Washington Capitals Development Camp: Assessing Prospects and Franchise's Future
Saturday concluded the Washington Capitals' annual Development Camp. All of the Capitals' young prospects, along with some free agent invitees, spent the week in Arlington at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex being drilled, scrimmaging, learning more about the game and how to make it to the big league and ultimately being assessed by the Caps' brass.
General Manager George McPhee spent most of the week sitting on his balcony overlooking the Caps' practice rink watching over the young hopefuls as coaches Bruce Boudreau, Dean Evason, Bob Woods and others drilled them into the ground, much like a general assessing his troops.
McPhee had some things to say about certain attendees of the Development Camp, but here are my assessments. I spent the week watching the drills and scrimmages and looking for things both big and small that stood out.
Some of the traits or qualities of a player just screamed, "look at me!" whereas others were shown in a much quieter manner by players just going about their game and working hard every shift.
Let's take a look at the top 15 prospects the Caps have.
I've given an assessment of what stood out about a player, where they might be useful, whether they're NHL quality and when they might be ready for the Show.
Some of these guys are the future of the franchise, so take a look and see what brilliant work McPhee has done in the draft.
These names are in alphabetical order by position and not in order of skill.
Travis Boyd, a 17-year-old Minnesota native was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Caps. The promising youngster is a right-shot center.
It has become apparent over the last few years that George McPhee is great at drafting quality talent in the later round of the draft. Drafting Travis Boyd did nothing to change that reputation.
Boyd looked great all week.
During the 2010-2011 season, Boyd was tied for first on the U.S. National Development team in assists. According to Don Lucia, the head coach for the University of Minnesota, where Boyd will play as a freshman this upcoming year, Boyd is a great playmaker and is great on the power play and penalty kill.
The youngster certainly showed these remarks to be true all week.
Boyd showed that he was a great playmaker. He's really a heads-up player with incredible on-ice vision and awareness. He always seemed to know where the perfect pass was. What was really impressive was his ability to assess the defense. Being an accurate passer is one thing. What's really necessary for a player to be a quality playmaker is an ability to manipulate the defense and get perfect timing on the perfect pass.
Boyd definitely has these attributes and at only the age of 17 looks like a very confident player.
Every single one of his passes was clean and hard. He always seemed very focused. He also had great positioning on the breakout. During the scrimmage on Wednesday he made a quick heads-up play, sending his team up-ice quickly with a stretch pass, putting his team into the zone for a goal off the rush.
Even though the strategy of working the puck down low and sending it back to the point for a shot is basic hockey, a lot of guys just don't seem to be with the program when it comes to that play. Boyd gets it.
On multiple occasions during scrimmages, Boyd worked the puck down the boards and sent it back to the point or was able to work the puck on the half boards and send a teammate a pass in the slot.
Perhaps the most impressive attribute Boyd possesses is his defensive prowess. He is a gifted playmaker but was also extremely efficient at executing his defensive responsibilities as a center.
Boyd blocked a good amount of shots, had solid positioning in his own end (including pinching low on the boards to pressure the offense or get involved in puck battles) and also covered the point whenever a defenseman wanted to move down low in the offensive zone.
The young American also proved to be very valuable on the penalty kill. He saw a lot of time playing the point on the PK. He stood out with great positioning, consistent hustle and great shot-blocking.
Boyd may end up being quite a steal for a sixth-round pick.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Considering Boyd is only 17 and just about to start his college career, I'd give him five or six years. Since he looks so good now at such a ripe age, maybe he'll make the NHL right out of college, but realistically he'll play his four years of collegiate hockey and then see time in the AHL for a year or two (while seeing some NHL ice during call-ups) before getting the nod for full-time NHL responsibilities.
What He Means to the Franchise: The Caps prospect pool is lacking in consistent, quality playmaking centers. Cody Eakin is one other promising center and Matthieu Perreault may yet find some consistency in NHL point production but beside them there are not many options. Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson will likely be around for a long time to come, but Boyd adds some promise for the future should anything happen to one of those guys.
Cody Eakin was the Capitals third-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft and has shown a lot of promise in his career playing in Juniors and at the previous two Capitals Development Camps.
The 20-year-old Winnipeg, Manitoba, native has also performed exceedingly well on the international stage. Eakin was named the Player of the Game for Team Canada in the Gold Medal Game in the 2011 IIHF U20 World Championship.
However, this year the Caps's center-ice prospect did not look as good as expected. At least by my mark.
Eakin was fairly invisible all week. It was hard to take notes on him, since it was hard to tell when he was ever on-ice. The Caps' prospect seemed to be lacking in confidence on the ice and wasn't passing well. He couldn't seem to put the puck on teammate's tape and couldn't receive the puck well, either.
He had a general lack of focus all week and was lacking his usual quickness.
It's understandable, though. Cody concluded his season only five weeks ago and probably hasn't had time to recover and then start getting back into shape with summer workouts. Of course, he had no interest in making excuses for himself. In his post-camp interview, he simply said that he was not pleased with himself.
Boudreau was supportive of Eakin. When asked about what he thought of Eakin's performance—or alleged lack thereof—Boudreau had the following to say: "Well you know what, I'm not disappointed at all in Cody. I know he was gonna come and give it his best. I mean, sometimes we forget he finished playing five weeks ago. This was his third camp and I thought he competed hard but I think he'll be better in September."
Yes, Eakin will be competing for an NHL roster spot during the September training camp. I think the Caps' brass already have a solid idea of what kind of player Eakin is and a good understanding of what they're going to get from him and see him do with his playing style.
