More than a year has passed since the Washington Capitals drafted six players in the 2013 NHL Draft. Andre Burakovsky, Madison Bowey, Zach Sanford, Blake Heinrich, Brian Pinho, and Tyler Lewington are all at different stages in their developments, with the majority expected to continue playing in the junior leagues. All took part in Capitals development camp earlier this month.
Andre Burakovsky | LW | 23rd Overall
A dazzling offensive talent, Burakovsky is arguably the Capitals’ top prospect. After an impressive outing with the OHL’s Erie Otters and a strong development camp, Burakovsky has demonstrated that he’s ready to contend for a roster spot. Burakovsky had a lot to prove this past season, as his stock dropped during his draft year. Why? He was pegged as an offensive superstar, yet struggled immensely in his transition from the Malmo Redhawks’ junior team to its senior team.
Burakovsky posted 11 points (4G, 7A) in 43 games with Malmo’s senior team but rebounded superbly in the OHL. Despite initial reluctance to join the Otters, he thrived as a top-six forward. Burakovsky played with Connor McDavid and helped lead the Otters to a deep playoff run after two consecutive postseason absences.
Gone were qualms about how Burakovsky would adjust to the smaller North American ice. He finished the season among the OHL’s top scorers, leaving little–if anything–to prove in junior hockey. Playing in Hershey is a natural next step, although there’s always the possibility that Burakovsky cracks the roster. If he sees ice time in DC, expect him to play left wing, his natural position. However, the Capitals tried him at center during development camp, with positive results (he scored two goals in a 4-4 tie.) Developing in Hershey would allow Burakovsky to try his hand at center, a position the Capitals are weak at. Even if Burakovsky becomes an effective center, he won’t have an immediate impact–but the possibility is promising nevertheless.
Madison Bowey | D | 53rd Overall
Bowey is one of the Capitals’ top prospects at the blueline, and he’s continued to impress since Draft Day in 2013. His 2012-13 campaign was his first full season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and his 30 points (12G, 18A) in 69 games coupled with strong defensive play made him a sought-after prospect. The Capitals traded up to select Bowey, and he hasn’t disappointed: after being named the Rockets’ captain, he doubled his point total (21G, 39A) in 72 games played. Bowey’s 93 penalty minutes are also indicative of his willingness to play a physical game (then again, his size helps.) He also enjoyed postseason success, having posted 14 points in as many games during the Rockets’ playoff run.
Bowey will surely need additional seasoning before he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, but his development thus far has been promising–enough for the Capitals to sign him to a contract. His performance last season demonstrated his commitment to offense and defense, while his captaincy illustrated his leadership abilities. The upcoming season will likely be his last in the WHL, and expect Bowey to suit up in Hershey afterward.
Hockey’s Future states that “Bowey has the makings of a good solid top-four defenseman.” His two-way game, size, and skating ability is reminiscent of John Carlson’s, and if Bowey continues developing as predicted, he could have a similar impact on the Capitals.
Zach Sanford | LW | 61st Overall
Sanford isn’t as well-known as other prospects on this list, but he possesses an entirely different skill set from his peers. His development is still in the early stages–many have described him as “raw”–but he has the makings of a power forward. Sanford previously played for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, posting 35 points (17G, 18A) in 52 games played. He also finished the season with 60 penalty minutes, demonstrating his physicality.
But at 6’3” and 190 pounds, Sanford could stand to build his size. He’ll suit up for Boston College this upcoming season, and the speed and size of the NCAA will push him to adjust quickly. The Capitals will have a better read on Sanford and his future after the upcoming season, where he’ll face his toughest competition yet.
While Sanford may be a long-term project, he could yield a good payoff. The Capitals were clearly intrigued by his play, as they traded their 84th, 114th, and 127th picks to the Winnipeg Jets so they could land him.
Blake Heinrich | D | 144th Overall
It’s no secret that the Capitals have a surplus of offensive defensemen among their prospects, but Heinrich is a much-welcomed exception to the rule. What Heinrich lacks in height he more than makes up for in his physical style of play, a quality typically absent on the Capitals’ blueline. As a hard-nosed defensive defenseman, he doesn’t have much to offer in terms of offense, but the Capitals can afford to have more shutdown defensemen in their system.
Heinrich played two full seasons with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, during which he amassed 227 total penalty minutes. He served as the Musketeers’ captain for the 2013-14 season with plans to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Heinrich chose instead to forgo his NCAA eligibility so he could sign with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
Skating is a weak area for Heinrich, who has emphasized its importance. As he takes on tougher competition in the WHL, skating will be of utmost importance for Heinrich’s game. Gritty defenders must keep pace with their opponents, and Heinrich’s size allows for more mobility.
Brian Pinho | C | 174th Overall
Pinho spent the 2013-14 season with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, where he was one of the team’s top scorers. In 59 games, he notched 56 points (28G, 28A). Pinho was also active in the playoffs, where he posted six points (2G, 4A) in 12 games played. The Ice’s postseason ended with a championship, as Pinho scored the Clark Cup-winning goal.
Hockey’s Future describes Pinho as “a raw talent with tons of offensive skills and a promising outlook.” As a center, playmaking abilities and creativity are especially important. Pinho has excelled in the USHL, but his next test will come when he suits up for Providence College this fall. Size might be an area of concern, as he currently clocks in at six feet and 170 pounds. He’ll have to tighten up his defense and compete with bigger, stronger players in the NCAA.
Tyler Lewington | D | 204th Overall
Lewington will be entering his fourth season with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, where physicality has been a huge element of his game. His tough play compensated for his lack of offensive production. At last year’s development camp, Ross Mahoney dubbed Lewington a “stay-at-home defenseman who competes. He skates well, works hard.”
Lewington’s WHL success has moved him up the Capitals’ depth chart, where he’s one of few bruising defensemen. He increased his point totals last season (7G, 31A) and finished with a considerably higher plus-minus rating (40) than he had the previous season (7). At 6’1” and 189 pounds, he has decent size to back up his physical game. Playing in the WHL allows Lewington to continue to hone his skills, although there may be concerns about relying too much on physicality to outplay his opponent–a trick that won’t translate well into the AHL or NHL, where Lewington won’t be the biggest guy on the ice. But as a physical defender who can skate well and drop the gloves, he’s a valuable commodity.