The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2022-23, Part I

The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2022-23, Part I

The Capitals’ Top 25 Under 25: 2022-23, Part I

A look at the top 25 players in the Capitals organization under the age of 25, starting with numbers 25 through 11.

In creating this list, we looked at two factors: the player’s potential and the player’s proximity to making it to the NHL. It leans more towards potential but playing well enough to look ready for the NHL is a positive as well. So a player like Axel Jonsson-Fjallby may not have as high a ceiling as Henrik Rybinski, but Axel has put in the work and looks closer to making the NHL roster and thus is ranked higher.

Also to note that the “Potential and Comparables” section are not predictions on who that player will become, just their ability to reach a certain point in their development and a player they have a similar style to. If a player is listed as comparable to Wayne Gretzky, for example, it does not mean they will become Wayne Gretzky.

Honorable Mentions:

Beck Malenstyn. LW, 24yo, 6’2” 198lbs
It was tough to take Malenstyn off this list but he literally didn’t play a game last season due to an Achilles injury. He’s fun to watch with his speed and physicality, he’s a buzz saw. He could make a good, grinding fourth liner that punishes the opponent but has the ability to pop in some goals like a Ross Colton.

Oskar Magnusson. LW/RW, 19yo, 5’10” 165lbs
Magnusson had a decent but not great year in the HockeyAllsvenskan (the league right below the SHL). I think everyone expected a bit better from him. He has the skating ability and two-way style to move up this list. He just had too much of a meh year to keep on the list over others.

Dru Krebs. LHD, 19yo, 6’0”, 181lbs
Dru is a good player with great skating ability and outlet pass, but he played on a horrifically bad team last season. While he played top minutes in all situations, which was really promising to see, it’s hard to put him over players that produced well.

And now, on to the list:

25) Garin Bjorklund, G, 20yo, 6’2” 179lbs (previously ranked 12th)
WHL: 48GP, 4.26GAA, .877sv%

The Skinny: Bjorklund had a rough season behind a really bad Medicine Hat team, they had all of 11 wins last season. His numbers are ugly but all things considered he played pretty darn well. He faced the seventh most shots in the league behind the worst tanked team in the league, so his stats could have been much worse. The good news is Ross Mahoney, assistant General Manager, still likes Bjorklund, and noticed he was hung out to dry and was their best player most nights. The kid competes which is all you can ask for on such a bad team.

Potential and Comparable: Goalies are always hard to predict, but his style reminds me a lot of Thomas Greiss. Not overtly athletic but battles hard every play and game. Greiss ended up being a strong backup, if Garin ends up being that than that’s a great get by the Caps in the sixth round.

What’s Next: It looks like Bjorklund will be headed to the ECHL to be in tandem with the South Carolina Stingrays. It should be a good landing spot for him. He’ll get away from a bad junior team and get to play on a good ECHL team. The jump won’t be easy but for a kid that battles he should find his legs quickly.

24) Alexander Suzdalev, LW, 18yo, 6’2”, 176lbs (previously ranked 18th)

The Skinny: Suzdalev was a great value grab by the Caps in the third round this past draft. He’s a tall winger with great hands and vision, and overall high end skill. He put up the 10th most points in the J20 Nationell league (first among his team by 10 points), and was second among all U18 players in the league, the only player better being first round pick Liam Ohgren. That sounds great and all but it’s frustrating too because the consensus was he could have done even better if he was more consistent and got to the middle of the ice more.

Potential and Comparable: Suzdalev certainly has a top six skill set and ability, but it will really come down to him. If he can up his intensity, consistency, and go to the dirty areas more he has all the potential to be a top six winger in the NHL that could be a great complementary player to a high end shooter. But if he doesn’t work on those parts of his game he’ll probably max out as a very good European player. He’s a great example of a high ceiling but low floor player.

What’s Next: Some great news was recently announced that Suzdalev decided to sign with the Regina Pats for this upcoming season in the WHL. This is promising for two reasons. First, it shows the Russian born winger is dedicated to getting better and wanting to play in North America, which is much better for his development. Secondly, as to why this is great, is because he signed with the team that has #1 overall pick for the 2023 draft Connor Bedard on their team. Bedard will be the best player since Connor McDavid and looks an awful lot like the next Auston Matthews as an elite scoring center. If Suzdalev can get on Bedard’s wing and use his high end playmaking feeding Bedard, then Suzdalev’s point total could absolutely explode and he could rocket up this list.

