On May 5, 2020, the Washington Capitals extended their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliation with the Hershey Bears through the 2023-24 season. The Capitals and Bears have enjoyed a special relationship for the past 15 years.
During the 2019-20 NHL season, 14 current and former Bears played on the Caps. Over the last 15 years, the Bears have been a vital feeder system to the Capitals. Fortunately, the Bears are the class of the AHL and have been developing Caps’ draft-picks into NHL talent for years. Here are five players who have the best chances to make the Caps next season.
Martin Fehervary – D
The Capitals selected Fehervary 46th overall in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft. At the 2019 World Junior Championships, he was named captain of Team Slovakia and scored five points, which was the most among Slovakian defenseman. Caps’ assistant general manager Ross Mahoney saw him play and offered his thoughts on the 19-year-old’s game at that point.
He was the captain on the power play. More in the penalty killing, checking role… He can skate. He’s a smart player, really competitive. Obviously making the captain of the team says a lot about his character.Capitals assistant GM Ross Mahoney
Fehervary made his NHL debut with the Caps on Oct. 2, 2019, when he was 19 years old. He became the first player selected outside the first round to make his debut before turning 20 years old, since Samuel Girard did so on Oct. 10, 2017. The Bratislava-native earned his first NHL assist on Feb. 8, 2020 in his second NHL game.
Fehervary spent the 2019-20 season with the Bears in the AHL, where he scored 14 points and was a plus-15 in 56 games. The 6-foot-2, 200 pound defenseman is the most NHL-ready prospect in the Capitals’ system, because he possesses good size and elite-level skating ability. In a year or two, this well-rounded defenseman has a great chance to impress the Caps’ coaching staff at next year’s training camp.
Beck Malenstyn – LW
The Capitals selected Malenstyn with the 145th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft. The British Columbia-native is a big, left-winger who stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 200 pounds. The 22-year-old prospect’s low point totals this season do not offer a complete assessment of the forward’s game. In an AHL.com article, Bears’ head coach Spencer Carbery described what he saw in Malenstyn’s game.
He’s our Tom Wilson, he has those characteristics in his game. He has to develop his skill a bit like Wilson has, make those adjustments, finish some opportunities, but he has that hard, physical play, can skate, and blocks a ton of shots.Bears head coach Spencer Carbery
In 2018, Malenstyn won a Western Hockey League (WHL) championship with the Swift Current Broncos, scoring 4 goals and 11 assists in 26 playoff games that year. He seems to win in every city he plays in. He is second on this list because he has the potential to be an effective fourth-line checking forward in the NHL next season.
Brian Pinho – C
On May 20, 2019, the Capitals re-signed Pinho on a one-year contract worth $700,000. In his first season with the Bears, the Caps’ 2013 sixth-round pick scored just 12 points in 73 games. However, the 2019-20 season was much better because he scored career highs in goals (20), assists (17), and points (37). He paired those career highs with a plus-16 rating in 62 games.
On Sept. 21, 2019, Pinho scored a beautiful goal during a Capitals’ preseason game. The Providence college-graduate showed great hockey sense by being in the right position to intercept the pass. Then his smooth skating style and scoring touch went to work as he made a power move seamlessly to his backhand and finished with ease.
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At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Pinho can afford to add five-to-ten pounds to his frame so he can handle the physical side of the NHL game. The 25-year-old from New England took some time to adjust his game to the AHL-level in his first year out of college. The Caps should give this talented forward with great hands and anticipation a chance to add some offense to their bottom-six next season.
Vitek Vanecek – G
Vanecek first signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Capitals on July 15, 2014. The 24-year-old has played for the Bears since the 2016-17 AHL season. In his AHL career, the 6-foot-2, 187-pound goaltender has played in eight Calder Cup playoff games, where he has posted a 2-5-1 record, a .925 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.47 goals-against average (GAA).
Vanecek raised his game this season by posting a 19-10-1 record paired with a .917 SV%, and 2.26 GAA. The 24-year-old was named to the 2020 AHL All-Star game for the second-straight season and recognized as the game’s Most Valuable Player for allowing just two goals in four games.
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Vanecek’s strong 2019-20 season in Hershey has raised his stock in the Capitals’ organization. He should get his chance to compete with Ilya Samsonov for the backup role next season. If Braden Holtby does not re-sign in Washington, the Caps will still bring in a veteran goaltender to eat up minutes with Samsonov. If the team’s number-one goalie prospect can improve on what he did this year, he will be head coach Todd Reirden’s back-up plan if one of his two NHL goalies suffers an injury.
Alex Alexeyev – D
The Caps selected Alexeyev with the 31st-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The Red Deer Rebels of the WHL selected the 20-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 2016 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft. At the 2019 World Juniors, Alexeyev scored six points for Team Russia and led his team to the semi-finals where they lost to the United States 2-1.
During the 2018-19 WHL season, Alexeyev suffered four injuries during his second year with the Rebels. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-4, 210 pound defenseman recovered from his injuries and ended his second year on a high note. During the 2018-19 WHL season, he set career highs in goals (10), assists (33), points (43), and plus-minus rating (plus-19).
He’s a very intelligent player, really patient with the puck on the power play, and he’s a big body that can anticipate and break up a lot of plays in his own zone.Capitals’ assistant GM Ross Mahoney
This season in Hershey, he ranked 12th among rookie AHL defensemen in points and 10th in plus-minus. There is no doubt he is physically ready to play in the NHL. Alexeyev is such a good prospect for the Caps to have because he has the size and the ability. He has the potential to be a well-rounded NHL defenseman because of his size and offensive abilities.
The Future Looks Bright
Alexeyev and Fehervary are budding defensemen who are developing ahead of schedule. Vanecek’s strong 2019-20 season has earned him the chance to show the Caps’ coaching staff what he can do at next year’s training camp. Malenstyn has a real shot at finding a spot on the fourth line next season, while Pinho has great hands and should compete for a bottom-six role next season.
For the past 15 years, the Bears’ coaching staff has developed raw talent, molding draft picks into NHL players. Caps fans are hoping that Hershey can deliver them the next John Carlson or Braden Holtby in the not-so-distant future. For now, these players can work on their games and keep improving so they will be ready to compete for a spot on the Capitals in the 2020-21 NHL season.