Ranking the Washington Capitals' Top 10 Prospects

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Ranking the Washington Capitals' Top 10 Prospects

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    Late in 2013-14, Washington Capitals fans were given a glimpse of one of their team's brightest prospects, as Evgeny Kuznetsov made his long-awaited NHL debut after many fruitful seasons in the KHL.

    Kuznetsov, who is one of the clear front-runners for next season's Calder Trophy, is just one of a group of top-end forward prospects with exceptional skill that form the core of the Caps' prospect pipeline.

    The following slideshow ranks the team's 10 best Calder-eligible prospects (don't go looking for Connor Carrick or Nate Schmidt; both have played too many NHL games to qualify) and provides capsule scouting reports. Prospects are primarily ranked based on their potential NHL ceiling, but the amount of risk involved in that projection is also a significant factor in this list.

10. Patrick Wey

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    Profile: Wey is a big (listed at 6'2", 200 pounds), strong defenceman who plays the game with a physical edge and with a toolkit that makes him somewhat unique among Caps defensive prospects. He's likely best paired with a mobile puck-mover because both passing and skating are consistently cited as weaker points in his game. 


    Risk factor: Wey's a reasonably safe bet in that he performed well in his rookie professional campaign and had three separate NHL recalls (totaling nine games) in 2013-14. The biggest question is whether he'll be exposed in longer stints in the majors. 


    NHL projection: Physical third-pair defenceman.

9. Chandler Stephenson

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    Profile: There were concerns that the 2012 third-round pick didn't play enough of a two-way game to flourish in professional hockey, but Stephenson has done his best to address those over his junior career, even being moved over to centre as his defensive abilities increased. He's solidly built and a good skater with a pretty decent scoring touch. 


    Risk factor: With all of two professional games under his belt, it's still uncertain how Stephenson is going to handle the step up to the professional game. But he's an intelligent player with a range of skills, and that versatility helps reduce the risk.


    NHL projection: Useful bottom-six forward.

8. Chris Brown

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    Profile: Brown comes with a lot of qualities that are attractive in an NHL prospect. He's a big centre, listed at 6'2" and 215 pounds. He's posted pretty decent offensive totals in the AHL, he plays a physical game and his two-way game has come a long way since he was a rookie pro. 


    Risk factor: Brown's a big guy who can play a bit, but his scoring touch isn't anything special, and when reports year after year talk about the progress in his defensive game, it's generally a pretty good sign that there's a lot of work to do. 


    NHL projection: Useful bottom-six forward.

7. Philipp Grubauer

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    Profile: An aggressive goalie with excellent speed side to side, Grubauer's raw athleticism got good reviews from multiple scouting services in his draft year. He worked his way up from the ECHL to the AHL without ever posting mind-blowing numbers, and so it was a bit surprising when he stepped into the Caps crease and posted a lovely .925 save percentage over 17 games.     


    Risk factor: The Capitals' decision to bring in journeyman goalie Justin Peters was a bit of a tell. That they signed him to a two-year, one-way contract was even more significant. Goalies are always risky, and Grubauer's track record isn't very long yet. With that said, the Caps have a pretty good history for developing goalies. 


    NHL projection: 1A goaltender. 

6. Michael Latta

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    Profile: There are some definite similarities between Latta and Brown, two players who both fill the heavy, physical centre role. Like Brown, Latta scored at a reasonable but not incredible rate in the AHL, and like Brown, he's a player who was born in 1991 on the cusp of the majors. 


    Risk factor: Latta posted excellent numbers, per Extra Skater, in a 17-game stint, playing mostly with the less-than-stellar duo of Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson last season. He's as safe a bet as prospects get.  


    NHL projection: Useful bottom-six forward.

5. Riley Barber

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    Profile: A tenacious forward who competes in traffic despite being somewhat undersized, Barber's scoring has taken off in two seasons at Miami University, during which time he's also impressed at a pair of World Junior Championships. His shot might be his best weapon, as he boasts good speed and accuracy off a quick release. 


    Risk factor: There is a fair amount of risk that his scoring won't translate well enough to the professional ranks for him to stick in the top six on an NHL squad, but he's a versatile player who should be able to make it in other roles even if he can't deliver high-end offence. 


    NHL projection: Middle-six forward.

4. Jakub Vrana

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    Profile: An exceptional scorer in international play and at the junior level overseas, Vrana posted modest totals in minimal ice time in Sweden's top league last season. He's a high-end skater with a pretty incredible offensive toolkit, but obviously still needs to tone down the rough edges. 


    Risk factor: There's a higher level of risk with any just-drafted players, simply because the track record isn't very long. 


    NHL projection: Top-six goal-scoring winger. 


    Note: Vrana was accidentally omitted in the original version of this slideshow. 

3. Madison Bowey

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    Profile: Bowey's chief calling card is his exceptional skating. Red Line Report ranked him as one of the 10 best skaters in the 2013 draft, saying he had "[f]ootwork so smooth [he] could win Dancing with the Stars." Coupled with a pro frame and a mind for the defensive game, Bowey was already a prospect of real note before last season, when he doubled his previous career high in points at the WHL level.


    Risk factor: Obviously, there's risk that Bowey won't develop into a game-breaker, but it's hard to go wrong betting on a big defenceman who skates brilliantly and feels comfortable with the puck. 


    NHL projection: Top-four two-way defenceman. 

2. Andre Burakovsky

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    Profile: He's a good skater with a 6'2" frame and potentially elite offensive skills. Burakovsky came over to North America immediately after being drafted and wasted no time fitting in, scoring 41 goals and adding 46 assists in just 57 OHL games (he scored 10 times in 14 playoff contests, too). 


    Risk factor: Burakovsky's not known for playing an especially well-rounded game, so there's certainly work to be done, but his offence is exceptional. 


    NHL projection: Top-six goal-scoring winger. 

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    Profile: Frequently touted as one of the best players outside the NHL, Kuznetsov finally made the trip across the Atlantic at the end of last season. He has a very good shot and, as he showed in his major league cameo, he's both opportunistic around the net and exceptional at concealing his intentions with the puck.  


    Risk factor: There isn't a lot of risk here. Kuznetsov has thrived for years in the very tough KHL, and his offensive abilities are first-rate. There might be a bit of a learning curve in North America, but he has the talent to be a special player. 


    NHL projection: Top-six goal-scoring winger. 



    Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

    Statistics courtesy of EliteProspects.com or NHL.com unless otherwise noted. Scouting reports from McKeen's HockeyRed Line Report, The Hockey News (subscription required) and HockeyProspectus.com were consulted in writing profiles.