With Development Camp finishing up for the Washington Capitals this Saturday, the vast majority of work is almost done for the team’s coaching staff and front office executives. Outside of adding a cheap but productive bottom six forward, Barry Trotz’s team is almost complete for the 2015-16 season, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other pieces to make the team better. While development camp is full of draft picks showcasing their skills and where they are in their hockey development, there are also a boatload of undrafted free agents that were invited by the Capitals for a look-see and are hoping to find a home with an NHL team. Sadly, the vast majority of them will either return to their junior team or college program or have to face the facts that professional hockey is not in their future. For others, however, this could be their one chance to impress a franchise and convince them to sign an entry-level contract. Of the 18 free agents that are participating in this week’s camp, here are six to keep an eye on if you are coming down to watch the scrimmage at Saturday’s fan fest.
Some skaters will be shown their cumulative NHL equivalent goals and points per 82 games (or NHL E G/82 and NHL E Pts/82). The formulas used for calculating those numbers were presented in one of my previous pieces about Washington’s prospects and the translations used came from this article on coppernblue.com.
With 2014 second round pick Vitek Vanicek being the only drafted goaltender in this year’s camp, five undrafted free agents in that position are hoping to make a name for themselves. South Carolina Stingray Keegan Asmundson deserves some recognition after finishing his college career at Canisus with a strong senior year. However, Ruzicka has the best statistical profile of the group. Born in late February 1997, the BK Mlada Boleslav prospect was eligible in this summer’s NHL draft, but wasn’t taken. He did play in two games with the senior team last year, but it was performances with the Under-20 team that gained Ruzicka notoriety. His 93.1 save percentage was second in the Czech Superelit division and he was selected as a backup with the Czech Republic in this year’s World Under-18 Championships. The other two goalies on that national team were third round pick Daniel Vladar and fourth round pick Ales Stezka.
Neal Pionk – 1.8 NHL E G/82, 13.8 NHL E Pts/82
With Mike Green and Steve Oleksy gone from the organization, Washington lacks a serious right-handed shooting defenseman beyond Matt Niskanen and John Carlson. Enter the Sioux City blueliner, who put up some crazy numbers last year and was named USHL defenseman of the year. In his third year with the Muskateers, Pionk finished fourth in the entire league in assists with 41 and was first amongst defenseman in points with 48. Despite putting up such numbers, Pionk went from being the 91st North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings to falling off the map. Even if his lack of size (5-11, 170) and potential (will turn 20 on July 29th) could be discouraging, Pionk should still be able to attract scouts with his offensive prowess and he will continue to play hockey at the collegiate level for Minnesota-Duluth next season.
Carlsson’s NHL equivalent data will not be mentioned because of his small sample size while playing for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League. However, his 16 games during his first draft-eligible season should be an accomplishment for the 47th best European skater according to NHL Central Scouting. His two points in five Under-18 World Championship games is also a feat that shouldn’t be ignored for someone who finds Washington to be his favorite NHL team.
Miles Koules – 7.9 NHL E G/82, 17.0 NHL E Pts/82
Throughout the last six years, trends start to form amongst a team’s scouting and drafting philosophy. Under Ross Mahoney, Washington’s exuberance of drafting WHL players is not lost amongst the Capitals faithful. One of those players coming from that league is the 21-year old Portland Winterhawks right winger. After playing two games with Medicine Hat, the same team as 2012 draft pick Tyler Lewington, Koules was traded to Portland where he would put up 58 points in 67 games. He was ranked 151st amongst North American Skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings and this will be his second go around at Washington’s development camp. Despite his older-age, Koules has used his time to round out his game and could be a good find for someone in need of bottom six forward depth.
Nick Lappin – 8.7 NHL E G/82, 18.2 NHL E Pts/82
Lappin is another intriguing forward prospect while coming out of Brown University. After scoring only eight points in 35 games in his age-17 season with USHL Cedar Rapids, the 6-1 forward has improved to become one of his school’s leading scorers. His assist total dropped dramatically last season, but that is more of a reflection for how poor the rest of his team is than the overall value of his true talent. As he turns 23 in November, Lappin is running out of time to make a name for himself. Continuing to be most dependable scorer for Brown and bulking up his 175-pound frame will help him get noticed by Washington and several other NHL teams.
Trevor Cox – 7.3 NHL E G/82, 22.4 NHL E Pts/82
Easily, Cox is the most talented free agent in Washington’s development camp. Despite entering his age-20 season and having such a diminutive stature (5’8″ and 155 pounds (though other websites have him heavier)), he still found a way to rack up points at Medicine Hat. His 82 points in 2014 and 109 points in 2015 are the stuff that gets you into the first couple of rounds in any draft, let alone the one that happened last summer. Only Columbus Blue Jacket Oliver Bjorkstrand outperformed him in points in the WHL while Cox’s 80 assists were the best in the league. If Cox were to sign with Washington, his NHL equivalencies would only be matched by Jakub Vrana (13 goals, 27 points (with the disclaimer of that Europeans have a hard time scoring in their teenage years)) and Chandler Stephenson (9 goals, 22 points) amongst the team’s best prospects yet to play an NHL game. Add the fact that he plays center, a position the Capitals lack in depth, and you have the perfect young player that should be in Washington’s 50-contract roster.