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McKeen’s 2020-21 Hockey Yearbook: Washington Capitals Top 20 Prospects

McKeen's Top 20 Washington Capitals prospects for the 2020-21 season. You can read an organizational assessment prior to the draft in Ryan Wagman's article found here. Following the draft we provided a review on each teams performance based on our rankings found here.

  1. Connor McMichael, C (25th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 1)

Few 2019 draft selections progressed as well as McMichael did this past season with London, where he went from a strong complimentary piece to the lifeblood through which the offense flowed. A strong skater, he showed much more confidence when carrying the puck, allowing him to dominate touches. He can beat you in transition because of his speed and he can beat you down low because of how well he protects the puck and how sound his decision making is. We also saw a huge improvement in his shot, especially his powerful wrist shot, and he uses different shooting angles to deceive goaltenders. McMichael also showed improved strength away from the puck, and paired with his high-end IQ, is now a strong two-way presence. Originally projecting as a winger in the NHL, he has shown enough to alter this belief. He is a very versatile player. Given the improvements he made last year, it is not impossible to see him playing in the NHL next year with the Capitals. He already skates well enough for the NHL. At this point, his projection is that of a two-way, goal scoring forward who can play inside the first two lines. – BO

  1. Hendrix Lapierre, C (22nd overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Lapierre battled consistency and injury issues all season, but of his high-end IQ and skill combination make him a potential steal. Originally thought to a concussion victim, it was later found to be a cervical spine issue. He has a very dynamic skill level and can make the spectacular look easy. He is smooth with the puck in transition and is a precise, pass-first center. He is a strong skater, who gets separation through excellent acceleration. He can work well along the wall and behind the net, with crisp turns, making him elusive in coverage. Lapierre is also a terrific two-way player who excels in all three zones because of his high-end hockey IQ. He uses anticipation and a quick stick to force turnovers on the backcheck, which he excels at transitioning the other way. He needs to take a step forward as a goal scorer. His game can be too predictable at times and to keep the opposition on their toes, he could stand to become a more well-rounded offensive player, shooting more often.  Even despite a poor year, his potential remains high as a two-way, all situations center who can make his teammates better players. – BO

  1. Alexander Alexeyev, D (31st overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 2)

Alexeyev brings size (6-4”) and hockey IQ to the Washington organization. Making the jump from the WHL, he managed to make it through his first professional season with no serious injuries despite his shaky health track record. He struggled early in the beginning of the season to adjust to the pace of the AHL, but as the season went along his confidence grew and the skills that got him drafted began to show themselves, particularly in the form of his passing ability and offensive zone positioning. Alexeyev will need to demonstrate better conditioning when the next season gets underway to remain consistent throughout the full 60 minutes and he will need to find another gear to add more speed to his game. Numerous times last season opponents blew past him when driving the net and he will need to improve at keeping them to the outside. As he continues to develop and his game matures, there is little doubt that he has the overall ability to become a top pairing defenseman at the NHL level, it is simply a matter of opportunity and Alexeyev staying healthy, as he cannot sustain another serious injury without suffering major career setbacks. – SC

  1. Martin Fehervary, D (46th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 3)

Tight competition between Fehervary and fellow Hershey Bears roommate and first round pick Alexander Alexeyev has been good for Fehervary’s development, pushing him hard in order to see results. The results of that developmental push have been evident as the lanky Slovakian has managed to impress in his rookie North American professional season, often using his tremendous skating to sail past opponents and earn scoring opportunities. He is the complete package as a future NHL defenseman; he plays a physical and rough game, can skate, carry the puck, and his defensive zone coverage is good. The only downsides come in the form of patience, passing, and decision making with the puck. He is not as well known for his passing abilities as he is for his skating and skill level and at times it was evident this past season with turnovers and missed important passes that oftentimes led to icings or offsides. Fehervary will need to tighten up his passing and work on how he moves the puck as well as when he moves it in order to be able to make the right choices in the NHL. - SC