23) Hakon Hanelt, C/W, 18yo, 6’0” 194lbs (previously ranked 17th)
QMJHL: 16GP, 2G, 8A, 10PTS

The Skinny: Like Malenstyn, Hakon would probably be higher up on this list if it wasn’t for injuries. He played just seven games before suffering a big injury and sitting out until end the of the season, playing the last nine games. He started the season great, scoring five points in his first four games. If the injury didn’t happen he probably has a stable season putting up good numbers. He can move far up this list next season if he can stay healthy.

Potential and Comparable: Hakon is a strong two-way player with a good chunk of skill and skating ability. If he can stay healthy he looks like he could be a good middle 6 player that can give you some strong defensive ability, maybe someone like Richard Panik. But he’ll need to cook much longer before he gets there, first finishing his junior career than a couple years in the AHL.

What’s Next: Hakon will return back to his QMJHL team to take another crack at the juniors. If he can stay healthy he should stay in the top six playing both center and wing, which will be great for his development.

22) Ludwig Persson, C/LW, 18yo, 6’0” 185lbs (previously unranked)
J20 Nationell: 41GP, 25G, 36A, 61PTS

The Skinny: The Caps drafted two very intriguing Swedes in the third round this past summer, the other being Suzdalev. Why Persson higher on the list than Suzdalev, even though he was drafted before Ludwig, is because Persson showed a bit more consistency in the game. His 61 points was second most in the J20 Nationell league. The player in front of him was a year older and played a nine more games, only scoring two more points. His 61 points was also fifth all time in U19 players in that league. He had more points and better point per game point stat than NHL players like Carl Hagelin, Andreas Johnsson, Victor Olofsson, Pierre Engvail, and Jesper Fast. The down part to those stats is he is on the older side of the draft, those were all players playing in that league at age 18.

Potential and Comparable: Those point comparable above are pretty good comparable for Ludwig, especially a player like Fast. A good speedy, two way forward that you can trust all over the place, but can also put up points. If Ludwig can turn into a player like Fast it would be a great pick up.

What’s Next: Persson will probably start in the HockeyAllsvenskan next season but should get a lot of SHL time, he did play 10 games in the SHL last season with zero points, but that’s kind of expected for youngsters. If he can work his way to the SHL and stay there with some good minutes we could see a big boost for him.

21) Bear Hughes, C, 20yo, 6’2” 172lbs (previously ranked 22nd)
WHL: 64GP, 24G, 43A, 67PTS

The Skinny: Hughes technically isn’t in the Caps system, he was only signed to an AHL deal, but still feels like he’s going to sign eventually so I’m adding him. He had a strong year, leading his team by points by 24 points (26 points before the next forward), and though second placed player played seven less games, that’s still very good, especially considering his team was 18th out 22 in the standings, so he wasn’t working with the best talent. In fact, his team only had one other forward that was drafted by a NHL team. What could he have done with some better players to work with?

Potential and Comparable: Still, even though he produced at a good point pace, the best part of his game is his work ethic and defensive ability. He reminds me a lot of Anthony Cirelli in his two way effort. Now, it’s unlikely he turns into a top six elite defensive center that can get you ~45 points, but he could fill a strong, defensive center in the bottom six. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he turned into the next Nic Dowd.

What’s Next: Like it was mentioned above, Bear was offered a AHL deal over a NHL deal, which I still find odd, but he should get a good chunk of time with the Hershey Bears. He enamors every coach he has ever played for because of his work ethic and leadership skills. Expect the same in Hershey. The hope is he gets more than fourth line time though, because the Bears love to give little minutes to their rookies.

