NHL Draft: Capitals' biggest needs, top prospects
When your forward corps is anchored by Alex Ovechkin, perhaps the game’s all-time greatest goal scorer, elite distributor Niklas Backstrom, and all-star talents like TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, you don’t spend a lot of time worrying about offense. Kuznetsov is the youngest of the group at age 30, which should sound alarm bells to Capitals fans that replacement talent needs to be sought, and soon. Aside from current forward Connor McMichael and prospect Hendrix Lapierre, there are few players waiting to step in, and no one who can replace the generational talent that is currently moving toward the twilight of their careers.
Hendrix Lapierre, F - Had it not been for injuries, many considered Hendrix Lapierre a top ten talent at the 2020 draft. Instead, he slipped to 22nd overall where Washington nabbed the natural center. Whether it’s through the neutral zone or while attacking defenders, Lapierre’s puck skills are a constant threat, and notably, he can execute his trickery at top speed. Starting the year with Washington before being returning to junior, Lapierre will make the jump straight to the NHL next season and attempt to become an answer to Washington’s looming forward issues.
Vincent Iorio, D - After four solid seasons with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Iorio will be challenged to take the step to the American Hockey League next season. He’s at least a year or two away from NHL readiness, but his skating, crisp passing on the breakout, and ever-improving offense show promise. At 6’4” he effectively uses his stick to take away large areas of ice but could assert himself more physically. The second-round pick is coming along and should be ready by the time Washington’s blueline needs to be refreshed.
Alexander Alexeyev, D - The 6’4” Russian defender is not going to quarterback a powerplay or rush the puck end to end each night, but he is going to effectively move the puck up ice, and if given the time in the offensive zone, he does have a big shot. Right now Alexeyev needs to rely on his size and reach as his speed continues to be a concern, but it’s thought that this is less of a mechanics issue and more of an skill that can be addressed through offseason training. He’ll help Washington’s penalty kill, and play effective third pairing minutes.
One To Watch
Beyond their top line, the Washington Capitals may have snagged a solid secondary contributor in Axel Johansson-Fjallby. Fast on the forecheck, and impactful on the penalty kill, this season in the AHL the winger showed a surprising new ability…scoring. The 24-year-old had the best offensive output of his professional career playing on Hershey’s top line, which resulted in a 23-game audition with Washington. He’s likely to slide into Washington’s bottom-six next season, but he gained confidence not only within himself but also from the organization this year.
Ready To Step In
Washington has a group of players, whether it be Lapierre, Alexeyev, or Johansson-Fjallby ready to step in. Two names you can add to that list are Lucas Johansson and Alexei Protas. Johansson was a 2016 first-round pick. He was the last member of 2016’s first round to make an NHL debut, and it looks like he still has room to grow, but the mobile defender who doesn’t shy from joining the rush will be needed on the Washington blueline sooner than later. Alexei Protas is a mountainous forward. The 6’6” pivot saw 33 games with the Capitals in a depth role this season, and he’ll look to permanently stake his claim to a bottom-six spot this season.
Needs At The Draft
The good times can only keep rolling for so long with Alex Ovechkin and co. before a new group of scorers takes shape. Three of the Capitals' top five prospects are defenders, so adding a scoring threat, particularly as top prospect Hendrix Lapierre ascends to the pro level, is crucial at this draft. Washington should swing early and often at forward talent, even if their picks involve an element of risk. While they have reinforcements coming on the blueline, none are elite, and currently, only one member of Washington’s blueline last season, 22-year-old Martin Fehérváry, was under 30-years-old. Ignoring the position in the earlier rounds would be unwise, although they should have some flexibility in taking on a blueline project who needs more time to develop. For now, it’s finding firepower up front that takes precedent. One area not discussed is Washington’s net, where they already have a tandem of goaltenders well within their prime, giving the organization 4-5 years of breathing room before the crease becomes a true concern again.
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