The Washington Capitals have one of the weakest prospect pools in the NHL, and that’s okay. They have had tremendous regular-season success for over a decade during the Alex Ovechkin era and have won a Stanley Cup.
Obviously, as a perennial Stanley Cup contender, the emphasis is on winning now, and often at the expense of draft picks and other future considerations. Washington has been willing to trade first-round picks as they have only had three in the past five drafts and have not selected lower than 21st overall since 2014.
In combination with having fewer and later draft picks, the Capitals have not had a lot of success in drafting and developing over the years. In the past 11 years, they have only seven draft picks that have played over 250 games in the NHL, and only one (Tom Wilson) remains with the organization.
The Capitals do have prospects who have recently graduated to the NHL in Connor McMichael, Brett Leason, and Martin Fehervary which depletes their pipeline to arguably the worst in the NHL.
When the Capitals decide to move on from the Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom regime, there will be years of pain as the franchise will have to build it back up from the ground up through the draft.
- Hendrix Lapierre, C – Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 22nd overall by Washington Capitals
Drafting Lapierre in the first round was a bit of a gable and a swing for the fences. Not because he lacks the skill and offensive upside to be a first-round pick, but because he was limited to just 19 games in his draft year due to injuries. In particular, injuries to the head.
Lapierre kicked down the front door as a rookie in the QMJHL posting 45 points in 48 games in his D-1 season to get some early buzz. While his draft year was limited, he posted 17 points in those 19 games. Following his draft, he was limited again to just 21 games and posted 31 points, but that was due to COVID.
The extra time off may have just been what the Dr. ordered to allow his head injuries to heal properly. Lapierre made the Capitals roster to start the year playing in six NHL games and scoring his first career NHL goal before being returned to the Q.
It then came as a surprise to many when Team Canada passed over Lapierre for the 2022 WJC. Since that snub, he has been torching the QMJHL to the tune of 21 goals and 30 points through 37 games and is on pace for 1.38 points per game in his final season.
The gifted playmaker has shown an evolution in his shooting and scoring game, making him less predictable and a dual-threat. An important development for his transition to pro hockey. Lapierre will play his first pro season, but with few expiring contracts coming off the books he will likely see more playing time in the AHL as a rookie. His upside could see him fill a top-six role in a year or two as he has little competition coming from behind for now.
- Alexander Alexeyev, LD – Hershey Bears (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round one, 31st overall by Washington Capitals
The big left-shot Russian has been in North America for years now as a product of the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL. His junior career was impressive with 101 points in 135 career games. He dominated in the 2019 WJC with Russia scoring six points in seven games to help Russia win the Bronze.
In his first year as a pro, he was trending towards cracking the Capitals roster as a rookie, but an injury sustained at the 2019 prospects showcase tournament cost him a spot. He made his pro debut in the AHL posting a strong 21 points in 58 games. The pandemic had him return to Russia on loan to Salavat in the KHL and he was good there scoring 16 points in 58 games before finishing the season in Hershey. Alexeyev has played this season back in the AHL with Hershey, and while his offensive totals are slightly down, on pace for 19 points in 64 games, he was recalled for his first career NHL game in December.
The big Russian plays a good two-way game, he is physically aggressive, has a good shot, and is good at moving the puck via smart, deceptive passes. His skating has been the knock on his game, but it is not enough of a concern to keep him out of the NHL. With Justin Shultz, Michal Kempny, and Matt Irwin all on expiring contracts, Alexeyev is the probable answer to one of those roster spots next year.
- Alexi Protas, C – Hershey Bears (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round three, 91st overall by Washington Capitals
The big Belarussian has been rising up the ranks with the Capitals since his draft in 2019. After winning the WHL Championship in his draft year, he returned for another season of junior in 2020 where he had an offensive breakout to the tune of 80 points in 58 games before the pandemic struck.
The following season he began play in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk on loan, and in his pro debut, had 10 goals and 18 points in 58 games before returning to North America when play resumed. Protas played in six AHL games before finishing the year with Belarus in the WC. Protas began this season full time in North America and hit he ground running scoring five points in nine games to earn an NHL recall. In 33 games in Washington, Protas posted nine points and has since been returned to the AHL.
Protas has good size and skill. He may cap out in a middle-six role, but he brings a strong net-front presence and can be a handful in the crease on the power play.
- Vincent Lorio, RD – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Drafted: 2021 round two, 55th overall by Washington Capitals
After having a good draft season in the pandemic shortened season in the WHL with 12 points in 22 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Lorio has had a breakout D+1 season. The B.C. native had 11 goals and 44 points in 60 regular-season games.
Lorio is not a flashy offensive player, but he is subtly and consistently effective. He makes quick passes, finds open passing and shooting lanes and creates space and opportunity with good deception of his intentions with look-offs and fakes.
Lorio had a good audition for the Canadian WJC roster at the selection camp but failed to crack the final roster. Lorio will make the jump to pro following the Wheat Kings playoff run next year and will need a year or two of development in the AHL before he can be considered a contender for the NHL roster.