  1. Aliaksei Protas, C (91st overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 4)

Protas has a very solid offensive toolkit. His unique size and frame enable him to be an elite puck protector. He can pace the game to his level and allow plays to develop. He is able to shed defenders and maintain control just a half step longer than most which dovetails perfectly with his playmaking and passing. He has excellent vision and can play the half-wall or behind the net equally comfortably. He has a deft touch and can make highlight reel passes due to his soft hands and a great ability to hit teammates in stride. His shot is above average and enables him to always be a dual threat to defend. His willingness to shoot the puck has helped his offensive game blossom. The knock on Protas was always his cumbersome footwork and lack of pace, but he has made some serious strides in that part of his game as well. He still needs to work on his overall defensive commitment and has struggled in the faceoff dot but those have improved with coaching. He is still a long-term project but the potential upside here is much higher than most expected in his draft year. - VG

  1. Garrett Pilon, C (87th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 5)

Standing out in the NHL will always be hard due to Pilon’s style of play. A hard-working grinder who can skate and who keeps his feet moving at all times, there is nothing particular that stands out about the way that he plays. To get too the next level, he will have to broaden his play, bettering his offensive production and puck possession skills next season. A top penalty killer using speed and determination, Pilon works hard every shift but at the next level it is about putting all of those things together and he will have to have a better, more cohesive and consistent game to earn a bottom six spot on the NHL club. He is a passionate player, and he will also need to keep his temper and frustration in check to avoid spending more time in the box than on the ice. He will be a big-league asset soon enough should he continue to put his overall game together and mature. - SC

  1. Brian Pinho, C (174th overall, 2013. Previous ranking: 6)

Pinho is the flashy forward with good puckhandling skills that every team has or needs. For a sixth-round selection, he has taken the long route for his development, finally coming into his own this past season, finishing top in prospect points. For his performance with the Hershey Bears, Pinho earned a spot on the Washington Capitals playoff roster and managed to also make his debut suiting up for two playoff games. Throughout the season, he was a clutch player for Hershey, often earning overtime marker and tying goals. He dominates in the offensive zone and often times earns breakaways on turnovers and long passes. That being said, he needs to work on bringing that competitive level to every game and on further developing his defensive play. With the recent call up to the Capitals, Pinho may have earned his chance at next season’s roster as a member of the bottom six. - SC

  1. Kody Clark, RW (47th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 7)

After a decent season with the OHL Ottawa 67’s, Clark swung his talents over to the AHL’s Hershey Bears for his rookie professional season. He quickly realized that the next level would not be as smooth sailing as major junior and he was a scratch for majority of the first half of the season. Following in father Wendel’s footsteps, Clark brings the grit and offensive prowess to a mildly physical Hershey roster, but that is where his talents stop until he finds a way to keep up at the AHL pace. He is a strong skater but his puck possession was simply not there last season and he will have to find a way to get to the net if he wants to even be considered as a top priority call up option. Serving more time in the penalty box than often necessary, Clark will have to prove himself as a skilled player first more than anything in terms of next season and working his way towards a call up. He has the potential and skill to play as a bottom six forward in the NHL, but he still has a lot of learning to go before that will happen. - SC

  1. Brett Leason, RW (56th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 8)

For a player who was passed over two years in a row in the draft, Leason has managed to defeat the odds, becoming a second-round pick for the Capitals. He has the size to play and to stay safe at the next level, proving so during his rookie season with AHL Hershey, however speed and skill is another thing. This is where the Washington offensive prospect structure starts to thin out and with Hershey last season, Leason failed to mark more than five goals, a disappointing drop from the 36 goals he scored in major junior the year before to being a healthy scratch for Hershey towards the season’s end. Leason will have to find another gear and start playing up at a professional level, as right now he is simply not fast enough to cut it and if he cannot find another gear it will be uncertain if he will ever be given a chance with the Washington Capitals as a bottom six. - SC

  1. Lucas Johansen, D (28th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 9)

With an expired contract and only nine games played this past season, it is unsure as to where Johansen will be playing next season. It is assumed the Capitals will re-sign him; however he has not had the best of progressions in the organization as his play has gotten worse over the course of his three seasons with the Hershey Bears. As a first-round pick, Johansen needs to perform better, he has offered little in the way of point production and the quantity of turnovers he gives up is just bad. Having missed the bulk of the season with a leg injury, Johansen will need to show that he spent the time off well to come back better than ever to prove to Capitals management that he is deserving of a call up at least. As the time goes by, the Capitals are drafting more and more high-quality defensemen and Johansen’s name is getting further and further down their organizational depth list. It is now or never to prove that his passing, hockey IQ, and composure with the puck are good enough for a bottom four spot in Washington’s lineup. - SC