20) Bogdan Trineyev, LW/RW, 20yo, 6’3” 190lbs (previously ranked 14th)
KHL: 11GP, 0G, 0A. 0PTS
MHL: 21GP, 3G, 15A, 18PTS

The Skinny: Bogdan had a bit of a wild season playing between the KHL, MHL, then flying out to the AHL for the playoffs, but also suffering a couple injuries through out the season. He played well in the MHL, though you’d like to see him flirting closer to point per game, but the most interesting part of his season is the 20 games he played in the KHL (11 regular season games and 9 playoff games). That’s a lot of games for a 19 year old and shows the coach trusts him. Even though he didn’t get a lot of time or points (just one assist), getting the time against men at such a young age is invaluable.

Potential and Comparable: Bogdan is a big kid that skates pretty well. His best offensive attribute is his playmaking. If he can adapt his style and improve his shooting capability he has a top six potential, but he’ll probably fall more into a middle six role. He reminds me a bit of Jordan Greenway out in Minnesota. Bogdan isn’t as physical but they have similar power forward playing styles.

What’s Next: The hope was he would make the jump to the AHL, since he did come over and played in one playoff game for the Bears, but looks like he was loaned back to the KHL. The KHL will be a much better place for him to play since it’s a better league, but only if he’s getting some good minutes and isn’t getting just a couple a night, because that wouldn’t help him. It’s very good news he even came over to even visit Hershey at the end of his season because it at least shows he’s interested in coming to North America.

19) Martin Hugo Has, RHD, 21yo, 6’4” 207lbs (previously ranked 20th)
QMJHL: 57GP, 8G, 12A, 20PTS

The Skinny: Hugo Has had a strong year in the QMJHL playing on the top pair all season eating up the big minutes for the team at even strength that went on to win the Championship. Looks like he won’t hit any type of high ceiling offensively but still pitches in defensively. He’s a big boy that moves pretty darn well and uses his strength to his advantage, especially with his booming shot.

Potential and Comparable: The ceiling isn’t super high for Martin, probably, but could turn into a solid bottom pairing reliable defensemen that lays the body. He reminds me a bit Scott Mayfield for the New York Islanders. He isn’t flashy but you know you can trust him when he’s on the ice.

What’s Next: It’s still unknown where Hugo will end up next season, he could return to the QMJHL, but looks like the Hershey Bears will be his next stop, which would be great for his development. If he goes back to the QMJHL he’ll just throw a bunch of teenagers around and not learn too much.

18) Brent Johnson, RHD, 18yo, 5’11” 170lbs (previously ranked 10th)
NCAA: 23GP, 2G, 1A, 3PTS

The Skinny: It hurts a lot of have Johnson drop this far down the list. I’m a huge fan and think he has some of the highest ceiling potential among all players on this list. But since he was the youngest guy on his college team by two years he simply didn’t get the minutes this season to really prove much. Yes he played 23 games but easily over 80% of those games he played as the seventh defensemen so his minutes weren’t very high. He was one of eight defensemen on the roster, and as I mentioned he was the youngest by far; some players were 23 and 24 years old. The good news is he earned more minutes as the season went on because the coaches liked him so much and recognized his potential.

Potential and Comparable: Like I said, I love Johnson’s game. He reminds me a lot of Adam Fox (no I’m not saying he will be the next Adam Fox). Ice runs through his veins. He’s always calm in chaotic situations, using his skill to settle everything down. He’s smart, knows where to be, jumps into play, has very good playmaking skills, etc. He’s just so good in a lot of areas. He needs to get stronger, improve his skating and prove his worth at the college level before moving on but the ceiling is high.

What’s Next: Johnson will be returning to North Dakota to play his sophomore year next season. The good news is a lot of spaces should open up for him to finally get a starting position. Of the eight defensemen from last season, two should be aging out and the other, Jake Sanderson, will be playing in the NHL. The hope is Johnson gets a top four spot next to Tyler Kleven. They would make a great pair. Either way, he should be getting some much bigger minutes next season where he can use his skill set and shine.

17) Henrik Rybinski, C/W, 21yo, 6’1” 172lbs (previously unranked)
WHL: 47GP, 21G, 44A, 65PTS

The Skinny: Why Florida didn’t want to extend a good, young skilled player they invested a fifth round pick for is unknown, but Caps are happy the Panthers didn’t because it was a heck of a pickup by the Washington. Rybinski is a skilled, smooth skating pivot that plays both center and wing. He has high end playmaking skills and brain, and likes to get into the interior of the ice. There’s really not much you can’t like about his game. He’s very well rounded, mature, and puts up points.