Boudreau and the rest of the Caps' coaching staff and management realize that Cody plays hard night in and night out. Perhaps his work ethic and the promise he has already shown made people think he was going to come to camp and blow everyone else out of the water.
Eakin started his season captaining the Swift Current Broncos but was traded to the Kootenay Ice—get this—for five players and three draft picks. He's clearly a very valuable player at the Junior level. This past season he record 36 goals and 47 assists through 56 games.
He also helped lead Kootenay to the Memorial Cup by potting 11 goals and 27 points during 19 playoff games, good for second in the WHL in postseason scoring. Cody also scored 47 goal and posted 44 assists in 70 games with the Broncos during the 2009-2010 season.
Because of his great success and hard work, Cody is clearly still recovering from his season in the WHL. Also, there were a lot of other great players trying to make a name for themselves at the camp.
Boudreau shares this sympathy:
"I just, it's, hockey is such a draining sport, to keep going at the level you've been at for 12 months is difficult. I'm not making an excuse for him because he didn't have a bad camp at all. I mean. But at the same time maybe the expectations from everybody else around him are so great that they think he's gonna come and tear it up.
"But I think Steve Richmond did a good job of getting some pretty good guys here so it wasn't a case of anyone really dominating, I thought, they all had to work their rear end off just to look good."
The Caps' prospects on the blueline were also especially solid-looking this year and playing against guys like Dmitri Orlov must've been hard.
Still, Eakin did show signs of the great game he has exhibited in the past.
The left-hand shot is probably one of the fastest skaters in the Capitals' system along with speedsters Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson.
Eakin used his speed a lot on the forecheck to put heavy pressure on the opposing defense.
Also, even though Eakin weighs in at only 5'11", 176 pounds, Eakin loves going to the net and is quite effective in front of the opposing netminder. He has good hands in front for deflecting the puck, putting away rebounds and poking the puck away from the goalie.
Like recent draft-pick, Travis Boyd, Eakin goes above and beyond in defensive abilities. Eakin is a consistent shot-blocker and uses his quickness and speed to force the play for the offense. He was also the go-to center for five-on-three penalty kills, which speaks loads to how he is viewed by the Caps' coaching staff.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: We'll be seeing Eakin at the NHL level within one year. Unfortunately, he has not seen any time in AHL beside a short nine-game stint with the Hershey Bears in 2010 split between the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
However, now that he has turned 20 and is no longer eligible for Juniors, he'll be able to play full-time for the Bears. Eakin will compete for a roster spot on the Caps during Training Camp but fellow center-ice prospect Mattias Sjogren is probably a better fit for filling out the Caps bottom-six with grit. Eakin will most certainly be NHL ready after this next season, though.
What He Means to the Franchise: Eakin is a well-rounded player who uses his speed, agility, smarts, and heavy shot to put up heavy offensive production while remaining very solid defensively.
Beside Ovie and Semin, the Caps don't have many snipers in the organization and Eakin, when he is ready, will add more scoring-touch to the roster. He's a very valuable prospect. Imagine if he played on a line with Johansson—they could be the fastest pairing in the league.
Galiev, a 19-year-old native of Moscow, is one of the Caps' most promising prospects.
He was drafted in the third-round (86th overall) in the 2010 Entry Draft after putting up good production numbers in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons playing in the USHL and the QMJHL, respectively.
The young Russian made the jump over to North America early to get a head-start on learning the North American style of play. He has done quite well in his short North American career so far.
Last season he recorded 37 goals and 28 assists for the Saint John Sea Dogs, good for 65 points in 64 games. He also recorded an incredible 10 goals and 27 assists throughout 19 playoff games en route to the QMJHL Championship.
Galiev was then good for one goal and two assists in four games to help his team win the Memorial Cup.
He plays a very interesting game. He has stated that he models his game after none other than Washington's own Alexander Semin. Galiev bears an eerie resemblance to Semin in his on-ice play.
However, his decision to come over from Russia early has certainly helped his game as he also understands the North American style well.
This kid is the type of player who hustles every shift, especially on the forecheck, on which he throws effective hits despite his slight frame (6'1", 178 pounds).
Stanislav has also adapted his game to the North American style well. He is good at powering down the boards, is difficult to knock off the puck and at least understands the responsibilities he has in his own end.
He is extremely effective along the half-wall on his off-wing. All week, Galiev was most frequently found creating scoring situations by powering down the off-wing or handling the puck on the left half-boards while set up in the zone.
The right-handed Russian loves to shoot. Most of the shots he took were snap shots and had a lot of heat on them. However, Galiev is also a great passer and set a lot of teammates up in front of the net.
By my estimation, because of his hustle and constant good shot selection, Galiev likely generated the more scoring chances than anyone else at camp. Unfortunately, he couldn't finish on a lot of chances. Remind you of anyone? The guy he modeled his game after, maybe?
Galiev really was one of the most impressive guys out on the ice all week, though. What I liked most was that he plays with this really quiet intensity.
He has a fierceness in his play without having to make huge splashes and flashy moves or big hits. He just hustles every shift and watches every second of every play like a hawk, calculating.
His vision and awareness—along with his laser of a shot and great work ethic—are going to help him do great things at the NHL level. This kid is definitely NHL-bound.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Galiev is still eligible to play in Juniors for one more year, which should be really great for his growth. He more than doubled his goal-scoring from his first season with his great play this last year.
After Juniors, my guess would be that he'll play for about two years in the AHL before getting regular time in the big leagues. Galiev could be NHL ready sooner than that but with the amount of talent currently on the roster, he won't be needed for a few years.
