Projecting Top-End Potential for Washington Capitals' Best Prospects
The Washington Capitals have been producing top-end prospects like few other teams have in the last decade, which has been a big reason why this hockey club is gunning for its seventh consecutive postseason berth.
Since finishing in the NHL's basement in 2003-04, the Caps' draft picks include franchise cornerstones such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, and the pipeline appears to be stocked with more top-end talent for the future.
Though it'll be tough for some of these prospects to earn leading roles within the next season or two due to the Caps' impressive depth, there are definitely young guns to look forward to within Washington's system.
With that in mind, here's a look at early projections of how good the Caps' top prospects could be once they're fully developed.
As arguably one of the best players not currently skating in the NHL, there’s no doubt that Evgeny Kuznetsov has all the tools to be an effective offensive contributor in Washington whenever he decides to come to North America.
The 2010 first-rounder has put up big numbers in the KHL, as well as on the international stage (winning MVP honors at the World Juniors in 2012). He has an obvious flair for the dramatic, so until he demonstrates otherwise, one has to think that the slick Russian forward will slide right into the Caps’ top six.
Despite his decision to remain in Russia, Kuznetsov has continued to develop nicely. Given his consistent production in a league that typically features less gaudy offensive numbers than the NHL, the 21-year-old looks like a safe bet to become the Capitals’ first legitimate complimentary sniper since Alexander Semin left town.
He's already off to a hot start this season, with five goals and 10 points in 13 games, so Washington fans can only hope the sublimely talented Kuznetsov comes to D.C. once the KHL season ends.
Upside: All-Star forward, with 40-goal, 90-point capabilities, especially if he receives ample opportunity on Washington’s scorching hot power play.
One of the feel-good stories of the first 21 games of the 2013-14 season has been the play of rookie Tom Wilson, who has quickly established himself as a blossoming power forward in the Caps’ lineup.
No, Wilson hasn’t put up the type of offensive numbers he’s capable of, but his physical presence, confidence and team-oriented outlook has earned him a permanent spot in Washington’s top-12 up front.
Wilson fights, finishes his checks and forechecks tirelessly, so regardless of his rookie numbers, he’s got all the physical tools and intangible qualities to be a successful player at the NHL level.
Upside: Top-six winger, capable of scoring 25 goals and 55 points. Though it may be a season or two until he gets there, Wilson’s size and tenacity should earn him a shot at playing in front of the net on the power play in the future.
Though Wilson and Kuznetsov are easily the Caps' two most heralded offensive prospects, 2013 first-rounder Andre Burakovsky certainly appears to be a promising young forward in his own right.
After spending last season playing professionally in Sweden, the skilled winger has taken his talents to the Ontario Hockey League, and so far, Burakovsky has not disappointed.
In just 20 games with the Erie Otters, the Austrian-born Burakovsky has netted 15 goals and 27 points, so needless to say, the transition to the North American style of play hasn't fazed the 18-year-old.
He's still a couple of years away from NHL duty, but assuming he continues to develop at this rate, Burakovsky could be a solid complimentary threat for the Caps in the near future.
Upside: He's not going to put up points as Kuznetsov likely will, but Burakovsky's got the hands, speed and shot to be a 50-60 point scorer in the right situation.
The most surprising member of the Capitals' opening night roster was undoubtedly rookie rearguard Connor Carrick, as the former fifth-rounder earned the chance to prove himself after a very strong training camp.
No, Carrick didn't stick with the Caps, but the young blueliner did demonstrate that he's got all the tools to play a regular role in the NHL not too long from now.
His breakaway goal against Calgary was a thing of beauty, and though he looked lost at times in his own end of the rink, Carrick's hands, mobility and poise with the puck all looked to be NHL-caliber.
He'll need a season or two to adjust to the more physical professional game, but he'll be back in Washington soon enough.
Upside: Carrick's got the skill and hockey sense to be an offensive threat from the back end, so once he gets his defensive game down, expect him to score up to 40-45 points a season.
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