Potential and Comparable: Henrik has all the ability to be a really strong third line player, maybe a player you can throw on the second line in a pinch. He’s a lot like Garrett Pilon in that way, but where Pilon is a bit more of shooter, Henrik will make his money as a playmaker, which gives him a bit of a chance to turn into a top six playmaker. But even if he tops out as a strong third line player, that’s a great add for a player you spent zero assets on.

What’s Next: A true test is coming up for Rybinski, who will be jumping from a strong junior team to the AHL with the Bears. It’s uncertain how he’ll be used, probably at wing first, but hopefully it’s with other skilled players, particularly shooters. He has a great ability of setting his teammates up for scoring opportunities, so hopefully he plays with Pilon, or a Mike Vecchoine, or Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, or maybe he can help a player like Kody Clark break out. Henrik is another player that has the ability to really shoot up this board by next summer.

16) Clay Stevenson, G, 23yo, 6’3” 194lbs (previously unranked)
NCAA: 23gp, 2.70gaa, .922 SV%

The Skinny: Caps didn’t just win maybe the best WHL free agent in Rybinski, but they might have won the best college free agent player with Stevenson. A handful of teams were fighting for Clay but the Capitals won and thankfully they did so they could help restock their goalie pool since Phoenix Copley left as a free agent and Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek were moved out. Of all the goalies in the system, Stevenson has the highest upside. He’s a big guy but he moves like he’s 5’11. His flexibility mixed with his size allows him to lock down the bottom of the net. He’s smart, very hardworking, and has all the tools to really thrive.

Potential and Comparable: Clay has just about everything you want in a starting goalie and I certainly think he has that potential, but he still has a lot to prove. He reminds me a lot of Thatcher Demko or a Jeremy Swayman, but both goalies, especially Demko, have proven to be a legit number one goalies. Stevenson will have to put together some strong years together to prove he’s that. If he can just adjust to the faster pace and continue to perfect his game, the potential for him is very high.

What’s Next: Stevenson will round out the tandem with Bjorklund in the ECHL. He’ll probably take the role as starter of the two, as it should be. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get some AHL games if there are injuries to Zach Fucale or Hunter Shephard or if either are called up to the NHL. Both those goalies are free agents after this season and Stevenson will probably take a full time spot there next season.

15) Tobias Geisser, LHD, 23yo, 6’4” 201lbs (previously ranked 16th)
AHL: 68GP, 3G, 10A, 13PTS

The Skinny: Geisser has been getting better and better as the years go on. He’s never going to be a high end offensive talent but over the last two seasons he’s been putting up more points. In the 2020-2021 season he played in the NL (Swiss top league) and put up 22 points in 50 games when he had 8 points in 63 games his two previous NL seasons combined. Then this last season in the AHL he put up 13 points in 68 games, when his two previous AHL seasons combined he put up all of ONE point in 48 games. So these past two seasons he’s really upped his offensive game while still being really strong defensively, which is the cornerstone of his game.

Potential and Comparable: I always saw Geisser and fellow Swiss defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler as very similar. Both big boys that skate very well and are top end defensively. I don’t think Geisser will hit exactly what Siegenthaler is (which is a top pair elite defensive defensemen) but you can get a mini version of that. Maybe a really strong bottom pairing defensemen that could maybe sneak into the second pair.

What’s Next: Geisser is headed back the NL, which is best for his development, as he’ll play top minutes against men. In the AHL he could be battling for minutes like he has been the last few seasons. Issue is he’s already 23, you’d like to see him get into the NHL very soon. It’s doubtful he’ll come back for the AHL, but if Caps are serious and open up a spot he’ll probably come back. This season is his last real shot to prove he’s NHL ready, if not, Caps probably let him walk or trade him away.

14) Joaquim Lemay, LHD, 20yo, 6’1” 172lbs (previously unranked)
USHL: 58GP, 9G, 37A, 46PTS

The Skinny: Lemay had a break out season in the USHL after just playing 15 games the year before in the BCHL. He showed a lot of his offensive creativity, skating ability, patience, puck protection and more. He’s looking like a heck of a pickup in the fourth round of the 2021 draft as of now, but still has to prove more and go from college to the AHL to, hopefully, the NHL.