  1. Vitek Vanecek, G (39th overall, 2014. Previous ranking: 10)

For a Washington Capitals organization which may be missing a goaltender next season with the expiring contract of incumbent starter Braden Holtby, it means that the young prospects in the system are getting their much-awaited shot. Although the current future may be Ilya Samsonov, recent backup and first call up Vitek Vanecek has the talent and hockey IQ to read NHL speed plays and the focus to get him to the next level. With a tight goaltender race, Vanecek will have to show his composure every time he gets a chance to be up with the Capitals. His quick reflexes and athleticism in the net are what set him apart from his counterparts as he is very active and aggressive in his crease, he fights for positioning well, and sees plays with good vision. His rebound control could use a little work and his timing when playing the puck can sometimes be a worrisome issue, however the Capitals look to have a promising goaltender tandem for the future as Vanecek could manage the starting role just as well as Samsonov. - SC

  1. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, LW (147th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 11)

Despite starting his North American professional career off a little shaky, including a return trip to Sweden to finish the season, Jonsson-Fjallby has redeemed himself this past season, completing the full season in North America, finishing with 23 points. It is clear to see that the winger has the speed and the offensive hockey ability to make an impact at the next level when it comes to getting to the net and putting forth the necessary individual effort. That being said, he lacks instincts as a two-way player and in the defensive end, and there is little else to be said about his giveaways and ill-advised passes in the neutral zone and on breakouts. Jonsson-Fjallby is a difficult prospect to talk about because he has NHL-level skills, but his hockey sense is poor and hard to overlook. With any luck, he will find himself in a Capitals jersey within the next season as a first choice call up to a bottom six position. - SC

  1. Damien Riat, LW (117th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 12)

While some in the hockey world have dismissed Switzerland as a nation worth heavily scouting, the Capitals have always been believers. Look at NHLer Jonas Siegenthaler, their second-round pick in 2015, now an established NHLer. Look at Tobias Geisser, their first selection in 2017, albeit in the 4th round. And look at Riat, taking in between the two blueliners, who signed an entry level deal with the Capitals in March after five successful seasons in the NLA. A speedy winger with intriguing puck skills, he has been the top scorer in his age cohort ever since being overshadowed by a young Auston Matthews in 2015-16, until finally being overtaken again last year. For an organization that rarely drafts out of Europe, Riat has a chance to convince the Capitals to change their scouting direction once more if he adapts well to the North American game this year. - RW

  1. Oskar Magnusson, LW (211th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

A top scorer as a youth, Magnusson took off in his second season in SuperElit, finishing second in the league in scoring among all U18 players, behind only Carolina draft pick Zion Nybeck. Magnusson has a fine collection of offensive tools and can contribute as both a finisher as well as a playmaker. He has good instincts for the game and reads the play well, helping him to maximize his physical tools. On the other hand, he is very physically underdeveloped, and his skating is average at best. He is actually fairly explosive on his feet, but his strides are short, causing him to burn out too much energy too quickly. He earned a four game call up to Malmo’s senior side last year and is expected to have a chance to compete for a regular SHL role this season. Before even thinking of a move to North America, he will have to prove that his offense-first game can succeed against men at home in Sweden. – RW

  1. Bobby Nardella, D (Undrafted Free Agent, signed Apr. 5, 2019. Previous ranking: 14)

At 5-9” Nardella is certainly undersized as defenseman go in professional hockey, however, do not be fooled as this crafty and highly offensive defenseman is a threat no matter where he is on the ice. He finished seventh on the Bears in points and tops for defenseman this past season, his rookie professional campaign. Having been trusted for a role on the Bears’ top powerplay unit, Nardella clearly shows his maturity and that he is focused enough to manage high pressure situations and smart enough to make the right plays. He also has the skill as a top-level skater and puckhandler to get to the net for scoring opportunities which can make him an asset in today’s game. The major downside is size and if the Capitals can get past that, rest assured that Nardella has the potential to be a top four pairing defenseman. The delay in cracking the Washington lineup simply comes from defensive depth and prospect hierarchy politics, because as a player Nardella offers nothing but good things to a team. - SC

