Strengths and Weaknesses of Washington Capitals' Top Prospects
Despite the Washington Capitals' failure to qualify for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is no disputing how well this team has drafted, acquired and ultimately developed young prospects over the past decade.
For all of Washington's faults on the defensive side of the puck, Brian MacLellan is inheriting a roster full of home-grown talent, and with a pipeline stocked with quality up-and-coming talent, there's no reason to believe the Caps can't climb back into the postseason in 2014-15.
The upcoming 2014 NHL draft will surely see MacLellan add to his stockpile of promising future contributors, but for now, here's a look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Washington's current top prospects.
Since being taken with the No. 23 overall pick in 2013, Austrian-born Andre Burakovsky has only furthered his status as a potential NHL sniper.
That's because the son of former NHL forward Robert has been absolutely electrifying with Erie of the OHL in his first season of North American hockey.
With 87 points in 57 games, Burakovsky announced his arrival as one of major juniors' most dominant scorers, and his seven-point outing at the 2014 World Junior Championship had the Caps' management team foaming at the mouth as well.
Strength: Burakovsky's blessed with a sublimely quick and accurate shot, and while he won't beat goalies quite as easily at the next level, there's no reason to think he couldn't be a 30-goal man in Washington.
Weakness: Perhaps due to how lethal a playmaker he is on his own, Burakovsky tends to hang onto the puck too long sometimes, opting to call his own number rather than dish it off to a teammate in a better scoring position.
During his first NHL season, Tom Wilson made quite a name for himself with his hard-charging style and combative edge, and in 2014-15, the oversized winger figures to be a bigger difference-maker on the scoreboard as well.
Though the 2012 first-rounder managed just three goals and 10 points as a rookie, Wilson showed during his final OHL campaign that he's got the tools to put up at least 40 points a year, even if he drops the mitts more than anybody else on the Caps.
Strength: Wilson's blend of size and speed gives him an advantage over virtually any defenseman in the league, as his ability to finish a check with pace forces opponents to look over their shoulders anxiously when he's on the forecheck.
Weakness: It may be that Wilson spending his first season as a fourth-liner took away from the power forward's confidence offensively, because he didn't fully exploit his talents around the net in 2013-14.
After four seasons of KHL hockey, Evgeny Kuznetsov finally made landfall in Washington, and though it was inconsistent, he did show glimpses of world-class skill during his first stint in a Capitals uniform.
No, three goals and nine points in 17 games is nothing to write home about, but his skill and poise with the puck weren't best suited for fourth-line duty either.
Heading into his first full NHL campaign, one has to hope that the former first-rounder will be integrated more effectively into the team's top six, as well as one of the Capitals' two power-play units.
Strength: Kuznetsov's puck-handling abilities are obvious immediately, but perhaps his most dangerous attribute is his vision, and this strength enables the young Russian to use his shot more efficiently, as opposing teams have to respect the possibility of him hitting an open teammate.
Weakness: In order for Kuznetsov to maximize his potential at this level, he's got to add muscle to his frame, as he seemed to get worn down by the more physical nature of the NHL.
Unlike the other players previously discussed, Connor Carrick didn't come into the Capitals organization as a can't-miss prospect, but that hasn't stopped the talented young blue-liner from earning his first NHL action less than 18 months after being drafted in 2012.
A former fifth-rounder, Carrick's size certainly caused him to remain low on many scouts' lists, but his mobility and poise with the puck helped him earn an opening-night roster spot in 2013-14.
Now, with Washington having undergone changes in both the managerial and coaching departments, beyond Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, spots will be up for grabs, and if Carrick continues to develop, one could be his.
Strength: Carrick bears an uncanny resemblance to Green when carrying the puck, and while many Caps fans are sour on the former Norris Trophy finalist today, for a young defenseman, it's still a big compliment. Carrick's hands and poise with the puck are elite for a young rearguard, and both will help him overcome his suboptimal size at the next level.
Weakness: We just outlined it. Carrick's size and general lack of ability to physically intimidate oncoming forwards is what will be his biggest obstacle to overcome at this point, but if he can gain confidence and out-smart opponents, he's got the tools to be a top-four presence eventually.