This will be good for Galiev as he will have more time to grow into his body, add some strength and continue to hone his already deadly game.
What He Means to the Franchise: It's no secret that the Washington Capitals brass and fans love their Russians. Galiev brings more of that enigmatic yet jaw-dropping Russian gameplay into the Caps' talent pool. This kid will certainly be able to translate his skills into more than healthy NHL-level point production.
Again, like his role model, Sasha, this guy is a great puck-handler and in a time when true danglers are becoming more scarce, Galiev is cool and collected with the puck and uses his patience and great vision to make things happen, mainly in the assists column, but also in the goals column.
According to hockeysfuture.com, the Washington Capitals' 2010 fifth-round draft pick is a high-octane offense type player with great speed and a great hockey mind.
I couldn't agree more. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from this kid coming into the week but he repeatedly impressed me, causing me to scream in my head, "who the heck is this kid?"
Consistently throughout the week, Caleb showed off great skating technique, good speed, quicker hands and one of the heaviest wrist shots I saw from any of the prospects.
The 19-year-old American center led his team, the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, in points with 50 last season and was tied for 17th in the league in points and 14th in the league in goal-scoring with 23.
The small center (5'10", 180 pounds) will attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall and should be a great addition to the team while he further develops before being ready for AHL or NHL action.
Herbert looks to be a promising young player who could be very valuable to the Capitals' franchise in future years. He's sure to be back at Development Camp in 2012 to show off his game after another year of maturing and honing his game.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: It's hard to tell how this young player will develop but if he continues to play his style of game well then he will likely turnout to be a good top-nine or top-six forward in the NHL.
He'll have plenty of time to develop as he'll be able to play four years of college hockey and then I'd give him two years or so before seeing ice-time in the Show. Give him until he's 25 to break the NHL roster.
What He Means to the Franchise: The Caps seem very deep at center with lots of talented offensive players in their pool of pipeline players. The tough question is who of the Caps center-ice prospects will be the right guy at the right time to fill in a roster spot.
Perhaps some of the centers who are on the bigger size could shift over to wing but Herbert's game is most effective playing down the middle.
Maybe Herbert will be a depth guy playing in Hershey for awhile, maybe he gets traded so he gets a chance to crack an NHL roster for another team or maybe he ends up being able to fill a need and makes the Caps roster.
He's certainly a valuable player and will bring a lot of return whether it's in production for the Caps or compensation in a trade.
Kugryshev is yet another offensively gifted Russian in the Caps pool of prospects.
His Draft Prospect Card in 2008 said “Dmitri is a skilled winger with good vision and the ability to make plays under pressure. He needs to improve his physical presence and his overall speed, but his work ethic and balance on his skates still make him an effective winger.”
Unfortunately, Kugryshev isn't looking like the gifted winger he was supposed to be. The Moscow native is still only 21 and could certainly mature and improve his game, but right now it simply looks like he just doesn't have anything going for him.
He showed a lot of promise in Juniors and at home in Russia, being well over a point-per-game player in his two seasons in the QMJHL and his single season with CSKA Moscow.
In 2007-2008, playing with the Dynamo, Kugryshev netted 25 goals and 25 assists in 29 games. The next season, with the Quebec Remparts, the Russian was good for 34 goals and 74 points through 57 games and in 2009-2010 he recorded 29 goals and 58 assists in 66 games.
The 2008 second-round pick played his first season as a pro this year, appearing in 64 games for the Hershey Bears. He didn't put up great numbers in the goals or assists column, though, recording six and eight, respectively.
Kugryshev is going to need a breakout season in the AHL if he wants to ever wants to be considered for an NHL roster spot as he was unimpressive in his fourth Development Camp.
Dmitri does not have speed, isn't big or strong and doesn't hit and doesn't appear to have great passing or shooting ability.
His positioning was relatively good, but unfortunately he only did one noteworthy thing all week and that was simply having good positioning on the Caps low 1-2-2 forecheck on a single occasion.
Kugryshev is supposed to be offensively gifted and have a great work ethic. He did nothing to show this to be true at all during the camp and, as I recall, he didn't look particularly impressive last year, either.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Dmitri Kugryshev is looking like he'll be an AHLer for life. I don't see him ever making the big league. He's still young and could break out offensively but right now, it looks like he just doesn't have the stuff.
What He Means to the Franchise: The young Russian looks like he might be a flop of a second-round pick. The Caps have drafted much better talent in much lower rounds.
Kugryshev is yet another young player who, sadly, probably won't ever translate his promise in Juniors to a successful professional career. He'll get by in the AHL but he's not going to do anything special and is disposable.
The Capitals first-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft was not at camp this week due to injury but is undoubtedly one of the Caps top prospects who will be ready to crack the roster in the blink of an eye.
As has been stated, Kuznetsov was good enough to go in the top-five of the draft but many teams are hesitant to draft Russians because of the risk of them defecting to the KHL.
To Washington fans' joy, however, we boast having the best player in the world who happens to be the most famous Russian hockey player—Alex Ovechkin.
As we've already seen in this review of the Caps' prospect pool, D.C.'s hockey club has many young Russians hoping to break the roster and play with the Great Eight.
Kuznetsov is slated to play one more year in the KHL before making the jump to the States.
Obviously, since the phenom was not at training camp, there are not updates at this time on what he is looking like.
Instead, I will simply tell you to recall how he almost single-handedly led Team Russia to the Gold Medal in a come-from-behind fashion against Team Canada at the 2011 IIHF U20 Championship in Buffalo.
