Capitals’ Top Prospects Heading Into 2022-23 Season

It is the middle of summer, the World Juniors are on, and the Washington Capitals’ news cycle is running dry because general manager Brian MacLellan has already sorted out his roster. In essence, D.C. is more than ready for the regular season to begin.

With that said, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding Washington’s window to win another Stanley Cup. If the team is to remain competitive, MacLellan’s draft selections must deliver on their potential.

Top Prospects Heading Into 2022-23 Washington Capitals Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko
Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko (The Hockey Writers)

The situation at Capital One Arena is fluid. Washington’s prospect pool has shallowed due to a series of playoff appearances, with eight years passing since the organization last selected a player in the top 15 of an Entry Draft. (It was Jakub Vrána at 13th overall in 2014.)

There is some positive news, though. Martin Fehérváry and Connor McMichael have already developed into full-time NHLers, injecting a burst of youthful exuberance into an aging roster. On the flip side, Washington’s top prospects list is the weakest it has been for a while.

For the purposes of this article, a player is classed as a prospect if they have made fewer than 35 NHL appearances and are 23 or younger. Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, Fehérváry, and McMichael are therefore excluded from consideration. Finally, prospects are ranked in order of potential, not current ability. Let’s break it down.

9. Clay Stevenson, Goaltender (Hershey Bears)

The Capitals signed 23-year-old netminder Clay Stevenson to a two-year, entry-level contract in March. He was a highly sought-after college free agent before putting pen to paper with Washington and recorded a .922 save percentage through 23 appearances for Dartmouth College last season.

The Canadian was a standout performer for Dartmouth in 2021-22, earning a spot in the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s Rookie All-Star Team and recognition as one of the NCAA’s top netminders.

Stevenson’s personal achievements were made all the more impressive by his team’s underperformance, as he finished the season with a losing record of 6-14-2, along with two shutouts and a 2.70 goals-against average. Undeniably, the 6-foot-4 backstop is a project for Washington’s development staff. He is several years away from being NHL-ready but has many of the tools – and size – to make it at the highest level. Stevenson is one to watch as a result.

8. Brett Leason, Right Wing (Hershey Bears)

Brett Leason is on the right path to becoming a reliable NHL skater, as he has shown the odd burst of creativity in the American Hockey League (AHL), using his 6-foot-5 frame to protect the puck on the cycle. The Canadian’s point production has been ‘okay’ at the professional level, but does not compare to the success he had in the Western Hockey League (WHL):

LeagueGamesGoalsAssistsPoints (Per Game)
WHL1906080140 (0.74)
AHL114182947 (0.41)
NHL36336 (0.17)

Leason’s top priority for the season ahead is to improve his skating. If he does, he will start to make higher-end plays in the show. If he does not, he could plateau as a tweener.

7. Brent Johnson, Right-Handed Defenceman (University of North Dakota)

After a breakout 2020-21 season in the United States Hockey League (USHL), Brent Johnson’s adjustment to the NCAA was bumpy. The 19-year-old lost a summer of training and half his freshman year to a shoulder operation but has rebounded since.

Still unsigned by the Capitals, Washington’s third-round pick from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft is always confident on the puck but rarely allows himself to get carried away. Johnson consistently executes his plays as a result, a quality he replicates when it comes to his defensive work. While he is not the most physically imposing blueliner in the system at 5-foot-11, the Dallas-born defender is on course to becoming a useful NHLer in the future.

6. Ryan Chesley, Right-Handed Defenceman (University of Minnesota)

Born in 2004, Ryan Chesley was the Capitals’ second-round pick in 2022. He was rated between 18th and 33rd in pre-draft rankings but fell to Washington at 37th overall earlier this summer. The 18-year-old has plenty of upside and will make his NCAA debut for the University of Minnesota this fall. He is an intelligent, puck-moving defenceman who should excel in the college game. However, he requires plenty of seasoning before entering the professional ranks.

Ryan Chesley USNTDP
Ryan Chesley, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Chesley recorded 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 59 appearances for the US National U18 Team last season, drawing praise for his instinctive style of defending. As a result, his best years are yet to come.

5. Alexander Alexeyev, Left-Handed Defenceman (Hershey Bears)

Alexander Alexeyev does not find himself in the best situation this summer. The former 31st overall pick underwent shoulder surgery in June and is expected to miss the next four to five months. Ouch.

To make matters worse for the Russian, he was usurped by Fehérváry last season and faces an uphill battle to crack Washington’s roster as a result. He is also in the final year of his entry-level contract. However, the 22-year-old still has tons of upside and has many of the tools he needs to make it in the NHL. Alexeyev possesses a heavy snapshot and wins his fair share of board battles, making impressive use of his 6-foot-4 frame. Even so, next season is make-or-break for the 1999-born blueliner. It’s time to deliver.

