman season with the Miami RedHawks, tallying an eye-popping 39 points in 40 games on one of the nation's best teams.
In addition, the reigning CCHA Rookie of the Year helped lead Team USA to the gold at the 2013 World Junior Championships, putting up three goals and six points in the Americans' winning effort in Ufa, Russia.
For now, Barber's still a project, but it's definitely encouraging that he's picked up right where he left off last season, notching eight goals and 14 points in his first six games for Miami.
As stated before, the Capitals have a knack for churning out top-flight offensive prospects, and given the team's depth, Barber will get all the time he needs to develop into a top-six threat.
He's got a nose for the net, quick hands and a deceptive shot, so if he continues to progress, there's no reason to think that Barber won't be in the NHL before his senior year rolls around.