If you, for some odd reason, haven't seen the highlights from that game and are a Caps fan, then you need to go watch the highlights immediately.
Kuznetsov will most certainly be an NHL starter in the not-too-distant future who produces impressive numbers.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: One year, max. Kuznetsov will finish out the duration of his contract in the KHL and then make the jump to North America and he will not need to go through the AHL.
If the roster is still as jam-packed as it is right now, there is a chance that he could see some time in the AHL first, but I don't see that happening. Expect to see him at the start of the 2012-2013 regular season.
What He Means to the Franchise: Kuznetsov is Alexander Semin's replacement. I think this has been McPhee's plan since he drafted Kuznetsov (with a joyful twinkle in his eye, I might add). Semin was re-signed to a one year contract that will expire at the end of this season.
Unless Semin really steps up in his production this year and is willing to take an enormous paycut, he won't be staying in Washington much longer. Kuznetsov is naturally a center but could easily make the shift over to either the left or right wing.
He is an incredible puck-handler, has a great shot, is a brilliant playmaker and plays with much more motivation and determination than Semin. Washington fans should be extremely excited about what this guy means for the future.
Garrett Mitchell, drafted by Washington in the sixth round of the 2009 Draft, according to the Caps Development Camp guide, is the kind of guy the organization expects to become a fan favorite when he cracks the NHL roster.
Mitchell is a blue-collar, lunch-pail type player and his game resembles the game of someone like Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley or Matt Hendricks.
The Saskatchewan native has put up a decent handful of points for his hometown Regina Pats, whom he captained this last season. His production has also seen a steady increase every season.
In the 2007-2008 season, he had eight goals in 62 games. The next year, he posted 10 goals in 71 games and 15 goals in 57 games the following year.
Then, last season he potted 18 goals in 70 games.
What Mitchell really brings to the table is his grittiness and hard work ethic, though. Last season marked the third time he hit exactly 140 PIMs on the season. He only missed the 100 PIM mark for one season out of his five in the WHL.
He began his pro career near the end of the AHL regular season this spring when he was signed to an entry-level contract.
The Caps' Director of Amateur Scouting, Ross Mahoney, said "He's the type of player who's going to give you an honest effort every single shift - block shots, play hurt and get in the odd dustup." Definitely sounds like the makings of a fan favorite.
As for my personal observations, everything I saw was in line with what was to be expected from this guy.
He's was always hustling and liked banging bodies. He has a great work ethic on the PK. He's strong along the boards and works hard there and also makes an effort to get to the front of the net whenever he can. The 19-year-old also has great hand-eye coordination in front of the net.
He really is a Brooks Laich-esque player.
What impressed me most was Mitchell's hunger. During the scrimmage on Wednesday, he picked up a rebound right outside the crease and put it away nicely. On his next few shifts, he was playing hungry. He kept getting to high-percentage areas and creating chances after he tallied the first goal. He also netted the rubber once on Saturday.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Normally for a player like Mitchell who is showing that he makes sure he works hard every shift and shows that his work ethic pays off, I would say give him two years in Hershey and then he'll be able to take a shot at cracking the roster during Training Camp.
However, Mitchell isn't a big player—he weighs in at 5'10", 180-pounds—so he might need three years or so to really make sure his body has time to finish growing and fill out so that he can play his style of game more effectively at the NHL level against bigger players.
He shouldn't have too much trouble cracking the roster within that time frame, though—assuming he continues to move along his growth trend in production—as bottom-six grit guys change out fairly often in the NHL.
What He Means to the Franchise: The Capitals do not have a large supply of grinders and gritty players in their talent pool and since Mitchell is a good one, he brings a lot to the table for this franchise.
It's always the lunch-pail players who make the biggest difference in the playoffs (look at the Bruins' roster—it's comprised of almost entirely power-forwards and grinders) so Mitchell is sure to be a great piece for this team.
Danick Paquette is bruiser whom the Capitals received from the Winnipeg Jets along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for right-winger Eric Fehr.
Paquette had recently cracked Winnipeg's AHL roster and performed well in his short time there.
To be brutally honest, Paquette is actually the player I am most excited about right now. After seeing him play all week, I really like what GMGM got in return for Fehr.
Washington is lacking in pests and bruisers. Sure, Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer love to throw their weight around and are two of the highest-hitting players in the league, but the Caps don't have any forwards who really have a mean-streak.
Danick models his game after Chris Neil and Sean Avery. Sean Avery is an idiot. Most of the time. But he still can be effective for his team when he's not being a head-case.
Chris Neil isn't known for being a nice-guy—he's actually known for his dirty play—but by my observation, Paquette has taken the good parts of these guys' games and made it his style.
I don't think Paquette likes going to handbag conventions like Avery and hopefully he won't be fond of throwing high-hits and elbows like Neil is. By my observation, Paquette seems to be a bit classier than those guys, but to be sure, he does love to throw the body.
He's great at it, too.
Paquette is like Neil in that he lays extremely heavy hits without seeming to put out any effort.
I know of Washington fans watch guys like Ovie—or especially Semin—rip shots on net and wonder how they make it look so effortless. Paquette does that with his hits.
During the scrimmage on Saturday, he laid a hit on the boards that gave off a huge, thunderous, rumble and I wondered how the other guy didn't crumble upon impact.
Paquette only weighs in at 210-pounds but is very strong and great at using his body. This guy will lay a hit every chance he gets.
He doesn't hit just to be a goon, though. His hits were very effective on the forecheck and one of his hits led directly to a goal for his team—he hit the winger playing on the half-boards trying to clear the zone, got possession of the puck and sent it in front to a teammate who potted the disc quickly.
