At the 2019 NHL draft, the Washington Capitals selected three players in the first three rounds who can have a big impact on the team next season. Selecting Connor McMichael with the 25th-overall pick in the first round may have been their best move in a draft where general manager Brian MacLellan came away with two forwards taller than 6’5″ and a defenseman who stands 6’4″ tall.
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During the 2019-20 season, Washington’s under-20 prospects made considerable progress. McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, and Brett Leason each scored career-highs in points this season. Here is a guide to the top five under-20 prospects in the Capitals’ pipeline.
McMichael signed his first professional contract with the Caps on July 12, 2019. During the 2019-20 season, the 6’0″, 183-pound center scored 102 points in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The 19-year-old’s impressive point total was the third-most in the OHL behind the Saginaw Spirit’s Cole Perfetti (107) and the Ottawa 67’s Marco Rossi (120).
Washington’s assistant general manager Ross Mahoney described what stands out to him most about the 19-year-old’s game.
He’s a very, very intelligent player with really, really good hands and a great shot, he can score goals. I mean, some kids can score goals in juniors, but this kid is a goal scorer. He can play center, he can also play the wing…it’s his vision, his hands, and he’s a great skater.Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney
At the 2020 World Junior Championships, McMichael finished fifth in scoring on Team Canada with 5 goals and 2 assists. He seemed to know exactly where he should be when he scored, demonstrating great awareness in the offensive zone.
At 183 pounds, he needs to add some weight to his frame before he makes the transition from junior hockey to the NHL-level. Overall, the Scarborough, Ontario-native has shown he possesses NHL-quality hockey sense. That helped him stand out in a field of talented players like he did at the 2020 World Junior Championships. With that in mind, he could be in the mix for a role on the Caps’ bottom-six next season.
At 6’6″ and 210-pounds, Protas is by far the tallest center in the pipeline. The Belarussian spent the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) playing for the Prince Albert Raiders. In the 2018-19 season, Protas scored 40 points and added 22 points in 23 playoff games. Then, during the 2019-20 season, he doubled his point total when he scored 31 goals and 49 assists for a total of 80 points in just 58 games.
Protas is an interesting prospect. It’s clear that he has great size, which gives him a huge advantage over smaller players. However, this season he proved that he can dish out the assists like Jaromir Jagr used to in the early 2000s.
The big center made his presence known in the WHL this season and that should help his confidence moving forward.
[He] has very good hockey sense and playmaking skills. The only thing that may prevent him from being a star is his skating ability, which is only adequate at this point…He will settle for a bottom-six forward role because his size will always attract attention at the NHL level.The Hockey News
At 19 years old, Protas has already had his breakout season in the WHL. If he can improve his skating, he will then have the potential to be a top-six playmaking center in the NHL. There are three centers who are 6’6″ or taller playing in the NHL today: Logan Brown, Nick Bjugstad, and Brian Boyle. This season, Protas made an important step towards reaching the NHL and general manager Brian MacLellan will undoubtedly keep tabs on the centerman.
At 6’5″ and 210 pounds, Leason is a big forward who has shown a unique ability to dangle and score goals in tight spaces. The Caps selected the Calgary-native in the second round of the 2019 draft.
Leason has had a great two years in the WHL with the Prince Albert Raiders. This season the 20-year-old exploded for 36 goals and 53 assists and 89 points after scoring just 32 points in 2017-18. The Raiders would go on to win the 2019 WHL Championship series that season and Leason would contribute 25 points during the WHL playoffs that year. Leason’s playoff total was one point short of the 26 points that Avalanche defensive prospect Bowen Byram was able to accomplish for the Vancouver Giants.
[He] has excellent size and strength, plus tremendous hands. Can be a prolific point producer at lower levels. There are still questions about his ability to defend in his own zone…[but] he is a very proud athlete who is always willing to work on improving his all-around game.The Hockey News
Leason played the 2019-20 season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). While there, the Calgary-native had just 14 points in 50 games, which did not raise his stock as a Caps prospect. Based on the monster season he had in the WHL, Leason deserves a shot at the AHL next year.
He has the potential to make some noise at training camp next year with the combination of size and stickhandling he possesses. The centerman has a shot to make the NHL at some point in the next two years. First, he needs to prove he can score in the AHL as he did in the WHL.
Martin Hugo Has
The Capitals selected Hugo Has with the 153rd overall pick in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. During each of the last three seasons, he has played for Tappara in the Finnish senior league.
Hugo Has gained some notoriety for his performance at the 2019 U-20 World Junior Championships. Representing the Czech Republic, Hugo Has scored three points, which was tied for second among defensemen on his team. He has extensive experience playing in International junior hockey as he has played in 40 games since 2017-18 and scored 16 points to go along with a sparkling plus-22 rating.
He has good hockey IQ but the problem for him lies in his skating as he can seem slow which can make his transition to professional North American hockey very tough. Hugo Has has a chance to make the NHL though, so [Has] could be a fantastic fifth round pick for the Capitals.Pat Quinn, Dobber Prospects, (Jan. 2020)
The 2019-20 season has been a whirlwind year for the 19-year-old from Prague. Hugo Has started the year by playing 20 games in Finland and then in Jan. 2020, he was traded to the Guelph Storm. The 6’4″ defenseman played in 20 games for the Storm, registering six assists and a minus-nine rating.
It does not look like Hugo Has is going to generate much offense, but what he lacks offensively, he makes up for with his size and defensive stick skills. Being that his first season in North America was this season, he is too unfamiliar with the North American game right now to make the NHL next season. If the Czech defenseman continues to develop his solid defensive game even further next season, he has a chance to earn a spot on the Capitals’ defense in two years.
The Capitals selected Florchuk with the very last pick (217th overall) in the 2019 NHL draft. Florchuk started his WHL career four years ago, but the Edmonton-native has steadily increased his production with every passing year. During the 2017-18 season, Florchuk scored 49 points and in the 2018-19 season he put up 50 points in 68 games.
Florchuk played in his 200th WHL game this season with the Vancouver Giants. He has had a long career, where he has mainly been a consistent second-line center who can score.
Owns a very projectable frame and he already knows how to utilize it to gain an advantage on his opponents. Also displays very good skating ability for his projected length. Will need to work on his frame in order to maximize his [potential] output in the NHL.The Hockey News
However, the 2019-20 season represents the 6’2″, 182-pound center’s ascendance towards playing at the NHL-level, because he scored nearly a point-per-game for the first time in his career (57 points in 58 games).
The seventh-round-pick at the 2019 NHL Draft has worked hard to make it possible for himself to compete for a bottom-six center role on the Caps in the near future. Next year the Caps can foster the center prospect’s development, by giving him a chance to develop his game in the AHL with the Hershey Bears.
Caps U-20 Prospects Need More Time
Each of these Capitals’ draft picks from the last two years made huge steps in their professional careers. Some, like Hugo Has, made the step to leave Europe and sign with a North American team. Then there are more advanced prospects like McMichael, who have shown they have the goods in the OHL and in the World Junior Championships in 2020. McMichael is the only under-20 prospect who could be called up to the NHL during their upcoming playoff run.
For now, Caps fans will have to be satisfied watching their team finish first in the Metropolitan division for the fifth-straight season and make the playoffs for the sixth-straight season. It remains to be seen whether any one of these five prospects will be able to step up from the OHL or WHL to the AHL next season, but one thing is certain. The Capitals have stocked their farm system with a glut of prospects under the age of 20, who can help the Caps in the next year or two.