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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #19

Top 20 Washington Capitals Prospects

1. Ryan Leonard

There is no area in Leonard’s game that requires significant growth in order for him to be an NHLer. His ability to play with pace, his physicality, goal scoring ability, and two-way efficiency made him one of the most complete forwards available for the 2023 draft. Unquestionably, one of his best qualities is his shot. Armed with an array of high-end shots, Leonard can beat goalies in a variety of ways. His offensive zone anticipation and understanding of spacing helps him to consistently find soft spots in coverage and his quick release helps him to take advantage of those opportunities more often than not. The million-dollar question is ultimately what is his upside if he’s really good at absolutely everything, but not elite in any one thing? Can he be a first line winger the way guys like Gabriel Landeskog or Matthew Tkachuk? Or does he fit more into the middle of the lineup as a Brandon Saad or Nick Foligno type? Headed to Boston College (along with USNTDP linemates Smith and Perreault), Leonard will focus on improving his vision and playmaking ability. He should be an immediate impact player at the collegiate level similar to how Cutter Gauthier was last season. He should also be in the NHL sooner than many players drafted in the 2023 first round.

2. Hendrix Lapierre

It was a tough road for Lapierre, suffering multiple concussions and struggling at times to find his game after that. He had a very strong rookie season in the QMJHL, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. But after that, injuries set in and he missed almost all of his draft year. Still, the Capitals took a chance, drafting him 22nd overall. He spent two more years in the Q, playing well but never taking off. He joined the AHL’s Hershey Bears last season where he was one of their more productive forwards, bringing a two-way presence to the ice. Lapierre is a highly talented playmaker, thanks to his borderline elite vision. He can shoot as well, although often looks for the pass first. He skates well, drives a line, and is reliable in his own end. There’s second-line potential here if everything falls into place.

3. Ivan Miroshnichenko

Miroshnichenko was once considered a top-three calibre selection for the 2022 Draft but after a slow start to his draft year and then a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, he slid to 20th where the Capitals were waiting. He ended up missing a large portion of 2021-22 but was back on the ice last season, a great sign after his diagnosis. He spent a large portion of his season in the KHL with Avangard Omsk but also saw time in both the VHL and MHL. He also has a strong international resume with Team Russia, including captaining Russia to a gold medal at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He has a pro frame and moves very well on the ice, thanks to powerful skating strides. Miroshnichenko is a dynamic offensive asset, able to fire a hard wrister or show off an impressive pass. He has very soft, controlled hands. He still has top six potential but may take some time to actualize. He signed a three-year entry level contract with the Capitals to continue his journey in North America this season.

4. Andrew Cristall

Cristall is an absolute magician with the puck, with a seemingly bottomless bag full of tricks. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, and his ability to draw opponents out of better defensive positioning and in towards him is exceptional. He can reliably find existing passing lanes or make that one extra dangle or delay that one extra second to help open up better ones. He's no slouch as a shooter, either. Countless opponents have made the mistake of trying to cut off his passes only to leave their goalies in helpless positions after Cristall fooled them. For as entertaining as he has been in the WHL, there are questions about how he will look in the NHL. For a guy of his small stature he isn't a high-end skater, which is a concerning one-two punch. While he can use elusive footwork to sometimes help get him out of trouble in tight spaces, his acceleration and top speed are both sorely lacking. He has a hard time keeping up defensively. It's worth mentioning that he is whip-smart and incredibly driven, so he'll be aware of what parts of his game he needs to fix and will keep putting in the work to continue improving.

5. Vincent Iorio

Iorio has been overlooked by many due to his stat line never really jumping off the page. And yet he’s a mobile, puck-moving defender with a real chance to have a legit NHL career. He moves very well, utilizing his edges to navigate the neutral zone or to dance along the blue line. He moves the puck so well, making crisp, clean passes from anywhere on the ice. Drafted 55th overall in 2021, the right-handed defender already had three WHL seasons under his belt. He spent just one more with the Brandon Wheat Kings before joining the AHL Hershey Bears last season. He also earned a call-up for a few games with the Capitals and should see more this season. The defender is well on his way to becoming a skilled bottom-four defender.

6. Ryan Chesley

Chesley heard his name called 37th overall in 2022 after an impressive season with the USNTDP. He made the move to the NCAA last season with the University of Minnesota and found some challenges with his offensive output, especially playing in a more depth role. He’ll likely see additional ice time next season, so it remains to be seen if his offensive game can take a step forward. Chesley can bring offensive production, but he leans more toward the defensive side of the game. He keeps a very active stick and defends the rush very well. His defensive awareness is high. He also skates well and is no stranger to moving the puck around, but his offensive output is likely to be limited at the next level. He has the potential to develop into a reliable, two-way, depth defender.