What was most impressive about Paquette is that he does a lot more than hit. He's what McPhee had hoped DJ King would be a much more. King was supposed to be a guy who could fight but also contribute on the forecheck and be a player.
Paquette actually has a really soft pair of hands. He reminds me a lot of Matt Hendricks; he's definitely more of a brute but he lays hard hits, has good heavy hands for the fistacuffs but also a nice pair of soft hands for good passing and shooting.
Throughout the week, the Montreal native showed that he is quite an effective playmaker. His passes were always crisp and hard. He also has really quick hands for getting passes away quickly, handling the puck well and putting shots on net quickly.
He's also a really smart player. When you watch him play, you can tell that he's focused and he's always right where he should be.
This guy also hustles. On one occasion, he busted his tail to get back to even out a three-on-two for the other squad. He consistently hustles to loose pucks as well. It seemed like every time there was a loose puck when he was out on the ice, he was the first one to it.
And, as a big-bodied guy, he loves going to the net. Actually, he prefers going just to the side of the net rather than right in front of the goalie, looking for slap-passes wide of the net and rebounds and tip-ins whenever he can get them.
Maybe you all can understand why I am excited about this guy. This was a brilliant pick-up by McPhee.
When asked about if Paquette's physical presence was what he was expecting to get, McPhee responded, "Yeah, that's what we were expecting to get...ya gotta keep your head up." I thought it was a rather hilarious comment. True, too though.
Guys like Paquette force players on opposing teams to constantly keep their heads up and often end up forcing errors. When you're playing against sometime like Paquette, sometimes you hear footsteps and just get scared and give up the puck.
Guys like Danick are really valuable.
Boudreau also commented on Paquette's play: "Yeah that's, well, you know what, it's the good and the bad. It's the way he's gotta play to be effective, getting under people's skin, and I think there's a lot of guys that hate him, probably every game, and it's a tough way to make a living but it's what you gotta do if you wanna play.
"He's noticeable. Every game he's noticeable whether he does good or bad stuff, he's noticeable. So that's what he needs to be doin'."
Paquette is definitely effective at what he does and if he continues to be a pest as well as a contributor at both ends of the ice, he is sure to enjoy a successful NHL career.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: I think we'll see Paquette within the year. The right-winger is only 21 and so has plenty of playing time ahead of him. But, Paquette should see regular play in Hershey this year and will be a quality option for a call-up in the case of injury.
What He Means to the Franchise: McPhee really reshaped the roster this offseason to be more gritty but there is a clear difference between guys who can get in on the forecheck, lay the body and get to the front of the net and the guys who really can be mean.
Now, I'm not one for supporting straight-up goons, but Paquette is much more than that. Paquette adds quality grit to the depth charts for the Caps' bottom-six forward roster spots.
Mattias Sjogren, whom the Caps signed as a free agent after a breakout season with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, was a big standout for most of the week.
After Sjogren was signed by the Caps prior to the start of the NHL's free agency, it was announced that 12 other teams were also interested in Sjogren's services. After Sjogren recorded seven goals and 17 assists in 51 games in the SEL last year, a lot of teams understandably became suiters for the Swedish center.
However, the Capitals brass had apparently had their eyes on Sjogren for some time beforehand.
According to McPhee, in his post-camp interview, the Caps had been in talks with Sjogren about coming to play in Washington for a year, whereas other teams really only noticed him at the World Championship.
The Caps knew what kind of player Sjogren is so they went out and got him.
McPhee continued in his post-camp notes on Sjogren to say, "We really liked what we saw early on. He's a big strong guy, he's got some grit to him. I know that in the World Championships, the players on Team Canada after one game we're saying, 'this guy plays with an edge and some bite and we don't like him very much,' which is nice. And he's here to compete for a job. The nice thing is he can play a couple of positions—he can play wing, he can play center-ice."
Well, there you have it—from GMGM himself—Sjogren is here to compete for an NHL job.
The 6'2", 214-pound Swede is perfect for filling out the Caps' bottom-six. He's naturally a center but McPhee stated that Sjogren can also play wing.
Sjogren likes to hit and he plays with a lot more grit than Caps fans are used to seeing from fellow Swedes Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. That makes him great for playing third or fourth-line center.
Sjogren is also good at faceoffs and has a good set of playmaking hands, so I've gotta think that he'll be a good candidate for filling in the 4C roster spot just behind Jeff Halpern who will likely play third-line center.
Boudreau shared similar sentiments: "He's a little older than these guys and you can tell he's been in a man's league and he's big and strong and, boy, you look at center men and you like big strong center-men because they have to play down low against the Alex Ovechkins and the Malkins in your zone and you can't get knocked off the puck.
"And I know it might be a small point, but we pay a lot of attention to faceoffs and I thought he was really good on his faceoffs."
Here are some of the other observations I made on Sjogren.
He's very responsible defensively and he was effective on the penalty kill.
The big Swede went to the net time-after-time. He's very good when in front of the net, too, and it sure helps that he's got an enormous body which is hard for defenders to move when he plants it in front of the net.
Mattias has great hands and deking ability—Boudreau noted that his stick-handling in-tight was very good—and is very patient with the puck. He knows his way around the front of the net when a rebound pops out of the goalie's pads or when he has the puck on top of the paint.
Also, he was great on the forecheck and, being a big-bodied quick thinker, he was very good along the boards.
One down side was that early in the week it seemed like Sjogren was having trouble adjusting to the North American rink size and style of play. His reaction speed was a little bit slow and he seemed too pressured for comfort.
