The Washington Capitals’ window of opportunity is closing. Alex Ovechkin turns 36 before the start of the season, the Eastern Conference is stacked with young talent, and head coach Peter Laviolette is under pressure to avoid a repeat of last year’s first-round exit. It’s clear, the Capitals need to get younger – and they should look no further than Slovakian defenceman Martin Fehérváry to do so.
The soon-to-be 22-year-old, selected by Washington in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, has spent the majority of his time with the Hershey Bears since departing Europe in 2019. However, the Bratislava native looks ready to step into the NHL on a full-time basis and will hope to add to his six regular-season appearances from 2019-20 this time out.
Born In Slovakia, Developed with the Hershey Bears
Fehérváry’s record in the American Hockey League (AHL) is impressive, more so than the numbers he put up in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
In 24 games for the Bears last season, the 6-foot-2 Slovak chipped in with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) as Hershey clinched the North Division title and topped the charts for points percentage. A year earlier, Fehérváry registered 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 56 appearances and made vast improvements to his play after spending a three-game stint in the NHL in Oct 2019.
Before making the jump to North America, the 1999-born defenceman made his name in Sweden, icing in 68 top-flight games and contributing seven points (one goal, six assists) over a four-year spell. An 18-year-old call-up to Slovakia’s 2018 World Championship roster, Fehérváry could feature at next year’s Winter Olympics and becoming a full-time NHLer would certainly help his case.
What Are The Washington Capitals’ Defensive Concerns?
The biggest question mark hanging over the Capitals heading into the season relates to the blue line. A few weeks out from training camp, it remains unclear how the Capitals will line up in defence, with Zdeno Chara still an unrestricted free agent and Brenden Dillon traded to the Winnipeg Jets to address Washington’s salary cap concerns.
In fact, the left side of Laviolette’s back end is a particular area of concern. While John Carlson, Justin Schultz, and Nick Jensen are expected to fill out the right side of the Caps’ defence, the situation on the other side of the crease is precarious.
Dmitri Orlov leads the way on the left – but depth beyond him is scarce.
As it stands, Fehérváry is in the mix for a roster spot alongside Michal Kempny (who hasn’t featured in the NHL for over a year), Alexander Alexeyev (who is yet to skate in the big league), and Matt Irwin (who appeared 24 times for the Buffalo Sabres last season). Trevor van Riemsdyk could also be an option – although positioning him on the right would upset assistant coach Kevin McCarthy’s preference to ice players on their natural side.
To be blunt, the Capitals aren’t awash with established talent in defence – which opens the door for Fehérváry to breakthrough.
What Can Martin Fehérváry Offer?
Aside from what the Slovak can provide on the ice, it’s important to note that Fehérváry is waiver exempt. As a result, he could be the player that is placed in the minors if the Capitals bring back Chara for another campaign. Ultimately, the 21-year-old gives general manager Brian MacLellan a degree of flexibility – a much-loved commodity in NHL front offices.
Fehérváry’s style of play could also become a major asset in Washington. Like many players his age, the former HV71 loanee relies on hockey sense – rather than physicality – to make the majority of his defensive plays. Moreover, he is composed in possession, controls gaps well, and isn’t afraid of shooting the puck.
On the flip side, it always takes inexperienced players a while to get up to speed in the NHL. With the Metropolitan Division looking competitive this year, can the Capitals afford to start the season slowly? Probably not, but if Washington isn’t prepared to give Fehérváry a serious run in the show now, they probably never will.
As Laviolette’s Capitals approach the end of their window to win, the time has come to hand over more influence to the organization’s next generation. A huge season awaits Fehérváry – he must grasp the opportunity with both hands.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from the UK, who covers the Washington Capitals for THW. He is a recent graduate from the University of Warwick and is currently studying a postgraduate degree in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London. To stay up-to-date with Luke’s work, you can find his tweets via @LukeJames_32.