7. Alexander Suzdalev

Suzdalev has an interesting backstory of having played for both Team Sweden and Team Russia on the international stage, as he maintains dual citizenship. Drafted 70th overall in 2022, the Capitals selected him from HV71’s junior program, where he produced over a point per game. He headed overseas last season to the WHL’s Regina Pats and had the opportunity to play with Connor Bedard. That resulted in him leading all rookies in goals (38), assists (48), and points (86). He’s a skilled, playmaking winger who shows the ability to control the pace of play. His handling of the puck stands out, as though he has the puck on a string quite often. He’s not always consistent in his effort, as is sometimes seen with young offensive talents. He has the skill to be a middle-six forward, but if he can’t find that missing consistency, could cap himself as a depth option.

8. Alexander Alexeyev

It’s been a long road for Alexeyev, but the journey is starting to pay off. Selected 31st overall in 2018, the Russian defender was finishing up his second WHL season, taking a notable step forward in his development. He played one more season there with the Red Deer Rebels, again showing promising potential. He made the jump to the AHL in 2019-20, adjusting well to the faster, harder game. He went home to Russia to start the 2020-21 season, on loan with KHL Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Alexeyev returned to the AHL to finish the year and has been there ever since, seeing significant NHL time last season. He’s been plagued by injuries throughout his development but still seems to be on the right track. A big, physical defender who can chip in offensively, he should stick in the NHL as a bottom-pairing blueliner.

9. Clay Stevenson

One of the oldest prospects in the Capitals system, Stevenson has had to be patient in his road to the pros. An undrafted netminder, Stevenson came up through the BCHL where he spent three seasons, including a dominant final year, earning recognition as the top goaltender in the league. He moved on to NCAA Dartmouth College but lost his freshman year due to the pandemic. After one collegiate season, posting a .922 save percentage, the Capitals came calling, signing him to an entry-level deal. He mainly played in the ECHL last season but also received a handful of AHL games where he looked very strong. Goaltenders tend to bloom late, and the Capitals have landed an intriguing one. He’ll need time in the minors to determine his ceiling, but at this point, he looks like a solid AHLer who could earn the occasional call-up.

10. Ludwig Persson

Drafted 85th overall in 2022, Persson has spent the last three seasons (including the current campaign) seeming always on the verge of making the jump to the SHL. Instead, he spent two strong seasons in the J20 Nationell and last season on loan in the HockeyAllsvenskan. It might very well have been his last season in Sweden, as he signed his entry-level deal in November 2022. The winger is an intelligent, offensive talent who can drive a line. The issue is that he doesn’t always take advantage of that, sitting on the sidelines and letting his teammates take over. He has a hard, quick release and a soft touch on his passes. The potential is there but he comes with a low floor as much as a high ceiling. The best-case scenario would be a middle-six role, but he may settle in as an AHL/depth option.

11. Joaquim Lemay

Lemay has been all over the place in recent years, traveling from minor hockey in Quebec, to prep school, the BCHL, USHL, and finally the University of Nebraska-Omaha last season. A competitive two-way defender, he had a solid freshman year and looks the part of a potential NHL defender.

12. Bogdan Trineyev

The big power winger will finally make the jump to North America full time this season. Consistency has been an issue in Russia, but the skill is real and the physicality is intriguing. Hockey sense is the question mark.

13. Ethen Frank

A member of the AHL’s All Rookie team last year, Frank potted 30 for the Bears playing on an AHL deal. Now signed by the Caps to an NHL contract, Frank has his sights set on making the Washington roster. Not only can he rifle the puck, but he’s lightning quick, too.

14. Ryan Hofer

A big, physical two-way center, Hofer had a solid OA year split between Everett and Kamloops in the WHL. Skating is always going to be a question mark, but he has enough tools to be an eventual bottom six contributor.

15. Cam Allen

Allen is coming off a highly disappointing draft year that saw him fall from being a potential lottery selection to waiting until the fifth round to hear his name called. The tools are all there, but the decision making needs to improve. How much better will he be this year for Guelph without the weight of the draft on his shoulders?

16. Matthew Phillips

Out of Calgary, it will be interesting to see how Phillips fares in a new organization. There’s absolutely no doubt that he can score in the AHL. He’s been one of the better offensive players there in recent years. He needs to be in a scoring line role to succeed.

17. Brent Johnson

Highly touted coming out of the USHL, Johnson struggled mightily through two years at North Dakota. After transferring to Ohio State, can he get his future back on track? He can quarterback a powerplay and could put up big numbers with the Buckeyes this year.

18. David Gucciardi

Strong skating blueliner who took on a larger role with Michigan State last year as a sophomore. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Gucciardi has intriguing tools that could help him become a solid pro down the line.

19. Jake Karabela

Another Guelph Storm member who had a poor year, Karabela is a strong skating two-way forward whose offensive game really stagnated last season. This season is an opportunity to prove to Washington that he deserves a contract and can be a future pro.

20. Hardy Haman Aktell

An SHL champion with Vaxjo last season, Aktell emerged as one of the top defenders in the SHL. This turned into a contract with Washington this offseason. He may have to start the year in the AHL, but he could move up quickly if he performs well.