On the bright side, he adjusted incredibly quickly and looked fine on the ice by the end of the week.
When asked how he was doing adjusting to the smaller rink and grittier style of play, Sjogren responded, "Feels better every day I'm on ice. Like, you get to know the rink. That's the big difference. It's quite tough. It's quite tough in Sweden too. But, like, it's tough with the puck here, there's always some guy chasing you."
Sjogren stated that he talked with the coaching staff and knows exactly what he needs to do to be ready for Training Camp in September and said that he would start training the moment he got back to Sweden.
We'll be seeing this guy back in the District in a couple of months and likely regularly from there on out.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Sjogren is ready. After working on a few minor things and getting into tip-top shape for September, Sjogren will be ready for the NHL. We'll be seeing him play on the fourth-line for Washington this year—probably at center but possibly at wing. My guess is that this is what McPhee saw in him from the start.
What He Means to the Franchise: On paper, the Caps' roster looks really solid right now. There is still a little bit to be desired for the fourth-line, though. I doubt a team with Jay Beagle and D.J. King playing on a line together can do terribly well in the playoffs. Sjogren really helps to solidify D.C.'s bottom-six. Now, Sjogren can center a line, allowing Matt Hendricks to play the wing.
The Capitals fifth-round pick from 2009 put up league-leading numbers in the OHL this year. His plus-60 was first in the league to go along with an impressive 39 assists and 43 total points. Also, en route to a Memorial Cup Final appearance, Flemming helped his team with 12 helpers and one goal.
The 6'0", 172-pound Saskatchewan native looks like a great two-way defenseman.
He has good awareness in the offensive zone and is just mean in his own end. Flemming really seems like one of those take-no-crap kind of guys dealing with players in front of his own goalie.
Brett is a very rough-tough, rugged defenseman. He did not like it when guys came into the crease and he let them know it.
His defense on the rush was also superb. The 20-year-old was very good at tying up bodies on the rush and has great stick-defense.
Of note is also his speed—Flemming has good speed on the backcheck and is not a defenseman who forwards can skate around.
His offensive awareness was pleasantly surprising. He makes good passes while setup in the offensive end. One such pass got him a primary assist during the scrimmage on Saturday.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Since Flemming is now 20-years of age, he is no longer eligible for Junior play and will now begin his pro career. Flemming will likely compete for a spot on the Hershey roster but he shouldn't be disappointed if he doesn't make it.
There isn't a ton of space on the Hershey roster, so Flemming might see a year with the Stingrays in the ECHL. However, he's a good player and if he can continue to improve on the good style of game he already plays and put on a good amount of weight, then he'll be NHL-bound.
As with most defensemen, I'd give him until he's at least 23 or 24 before being able to compete seriously for an NHL roster spot. But, again, if he puts on some size and keeps playing that mean two-way play, he might be NHL-bound sooner rather than later.
What He Means to the Franchise: The next generation of Caps defenders looks like it's going to be mean. I like that. Flemming really adds a rough and gritty aspect to the franchise's talent pool and for the moment is sure to be a valuable contributor in the minors.
Only four picks away from going undrafted, defenseman Garrett Haar was tagged the biggest surprise by George McPhee at the conclusion of the week-long camp.
The 17-year-old Huntington Beach, Calif., native was the Caps' seventh-round pick and was very impressive on-ice. He's not big in stature, standing 5'11" tall and weighing 190 pounds, but he makes up for that with his speed, good skating and work ethic.
He's got a great mind for the game's offense. Playing for Fargo of the USHL last season, he put up seven goals and 23 points through 51 games.
The young American proved to be good at making breakout passes and stretch passes during camp. One such stretch pass was good for a primary assist during the final scrimmage on Saturday.
Haar was not planning on playing collegiate hockey but the Capitals have insisted that he play as it would be good for his development. McPhee has reached out to a number of schools trying to get him a full ride.
Haar will be a great addition to wherever he ends up playing in the fall and will probably turn-out to be a great steal down the road for the Caps as a seventh-round pick.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Like the Cap's other young players attending college, it will be awhile before Haar sees NHL action. I'm assuming that there will be a school who will find Haar's services valuable and let him play there for four years.
After that, Haar will probably need time in the AHL for a few years. It always takes defensemen more time to develop, so my guess is that we won't be seeing him for six-plus years. Of course, at such a young age, this is sheer speculation, but what is certain is that Haar looks like a promising young player.
What He Means to the Franchise: The Caps don't have a large number of offensively minded blueliners in their prospect pool at the moment. Haar brings offensive skill and a great hockey mind to the Caps' organization.
Dmitri Orlov is by far the best defenseman in the Capitals' system. This guy is really something.
The 20-year-old Russian already had a lot of great achievements on his rap sheet coming into this week. It was easy to understand why.
First, let's recall where he has already been in his young career.
In 2009, Orlov was taken in the second-round (55th overall) by the Washington Capitals. Orlov then remained in Russia to play in the KHL for the next two seasons.
In the 2009-2010 season, playing his first full season for the Metallurg Novokuznetsk, he recorded four goals and three assists in 41 games. The same year, in the seven games in the Russian Juniors, he posted seven goals and six assists in seven games.
At the 2010 World Junior Championships, Orlov was good for four helpers in six games for Russia.
He continued playing in the KHL for Metallurg during the 2010-2011 season. He was good for 12-points—a career-high.
At the conclusion of the KHL's season, Orlov signed an entry-level deal with the Caps and played in 19 games for Hershey. While there he put up two goals and seven assists. He was supposedly quite the stud while playing there, especially running the point in the offensive zone.