  1. Martin Hugo Has, D (153rd overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 15)

A late arrival to the OHL made Has a bit of a mystery and a difficult player to evaluate. Some may wonder about why he only played a single game for the North Bay Battalion before being moved to Guelph. The answer is because the OHL has a rule that imports cannot be traded until they play at least one game for the drafting team. In Guelph, Has was eased into a top four role for the Storm, playing as a stay at home defender with partner Daniil Chayka (a top 2021 eligible player). At 6-4”, he certainly has good length and exhibits good gap control when containing the transition game of the opposition. As an offensive player, we saw Has struggle at times with his decision making and the pace of play in the OHL. It remains to be seen just how much potential he has as an NHL prospect moving forward. Next year he will return to Guelph and will likely resume his partnership with Chayka. As he becomes more comfortable, we should get a better idea of the type of player he is and can become. – BO

  1. Garin Bjorklund, G (179th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Playing as art of a platoon with Ottawa draft pick Mads Sogaard, Bjorklund didn’t have the kind of year that scouts hoped of him, as consistency issues plagued him in his intermittent starts. Part of that may have come from not playing consistently as part of a routine. He still has the size (6-2”) and quickness to be an NHL netminder and the potential to turn it around given more regular time between the pipes. To his credit, he tracks the play well and seems to have a solid grasp of the technical nuances of the position. A former first round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft, even in his struggles, he showed flashes of pro caliber ability, but was done in too often by juicy rebounds, and seeming to lose his composure after surrendering a bad goal. Reports of his commitment to the game are promising, and, even though he was outperformed last year on the whole by the Danish second round pick, more often than not, there was little to separate the two performance-wise, and there may be a lot of room for growth in this profile.  – BO

  1. Mitchell Gibson, G (124th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 17)

If we want to search for rays of hope with Bjorklund (#17), we need look no further than Gibson, who struggled badly in his first post draft season making the adjustment from the NAHL to the USHL. Moving on to Harvard, his performance improved by several grades. Given the chance to play regularly, he took the bulk of a time-share from senior Cameron Gornet and kept the Crimson in pretty much every game, something he could not say for his time with Central Illinois. Gibson is on the smaller side for a modern netminder but moves well and fights for every puck. He did a good job at limiting second chances and has a knack for puck play as well. Where concerns remain are in his ability to track the play through traffic, where his height works against him, as well as his propensity to lose the finer details of his technique in the crease. A second season like the last one with Harvard and he will rise up this list. - RW

  1. Beck Malenstyn, LW (145th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 18)

Re-read everything written above about Garrett Pilon and just make him a winger instead of a center, and then lower the ceiling a fair bit. Considering how low we stated the ceiling was for Pilon, we are basically stating that Malenstyn projects as a replacement level player. His hands have promise, and he plays a hard and tough style of game, but it is hard to see him as more than an injury replacement callup. The simple fact is that his offensive contributions are meagre. Even in the WHL, he was a secondary scorer. Through two seasons in the AHL, he hasn’t exceeded 16 points, although, to be fair, he could have cracked 20 if last season wasn’t ended early due to the pandemic. He could have been a regular in the 1980s, but it is hard for players of his ilk to establish themselves in the NHL anymore, and we don’t see why Malenstyn will break that mold. - RW

  1. Riley Sutter, RW (93rd overall, 2018. Previous ranking: UR)

One of the few of the next generation of the Sutter family to still retain NHL hopes, Riley Sutter’s projection was stunted over the previous two injury-plagued seasons. He has always carried the grit and smarts of his father’s generation, but the knock on him, from the time of his draft year, has been his heavy feet. Now, with only 63 combined games played in the last two years, split between the WHL and AHL, his chances have taken a hit with the missed development time. We can give him a mulligan for his poor numbers in his abbreviated rookie pro season, as he has solid puck skills and reads the opposition well, but he can scarcely afford a repeat of the last two seasons. A return to health and improved performance will help Sutter re-ascend this list. Continued injuries can end his NHL hopes. He has the size and strength to play a bottom six role in the future, but he has a ways to go to achieve that goal. - RW