The 2013-14 campaign has gone south in a hurry for the Washington Capitals. But with so much talent and apparent depth on this roster, one has to think Adam Oates is capable of turning things around before the postseason is out of reach.
A playoff team in each of the past six seasons, the Caps have built a strong core largely by drafting well on a consistent basis, despite regularly having low Round 1 selections in recent years.
Washington has done well with top-10 draftees such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Karl Alzner, but a number of guys picked in the late first round or later have become valuable contributors at the NHL level.
John Carlson, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, Braden Holtby, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov are just a few of the Caps' former selections who were overlooked by at least 24 other teams in their respective draft years. And it looks like there are more prospects in the system who should follow suit in exceeding expectations.
Here's a look at Washington's most underrated prospects, broken down by position.
After earning the job as Washington's starter for roughly the past five weeks, Philipp Grubauer is no longer an underrated commodity among Capitals faithful. But those who haven't watched the young German on a regular basis can't fully appreciate how much potential this 22-year-old stopper holds.
Like Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Holtby did before him, Grubauer seized an opportunity to play at the NHL level earlier than expected. His 16 outings on the season are indicative of how the Caps feel about what the future may hold.
A former fourth-rounder, Grubauer has been successful at every level and has already won a Memorial Cup and received an invitation to the ECHL All-Star Game.
And like Holtby, Grubauer has climbed the professional ladder in a hurry, moving from the ECHL to the NHL in less than a season's time.
Interestingly, the 6'0" stopper's stats in the NHL are better than at any other pro level. And while he fizzled at the end of his stint in D.C., Grubauer has shown enough promise for George McPhee to feel comfortable about dealing Neuvirth at some point this year.
The Capitals appear to have picked up a pair of very promising young prospects during the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL draft, as Andre Burakovsky and Madison Bowey both appear to be capable of developing into impact players in the coming couple of seasons.
Bowey, taken 53rd overall in June, is a smooth skater with enough size and skill to make the transition to the next level and has made some big strides with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL in 2013-14.
Named the team's captain earlier this year, Bowey, with 41 points in 45 games, has been more than twice as productive as he was offensively during his first two seasons of junior hockey.
Given his puck-rushing abilities and mobility, one has to think that Bowey would fit in well with Oates' style of play. And if he continues to progress at this rate, he'll be in Washington soon enough.
While Burakovsky and Kuznetsov may be the two most highly regarded forwards in the Caps' pipeline who have yet to play in the NHL, former third-rounder Chandler Stephenson has all the tools to be an offensive pivot any team would love to have.
Stephenson is not overly large in stature and does need work in the defensive zone. But after suffering through a pair of seasons that were riddled with injuries, the 5'11" center has enjoyed a breakout season with the Regina Pats this year.
With 56 points in 44 games, Stephenson has taken his game to the next level and has been among the WHL's most productive centers up to this point.
Due to his somewhat stalled development, as a result of past injury problems, Stephenson is definitely going to need some seasoning at the AHL level before earning a regular spot in Washington. But he's got the potential to be a top-nine forward at some point down the road.
After being named captain of the United States in preparation for the World Junior Championship, the secret may be out on Riley Barber.
But for Capitals fans, Barber's stock has grown gradually over the past 18 months, as the 2012 sixth-rounder has established himself as, undoubtedly, one of college hockey's brightest stars.
Yes, the hockey world is littered with one-time NCAA standouts who never emerged as impact players at the NHL level, but Barber appears to have the skills and intangibles needed to defy the odds.
As a freshman, Barber notched 39 points in 40 games with the Miami RedHawks—good for second in scoring on one of college hockey's most storied squads. And this season, he's been even better, as his 32 points in 22 games and 1.45 points per game are among the best in the nation.
He wasn't able to earn a second consecutive gold medal at the WJC, and that had to have hurt, especially as the team's captain. But Barber was enough of an impact player that McPhee and the Caps management team should feel good about the 19-year-old's prospects of being a regular in Washington in the future.