- Joe Snively, LW – Hershey Bears (AHL)
Drafted: Free Agent signed 2019 by Washington Capitals
It has been a long road to the NHL for the Virginia native. After four seasons in the NCAA with Harvard where he was over a point per game player, Snively signed his ELC as a free agent and finished the year in the AHL. It was a solid pro debut with seven points in the final nine games. His rookie season came during the pandemic shortened season and he scored 17 points in 30 games for the Bears.
The caps re-signed Snively to a one-year extension for the 2021 season and were impressed enough after its conclusion to re-up him to another contract extension, this time for a two-year term. Snively has continued to develop and gain confidence in himself and from the organization, earning a recall for his NHL debut this year.
Playing in 12 games with the Capitals, Snively notched four goals and seven points. He has eclipsed the point-per-game pace in the AHL with 38 points through 35 games and has established himself as a legit NHL option. His long-term ceiling at 26-years-old seems likely to top out as a third- or fourth-line player, but for found money as a free agent, that’s pretty good.
- Garrett Pilon, C – Hershey Bears (AHL
Drafted: 2016 round three, 87th overall by Washington Capitals
Washington’s third-round selection from the 2016 draft has been slowly and quietly developing in the Caps system for what seems an eternity. Still only 24-years-old, he is still a prospect. Pilon has lost waiver exemption, so now is the time for him to move up to the NHL roster full time.
Pilon was a regular on the taxi squad for the 2020-21 season playing in just 14 AHL games and one NHL game. This has him under the radar coming into this season where he played the lions share in Hershey posting 42 points in 60 games. He did get a glimpse of the NHL scoring his first career NHL goal in two games.
Pilon projects as a third or fourth line, two-way player that is strong on draws and is a high-volume shooter. With a strong training camp, he could force his way into the lineup.
- Bear Hughes, C – Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Drafted: 2020 round five, 148th overall by Washington Capitals
After a disappointing season in the USHL during the COVID season of 2020-21, Hughes had a nice rebound season in the WHL with 67 points in 64 games back with Spokane. As team Captain, Hughes led the Chiefs in goals, assists, and points and won the Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year Award. At 20-years-old and having a breakout season in the WHL, it can be difficult to discern if he is a late bloomer or taking advantage of being older and bigger than most of the opposition in the league.
Hughes has seen his game improve in his shooting volume and percentage with his 24-goal season. He has always played with pace and been dangerous in close to the net, but he has developed some scoring from range ability as well.
Hughes has signed his ATO for the balance of the AHL season but has not played a game. He remains unsigned by the Capitals so far but is likely to be signed to his ELC for the start of the 2022-23 season where he will play his rookie season with the Bears.
- Henry Rybinski, C/W – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Drafted: 2019 round five, 136th overall by Florida Panthers
Originally a Florida Panthers draft selection, Rybinski went unsigned and became a free agent. He attended the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp as an invitee then returned to the WHL for his overage fifth season and was impressive enough to earn a contract offer from the Capitals.
Rybinski is a tenacious forechecking forward. He excels at breaking down oppositions rushes, creating turnovers, and transitional hockey. He is an above-average skater, with average pro size and a high compete level. His combination of skating skill and hockey sense allows him to be an effective defender and forechecker as well as a sound playmaker.
His strong overage season of 65 points in 47 games is encouraging, but again can be difficult to say if it is a breakout performance, or just an older player playing well in a top-six role in a younger league. Rybinski will play in the AHL in the upcoming season as a rookie where he will try to adapt to the pro game. It will be an important season of development to see if he can become a reliable third-line checking forward in the NHL in time.
- Brent Johnson, RD – University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Drafted: 2021 round three, 80th overall by Washington Capitals
Johnson had a breakout draft year in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede posting 11 goals and 32 points in 47 games as a rookie. His play had him rank between the second and third round so the Capitals found good value in selecting him 80th overall.
After his draft, Johnson had offseason shoulder surgery and as a result, lost a critical summer of training and development. His freshman season with the Fighting Hawks was a struggle, he was a healthy scratch at times and only managed three points through 23 games played. UND had a strong defensive core lead by Ottawa Senators prospects Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven eating up all the big minutes.
As a sophomore, Johnson will be given a bigger role and should see his game improve. Look for Johnson to play a bigger role, play with more confidence and display his deceptive offensive style we saw in the USHL. He is a long-term project and needs to add some strength and physicality while in college to be an effective pro player.
- Oskar Magnusson, C/RW – AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Drafted: 2020 round seven, 211th overall by Washington Capitals
Players drafted in the seventh round are always longshots at best, and Magnusson is no different. At 5-10, he lacks impressive physical prowess. His defensive game is average, and his shot is predictable and not incredibly accurate.
What gives him a chance is his mobility. He is not even a burner, but the mechanics behind his skating are strong and he is very elusive on his feet. He reads the offensive zone very well and can distribute the puck effectively and find open ice and time his arrival to the soft ice at just the right moment.
His post-draft year offensively on loan in HockeyEttan was underwhelming. He played this past season in Allsvenskan and only produced 11 points through 41 games. As a 20-year-old this does not bode well, but there is still time for him to find his game and possibly be an NHL player.