One great thing about hockey is that you can always follow the numbers. Tracking past stats makes it interesting to see how players develop and have a breakout season or underperform and try to recover later on in their careers. Every stat line at a professional level is recorded, making it easier to track a player’s progression.
That begs the question, out of the younger prospects the Washington Capitals have on their affiliate roster, who is on the come-up, and who needs to play better? One day will they provide immediate depth and offence to the Capitals lineup?
Their AHL affiliate team, the Hershey Bears, had a solid season, finishing second in the Eastern Conference and posting a record of 37 wins and 18 losses in 62 games. With new acquisitions and some familiar faces in the mix, it looks like some players are always improving while others are beginning to head in the right direction when compared to previous years in their career.
Daniel Sprong, RW
Sprong was a solid addition for the Bears, previously playing for The Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL. Jumping from both the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the NHL, he had solid numbers considering his age. In 2016-17, his last season in the QMJHL, he recorded 59 points in only 31 games. The 23-year-old has not yet reached pro-level production, only amassing 19 points in his best NHL season with the Ducks.
They sent him down to the Ducks’ affiliate team, the San Diego Gulls, where his production has turned around. In 39 games with the Gulls, he recorded 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. His production continued after getting traded to the Bears, where he produced six points in five games.
Sprong is a scoring winger who can deliver at an elite level. He’s a significantly more offensive player than a defensive one, having a plus/minus of minus-11 with the Gulls. He’s still young enough and has the potential to develop into an elite top-six player. He already has a bit of pro-level experience, so he knows what to expect going forward. He’s not a significant cap hit for the Capitals, either, at only $725,000.
Riley Sutter, RW
Sutter had an underwhelming year with the Bears last season, having recorded only four points in 25 games. However, this does not mean that he reached his plateau. The 21-year-old is a gritty power forward that plays a hard game and will most likely have a comeback year. With the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he developed into a consistent, all-around, point-per-game producer.
In his last season with the Silvertips in 2018-19, he was a point-per-game player, picking up 41 points in 38 games. He still has a lot to prove; if his junior numbers say anything, he has the potential to properly develop in the Capitals’ system.
Garrett Pilon, C
Pilon has looked promising for the Bears. He has improved from 33 points in 71 games to 36 points in 61 games over his first two seasons. Progressing every year since being drafted 87th overall in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft, it looks like he possesses the skill to produce at a pro-level. Pilon was one of the final cuts before the Capitals entered the NHL bubble.
If the skilled offensive forward continues to produce at a steady pace, chances are he will be getting an opportunity to play at the next level very soon. His contract expires after this season, and with the Capitals cap space issues, it will be interesting to see how negotiations will play out if he has another good year.
Brian Pinho, C
Back in 2019, the Capitals re-signed Pinho after producing only 12 points in 73 games. This signing turned out to be a significant one. The season after, he recorded 37 points in 62 games, a considerable jump. He also registered a plus/minus of plus-16, showing that he plays with both an offensive and defensive mindset.
He is great at anticipating plays on the defensive end and can see the ice very well. The 25-year-old has a lot to prove this season if he wants to get a future bottom-six forward position with the Capitals.
Lucas Johansen, D
The brother of Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Johansen, Lucas Johansen has to improve from his previous season if he wants to bring his game to the next level. The 2016 28th-overall, first-round pick has slowed down since his years playing in the pros, but it isn’t entirely his fault. He had a strong rookie season with the Bears, recording 27 points in 74 games in 2017-18 as a first-year defenseman, showing a lot of promise for years to come.
Injuries have plagued him over the last two seasons. Before he sustained his first injury, he recorded nine points in 17 games and was on pace for a solid season. Since then, it seems like he has caught the injury bug, having only two points in nine games last season. Before injuries, Johansen was on pace to develop into a second-pairing, two-way defenseman, but now his time with the Capitals seems to be wearing thin.
The team realizes what he’s gone through and signed him to a one-year, $700,000 contract for the 2020-21 season. If injuries don’t sideline him this year and performs well, he could still be in the Capitals’ system for years to come.
The Bears are going into the 2020-21 season with a lot of firepower. They have many prospects that benefit offensively and defensively to the team. Hopefully, some of these players will make it to the next level over the next few years and add extra depth to the Capitals’ core. The only problem is re-signing some of these players if they play well will be a challenge, especially in a flat-cap year.
Co-Host of The Starting Rotation on CJLO 1690AM
Journalism at Concordia University