Washington Capitals: Predicting the Team's Next 5 NHL Debuts

Jake WareCorrespondent IIIJanuary 13, 2012

Washington Capitals: Predicting the Team's Next 5 NHL Debuts

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    Exactly halfway through the 2011-12 season, the Washington Capitals have already had three players make their NHL debuts, as Cody Eakin, Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek each kicked off their big league careers in the nation's capital.

    Impressively, despite these players having taken the leap, the future prospects remain very bright. The team's main minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, currently sit atop the AHL standings, and the bulk of the Caps' prospects in the NCAA, CHL and Europe are performing incredibly well.

    There will inevitably be more players making their debuts this season. This is a prediction of the next five youngsters to kick-start their NHL careers with the Washington Capitals. 

5. Philipp Grubauer

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    German goaltender Philipp Grubauer was not expected to drop as far as the fourth round in the 2010 NHL draft, but when he did, the Caps knew they had to pick him up. 

    Grubauer has been nothing short of phenomenal this season for the South Carolina Stingrays. Appearing in 22 games for the struggling ECHL team, the rookie pro has picked up 13 wins while assembling a solid 2.22 goals-against average and a sparkling .922 save percentage. To put it simply, nobody has been disappointed with the German's play.  

    There is no doubt Braden Holtby is next in line for the Capitals' goaltending throne. He is likely to replace Tomas Vokoun next season, settling in a backup role for Michal Neuvirth. The 20-year-old German will likely take over Holtby's role as the starter for the Hershey Bears next season, but as soon as there is a need for a goaltender, Philipp Grubauer will be up in red.

4. Brett Flemming

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    Defenseman Brett Flemming is perhaps one of the more underrated prospects in the Caps' system. 

    He is best known for his speed, smarts and surprising tenaciousness, and, while he is not the biggest player, there is nothing small about his game. The 20-year-old kicked off his season with the Hershey Bears, scoring two goals and two assists in 21 games before being assigned to the South Carolina Stingrays after the Bears got some veteran defensemen back.

    Flemming is sure to establish himself as one of the Bears' more important players next season, and he will see time with the Caps as an injury call-up. 

3. Stanislav Galiev

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    Few Caps prospects have seen their stocks rise as much since being drafted (third round, 2010) as Russian forward Stanislav Galiev, who, with incredible work ethic and dedication, has worked his way onto the board as one of the organization's most promising youngsters.

    While Galiev has missed all but six games (three goals, three assists) of the 2011-12 season, all you have to do is look at his stats from last season to see how high his potential is. Stas scored 37 goals and added 28 assists in 64 games in his sophomore season with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, good for fourth among the Memorial Cup winners.

    Galiev will start the 2012-13 season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, but he's likely to be the Caps' first injury call-up whenever a top-nine forward is needed.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov

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    When the Washington Capitals drafted enigmatic Russian forward Zhenya Kuznetsov at 26th overall in the 2010 NHL draft, they knew exactly what they were getting. A player who has developed into one of the league's top prospects, Kuznetsov is coming through in every way.

    The 19-year-old is lighting it up at every level he plays. He has 13 goals and 13 assists through 34 games for the KHL's Traktor Chelyabinsk this season, good for a KHL All-Star berth. He also had six goals and seven assists in seven games at the 2012 World Juniors, which led the Russian captain to being named tournament MVP.

    Caps fans should be very excited. At this point, there is little doubt that Kuzya will be on the Capitals' opening night roster next season.

1. Patrick McNeill

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    A player who has seen several call-up stints with the Caps without having played, Patrick McNeill has been waiting in the wings for a number of seasons now, and this could be the year he gets his chance.

    A fourth-round pick in 2005, McNeill has been a dominant player in the AHL since 2007, and this season has been no different. The 24-year-old has eight goals and 16 assists through 37 games, fourth among league defensemen, and he was recently snubbed of a spot at the AHL All-Star game.

    McNeill is still behind Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek on the depth chart, but there is little doubt he will be the next man to earn a call-up from general manager George McPhee and head coach Dale Hunter.

    For all the latest news on Washington Capitals prospects, follow @CapsProspects on Twitter.