From 2010 to 2020, the Washington Capitals enjoyed great performances from some of their top prospects at the annual World Junior Championships. Not all prospects won a gold medal for their respective countries or led their teams in scoring while at the tournament, but Caps fans saw great individual performances and, in some cases, a preview of what was to come.
Washington management also capitalized on World Junior prospects initially selected by other teams such as Devante Smith-Pelley (Team Canada 2012) and Brett Connolly (Team Canada 2011, 2012). Both were pivotal pieces for the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup championship.
From Russia with Love
Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenceman Dmitri Orlov won gold in 2011 with Team Russia in Buffalo, New York. Both had pivotal roles in the comeback championship win that some still consider Canada’s most humiliating defeat in a gold medal game. Down 3-0 to Canada, Russia stormed back, scoring five unanswered goals in the final period to give them their first gold medal since 2003.
Orlov finished with nine points, ranking second behind Canada’s Ryan Ellis in scoring amongst defensemen and ninth overall. The second-round pick from the 2009 Draft showed off his now well-known two-way game playing in Russia’s top-four defence against a heavily offensive Canadian team in the final game. He was named an All-Star alongside teammate Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko tied for the Russian scoring-lead and second in overall-tournament scoring with 11 points each. Kuznetsov was a force, registering three assists in the third period during the incredible comeback win. The 2010 first-round pick continued that success with the Capitals to become one of the organization’s top centers. He was also instrumental in the team’s 2018 Cup victory.
Carlson Wins Gold Medal for the USA
Playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, the American-born defenceman was a Canadian junior hockey star leading up to his 2010 appearance for Team USA at the WJC.
Carlson served as an alternate captain for the Americans, helping guide the squad to their first gold medal in six years. While Kuznetsov was a part of a historic Russian comeback versus Canada in 2011, the Capitals’ future No. 1 defender scored one of the biggest goals in American junior hockey history with a championship winner in overtime, also against the Canadians.
After Canada had stunned the US team, scoring two late third-period tallies to tie the game, Carlson sent American fans into a frenzy after wiring a wrist shot past goalie Martin Jones. His second goal of the game gave him seven points in seven games earning a tournament All-Star nomination.
The offensive defenceman carried on his blossoming career, helping the Capitals AHL affiliate Hershey Bears to two Calder Cup championships. Carlson became the Capitals’ franchise leader in assists among defensemen last season with 373. His 478 career points are also a franchise-best from a blueliner, solidifying his position as the most offensive defenceman the Capitals have ever had in their history.
Forsberg Gives a Glimpse of What Might Have Been
In three WJC tournaments, Filip Forsberg became a star for Sweden. The offensively-gifted forward registered only one assist during his first appearance in 2012 but won gold. However, he made a strong enough impression on the Capitals as they selected him 11th-overall at the following 2012 NHL Draft. Winner of a silver medal in 2013, he was named to the tournament all-star team with five points in six games as the team’s captain.
With many Caps fans now looking forward to seeing him at his final World Junior in 2014, Forsberg was traded in a blockbuster deal. In what’s considered one of the most controversial trades in franchise history, Washington moved him to the Nashville Predators in 2013. His 12 points at his final World Junior in 2014 placed him second in tournament scoring, starting a backlash at management by fans for trading him earlier in the year.
While the trade can be considered a loss for the Capitals with the success the Swedish star has had in Nashville, the Capitals winning a championship since the deal tempered some regrets on losing the offence he brings.
Two other Washington prospects played with Forsberg in 2014 for Sweden. Defenceman Christian Djoos and forward Andre Burakovsky, both a part of the 2018 championship roster, were also important pieces to their national junior team.
Djoos, playing in his second tournament, potted a massive goal in 2014 despite losing the final game. The seventh-round selection in 2012 tallied the game-tying score with under 10 minutes remaining in the game, setting up a memorable overtime before losing 3-2 to Finland.
Burakovsky, the 2014 first-round pick, scored seven points in seven games showing off the offensive abilities he brought to Washington before moving to the Colorado Avalanche. The forward scored two huge goals in the deciding game during the 2018 Eastern Conference Final versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, propelling the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998.
Jakub Vrana played in three consecutive tournaments, beginning in 2013, for the Czech Republic. The winger did not win any championships or enjoy massive offensive success with six points in 16 career games at the World Junior tournament. However, the speedy forward scored a huge goal during the championship run and is now a fixture in the top-six for Washington with 132 points in 245 games.
Defenceman Madison Bowey won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2015 tournament after being drafted in 2013 with the 53rd-overall pick. Never gaining traction in Washington, he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings in 2018, proving a success at the tournament does not always lead to a career in Washington.
McMichael Leading Another Generation
The Capitals got off to a good start over the next decade with current draftee Connor McMichael of the London Knights in uniform at the 2020 tournament. The 2019 first-round pick captured a gold medal, scoring seven points in seven games, including five goals for Team Canada.
Defenceman Martin Hugo Has represented his hometown country at the 2020 tournament. The big 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, was a top-pairing blueliner while scoring three points for the Czech Republic.
Attention is now turned to the upcoming 2021 World Junior tournament this December. Due to the current pandemic situation and no NHL hockey, the rosters for the upcoming tournament this December/January are still unknown, with the possibility of even more NHL players being available to their respective countries. With a lack of hockey leagues currently in operation due to the pandemic, this will be a more heavily scrutinized tournament with more scouts watching. (from ‘Future of the NHL in the COVID-19 pandemic is anything but certain,’ Newsday, 10/16/2020)
Washington hockey fans hope to have another decade as successful as the last, with prospects turning into valuable assets on the way to a second championship in Capitals history.