At this year's most memorable World Junior Championships, which the Russians won in quite an exciting fashion, the Novokuznetsk native posted eight assists to lead all defensemen in that category.
Impressive so far, right? Orlov didn't fail to meet and exceed any expectations at Development Camp either. Orlov is an incredibly smart player. He's been pegged as a puck-mover but he's much more than that.
He is very responsible in his own end and is very effective at shutting other players down. Still, when you watch him play you can tell that he loves jumping up on the rush.
He really has a great mind and eye for the game, though, as he never seems to make a bad decision about jumping into the rush. I didn't see him leave his teammates in a compromised position a single time all week.
What was really fun to watch was how aggressively he plays on the breakout. His favorite position on the breakout is on the half-boards. He's good at receiving passes on the boards and then moving the puck up-ice quickly.
His smarts work well for him in the offensive zone, too. Orlov always knows exactly when to pinch and when not to pinch. He's great at keeping the puck in the zone and is very good at carrying the puck down the boards in the offensive zone.
His passes are hard, crisp and clean. He didn't make a bad pass on even a single occasion throughout the whole week—he put the puck right on his teammates' sticks every time.
This guy can shoot, too. Orlov has a dirty shot. He's a really strong kid and puts a ton of weight into his shots, which are right on target every time. He likes to shoot high and pick the short-side corner when he can but looked great at picking spots and hitting them all week.
Orlov isn't tall. NHL.com measures him in at 6'0" but I think he's more like 5'10" or 5'11". He's really not a tall guy—most players were taller than him—but he weighs in at 197-pounds, which is impressive for his age.
Ever heard the term short and stocky? He may not be huge height-wise but he has a lot of muscle on him—this kid is built thick—and he's good at using that strength. He can hit pretty hard. One player was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of an open-ice hip check by Orlov.
All right, I'll stop drooling. This kid really is good, though, and he's going to be quite an NHL stud.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Orlov will need a season or two in Hershey, primarily because there isn't any roster space in the Caps' defensive corps right now and also because it's wise not to rush the development of young players, especially defensemen.
I would expect to see Orlov play in a few games for the Caps this year as a call-up in the case of injury. It'll be good for McPhee and Boudreau to see how Orlov fares at the NHL level this next year. But he'll definitely spend the next year or two with the Bears.
What He Means to the Franchise: When he's ready, he'll be ready. What I mean is: look at how effective Alzner and Carlson were in their first years. Orlov is a high-caliber player and will be the future of this franchise's defense. He's a true two-way defenseman who's scarily good in both ends, which can't be valued enough.
Signed as a free agent just a few months before the Caps 2010 Development Camp, Dustin Stevenson really impressed the Caps' brass last year.
According to the Development Camp guide the Caps released just before camp, Stevenson made such a good impression on Boudreau with his play at Development Camp and Training Camp, Stevenson was one of the last players cut from the Caps' roster to be sent back down to the Bears.
The 21-year-old Saskatchewan native played the bulk of his first pro season in South Carolina with the Stingrays of the ECHL this year. While there he recorded 12 points and 44 penalty minutes.
Stevenson is a big, strong defenseman. He weighs in at 6'5", 220-pounds. Boudreau commented in his post-camp interview that he noticed Stevenson put on a lot of strength this last year.
He was interesting because he seemed to be pretty good at everything he did but wasn't a huge stand-out guy. He was great at blocking shots but also played well in the offensive zone. He got into two fights during the week and handled himself very well in both.
He also seemed to have a decent set of hands on him—he made good passes from the point in the offensive zone and overall was good at the point, especially on the power play.
Also, according to hockeysfuture.com, Stevenson has been a great physical presence for the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the SJHL but has also showed a lot of offensive upside, which has gotten better each year.
On a less important note, Steven showed a great personality during camp. While sitting in the sin bin after fighting in Wednesday's scrimmage, a young kid rocking a Mohawk and a white Ovechkin sweater kept tapping on the glass and waving at him and jumping around.
Stevenson seemed to enjoy the attention as he interacted with the kid, tapping on the glass back at him and making the kid laugh.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Stevenson could turn out to be a great player but I didn't see any standout NHL quality this week. He was good and solid but I just didn't see the same things Boudreau saw last year. He's young and he'll probably reach the AHL in a year or two, but it's hard to put a time table on when he might reach the NHL at this point.
I suspect he will do a lot better than Joe Finley, though. If he keeps developing a solid game in his own zone then he may be a valuable stay-at-home defenseman. And if he continues to impress Boudreau, maybe he'll see NHL action in three years or so.
What He Means to the Franchise: If he develops well, he could be really valuable to the organization but right now I think he's just filling a roster spot in the minors. He's not a crucial piece in the the Caps' depth charts and could be used in a trade or may simply be a career minor leaguer.
But, if he's as good as Boudreau thinks, then maybe he'll really show himself to be more valuable in the next few seasons and summers. Be looking for his name in South Carolina and Hershey this year and look for him at next year's Development Camp.
Patrick Wey, a Pittsburgh-born defenseman, was drafted by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
The 20-year-old finished playing his second year of collegiate hockey at Boston College last year. There, he potted one goal and recorded seven assists and 45 PIMS during 37 games.
According to hockeysfuture.com, Wey is a puck-moving defenseman who is showing some promise but moving slowly on the development curve.