4. Vincent Iorio, Right-Handed Defenceman (Brandon Wheat Kings)

Vincent Iorio has vaulted Alexeyev in THW’s prospect rankings due to the latter’s injury record. As a result, the Canadian is under pressure to deliver on the potential that saw him selected 55th overall in 2021. He enjoyed a breakout season in the WHL last term, recording 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 60 appearances for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and is ready to jump into the professional ranks. The 19-year-old made significant improvements to his breakout passing, compensating for his overall lack of creativity.

Vincent Iorio, Washington Capitals
Vincent Iorio, Washington Capitals (Sammi Silber / Washington Hockey Now)

The Canadian’s ceiling in the NHL is probably as a third-pair blueliner, but he has plenty of time to break new ground with the Capitals and Bears. He is one for the future.

3. Alexi Protas, Centre (Hershey Bears)

With injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin, the Capitals need fringe players to break out and Belarussian centre Alexi Protas fits the bill. He bounced between the AHL and NHL in 2021-22, recording nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 33 appearances for the Capitals and 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 42 games for the Hershey Bears.

Drafted in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Protas is on the cusp of becoming a major success story for the Capitals’ development crew. The 6-foot-6 centreman is deceptively skilful and is at his best with the puck on his stick. If he finds a way to combine his stickhandling and natural net-front presence, the 23-year-old could become a hefty middle-six contributor in the NHL.

2. Ivan Miroshnichenko, Left Wing (Omskie Krylia)

As noted in the aftermath of this year’s draft, Ivan Miroshnichenko was a dice roll for the Capitals at 20th overall. Regarded as a prospective top-10 prospect until his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis in March, the Russian is a player that Washington was very keen to select.

“We’re looking at a player who we had quite high on our list and we thought it was really good to be able to get him at 20th overall,” explained assistant general manager Ross Mahoney. “It’s a little bit like last year with Hendrix Lapierre, who we rated really highly and moved up a couple of spots to get at 22nd overall. It’s the same kind of scenario: we ended up getting a guy who was quite high on our list.”

Related: Capitals Roll the Dice on Ivan Miroshnichenko in 2022 NHL Draft

When quizzed about how Miroshnichenko’s health impacted Washington’s decision to draft the 18-year-old, Mahoney added: “We always give all the information we have to our medical staff, and they advised us on what they feel: we’re really happy to get him.”

If he grows into the player many expected him to become before his diagnosis, Miroshnichenko has enough upside to extend the Capitals’ Stanley Cup window. He is exactly the kind of young, dynamic scorer that they have been looking for.

Ivan Miroshnichenko Washington Capitals
Ivan Miroshnichenko, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite the challenges he faced in 2021-22, he finished with 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in Russia’s second tier. Like another Russian in the organization, Miroshnichenko’s shot is powerful.

“Although his rankings vary widely, from sixth to 30th, he has all the tools to become a lethal scorer in the NHL,” wrote THW’s Arlen Danczigerbefore the draft. “He has a similar playing style to Alex Ovechkin, although he is not as highly touted as the ‘great eight’.

“His strength is his shot, he can unload a wrist shot off the rush in a similar way to the aforementioned Russian. It’s NHL-ready, quick, and powerful, and he likes to cut from the left towards the middle and fire it toe-drag style against the grain. It’s hard for goalies to pick up, and he does it so fluidly that they rarely have a chance to square up to him.”

As a result, Miroshnichenko’s development could define the next decade of hockey in Washington. Yes, he could be that good.

1. Hendrix Lapierre, Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Centre

Despite enduring a topsy-turvy campaign in 2021-22, Hendrix Lapierre has emerged as the Capitals’ No. 1 prospect – for now, at least. The 20-year-old was a breath of fresh air in D.C. to start last season, scoring in his professional debut to lift Washington during an injury crisis.

His Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) return was initially underwhelming, though. He struggled to find his feet with Acadie-Bathurst Titan and was a high-profile cut from Canada’s World Junior Championship training camp as a result.

However, he bounced back after the turn of the year and ended the season with 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 40 regular season appearances. The Gatineau-born forward subsequently potted 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 11 QMJHL playoff games.

When Lapierre is at his best, he is a king of puck distribution, capable of making high-end plays through the middle of the ice. The 20-year-old also has an accurate wrist-shot, is a capable skater, and thrives under pressure. If he adapts to playing against stronger opponents, he has second-line centre potential.

Capitals’ Top Prospects Must Flourish

Ovechkin, believe it or not, will not be recorded in history as an ageless wonder. He will eventually succumb to Father Time, ceasing to produce offence at an elite rate. When that moment arrives, the Capitals will need their top prospects to fill the void. The likes of Lapierre, Miroshnichenko, and – to a lesser degree – Protas have a significant role to play in Washington’s future and will be expected to carry the franchise into a post-Ovechkin future.

While the D.C. franchise does not boast the deepest or richest prospect pool, MacLellan has a handful of promising players at his disposal. It is time for some of them to take the next step.

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