He has done very well in Boston College so far and looks like he's getting better every year. He's a smart player and plays good defense on the rush. Other than that, he didn't stand out much all week but he's only 20-years-old and had two years of college hockey left to play.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: As I've said before, defensemen take longer to develop and tall players do too—naturally, tall defensemen take the longest to develop. Wey is 6'3" and, well, he plays defense. If he's going to make the NHL, it won't be for at least a couple of years after he finishes college in two years.
What He Means to the Franchise: The Caps really value puck-moving defensemen and Wey is one of the few good ones in the system. Wey is too smart of a player to not make the NHL. He will, he'll just need a little bit of time.
He's not going to be a top-tier guy but he'll be serviceable and considering McPhee's tendency to lock up good players long-term, defensemen to play on the second and third lines are really what the Caps need.
To be honest, of the four goalies, only one really impressed me. Steffen Soberg, taken by the Caps in the fourth round this year, may end up being a good netminder but to be honest, he looked like he had never faced a good, hard shot until this year. He was bobbling pucks left and right and couldn't keep track of the play.
Phillip Grubauer is supposedly developing well but was inconsistent during the week—he was looking good early in the week but then looked awful (to me at least—I must confess I'm not really an adequate judge of goaltending performance) during the final scrimmage.
Just to quickly comment on what kind of guy Grubauer is, he is definitely a butterfly goalie. When he's good he is exciting to watch. He is very quick at getting down into the butterfly, makes great pad saves and is skilled with his glove when facing low shots. Overall, he fills the bottom half of the net well but he didn't look bad at covering the top portion, either.
So, Brandon Anderson. He was a filler for the Caps' Development Camp last year but impressed the management staff so much that he was signed to an entry-level deal. He then went back to Lethbridge of the WHL to play.
Well, last year wasn't a fluke. Brandon looked really solid this week. He commented on how his development has been going during his post-camp interview: "Yeah I felt like I've developed well over the last year. Dave's been working with me over the season with my club where I play Junior in Lethbridge and it's been going well I think. I really like the style that he wants me to play and I've accepted it and it's been going good."
Let me assure you, it's a good style that Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior has Anderson playing.
I'll me be upfront: I have a huge soft spot for old-school goalies. Think Tim Thomas, Olie Kolzig, etc. Guys who will hack the back of players' legs when they come near the crease, drop the bread basket and blocker for a good old-fashioned mid-ice goalie fight, play with ridiculous heart and sacrifice every joint in their body in lieu of looking good and staying in form in order to keep the puck out of the net.
Anderson looks like that kind of goalie. Okay, he doesn't look as mean as Braden Holtby and I don't see him as the type of player to show some fistacuffs but Brandon sure plays that old-school desperation style of netminding.
He's an aggressive goaltender, positionally and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty and come out above the paints during a scrum in front of the net in order to get his hands on the puck. He's very sound positionally and doesn't give the shooters much to shoot at. When he's down and a rebound is coming or when the puck is loose, his desperation moves really remind me of Thomas.
Did anyone watch the Cup Finals? Seriously, more goalies need that determination and desire in their play—it's why Thomas and the Bruins beat out Luongo and the Canucks.
Anderson really is an exciting goalie and he has a great attitude, too. Check out another quote from him from his interview: "Yeah I felt pretty good out there the whole week and I felt pretty confident and it's good to hear that but at the same time I haven't made it and even if/when I do make it, you still gotta work hard every day and get better every day."
Loved the playing style, loved the performance, love the attitude.
Time Needed Until Seeing the NHL: Anderson is only 19 and will probably play one more season in Juniors. After that, he'll be needed in Hershey. Since Tomas Vokoun is only on a one-year contract, he'll probably be gone for the 2012-2013 season and Holtby will be ready for NHL duties.
When that happens, there will be a big shortage of young talent between the pipes for the Bears. He'll see the AHL in one year and I would guess that he'll get to at least sit on the bench the following year as a backup if and when Neuvirth or Holtby is injured.
After that, it depends on how Neuvirth and Holtby hold up and how long they want to stay in the District. Plus, he has Grubauer to compete with.
What He Means to the Franchise: Based on the manner of how he came into the Caps prospect pool, I think the Caps brass saw this kid as too valuable to not get a hold of. Anderson has a promising future and brings a little bit more depth between the pipes for the Caps, who, after Neuvirth and Holtby, only have Grubauer and the just drafted Sobert.
Whether he'll make the NHL—which he will—he's extremely valuable to the franchise right now, even if for only insurance reasons.
Hockeysfuture.com rates the Caps as only No. 22 in the listing of prospect pool quality among NHL teams. This is likely due to the fact that many of the Caps stars and quality players are very young and just came out of the talent pool within the last year or two.
I hear a lot of talk that the Caps aren't as deep in talent among prospects anymore. It's probably true but, still, there are a lot of players with some serious skill and promise just waiting for their time to crack the roster and make an impact for this franchise.
None of these guys are players the Caps' future will be built on, but some are players that could have a significant impact on the Caps' future.
We'll see a few of these guys in the big league this year and then a few more within the next two but a lot of these guys are still really young and need more time to put on muscle and continue developing their game.
Overall, it was an exciting week and it was great seeing how some of these guys developed. Hope you all enjoy the notes.
As a last remark, be proud to be a Caps fan. Boudreau commented on the ridiculous amount of fans that showed up to the FanFest on Saturday to watch the last scrimmage. He said he's very proud to be coaching in Washington.
And speaking of guys who are still trying to prove themselves (in the postseason, that is) let's continue to give Boudreau the support Caps fans have so graciously given him the last few years and get excited to see what he can do with the re-tinkered roster during this upcoming season!
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