Potential and Comparable: If Lemay can keep building up his game it wouldn’t be surprising to see him turn into a puck moving #4 defensemen. He probably won’t be able to drive his own pairing in the top four, but could help a better player on the second pair. At the very least they could be getting a good third pairing puck mover like Justin Schultz is now in his career.

What’s Next: Lemay is off to college to play for the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He’s currently going to be one of eight defensemen on the roster, but unlike Johnson, no one should be standing in his way of getting bigger minutes. There’s no huge standouts like a Sanderson or Klevin, and he will be 20 as a Freshman so he shouldn’t be overlooked. The hope is at the very least he will start in the top four.

13) Lucas Johansen, LHD, 24yo, 6’2” 183lbs (previously ranked 25th)
AHL: 62GP, 8G, 20A, 28PTS

The Skinny: Probably the best feel good story of the season is Johansen FINALLY playing a healthy season. His last two seasons he played a combined 14 games and a total of 59 his last three seasons. So this season alone he played more games than his last three combined. And not only did he stay mostly healthy but he put up a strong 28 points, which was second among Bears defensemen (first being veteran Cody Franson). On top of that he showed why he was a first round pick in 2016 with his smooth skating, smart reads, and good outlook passes. He even got to get his NHL debut, dishing out a nice primary assist to add to it all.

Potential and Comparable: When Johansen was drafted his potential was a strong, smooth skating second pairing defensemen that could chip in offensively. His development took a big hit over the last three seasons with injuries so it’s hard to tell what his potential is now, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he still turns into a reliable bottom pairing defensemen with a chance to grab a #4 position at some point.

What’s Next: At the beginning of the summer it looked like there was going to be a battle between Alexander Alexeyev and Johansen for that #6 spit next to Trevor Van Riemsdyk for the Caps, but Alexeyev had to undergo shoulder surgery then the Capitals signed vet Erik Gustafsson and re-signed Matt Irwin. But Irwin was signed to a two-way deal and Gustafsson was signed to league minimum so it’s no guarantee they get that last spot. It’s a good bet that Caps brass want Johansen to win that #6 position but they have backup plans just in case he can’t take that step or stay healthy.

12) Mitchell Gibson, G, 22yo, 6’1” 187lbs (previously ranked 15th)
NCAA: 29GP, 2.17GAA, .918sv%

The Skinny: After not playing at all during the 2020-2021 season due to COVID shutting down the collegiate hockey teams, Gibson got off to a slow start to the 2021-2022 season, which is understandable. But he picked up his play through out the season and finished really strong, better than his Freshman year.

Potential and Comparable: Gibson has always reminded me Braden Holtby. Just a reliable goalie that knows his positioning, isn’t too aggressive, and relies on reads and quick feet to shut down angles. I think there is a #1 goalie in there but he should be able to make a good backup as well.

What’s Next: Gibson declined to sign with the Caps to go back to college for his last year. That isn’t the greatest sign, as it might mean he’ll want to test free agency next offseason. Or it could be just wants to go back to college to finish up his degree. He could also just be waiting for the Caps pipeline to loosen up because as of now the crease is full up in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL. With Fucale and Shephard being free agents next summer there should be room for him. Maybe he’ll make a good duo with Stevenson next season at the AHL level.

11) Garrett Pilon, C/W, 24yo, 5’11” 187lbs (previously ranked 7th)
AHL: 60GP, 17G, 25A, 42PTS

The Skinny: It sucks lowering Pilon from the top 10 but it feels like he’s hit a wall, which isn’t his fault. He’s a kid that deserves to be getting a shot at a middle six spot in the NHL but the Caps are already congested at the forward position and even if a spot opens up it’s probably going to others that take it. Pilon is good, real good, he had a good AHL season again, and probably would have been better if Caps didn’t take a bunch of Bears top players through out the season.

Potential and Comparable: Pilon is a very skilled forward that plays both center and wing. He’s a dual threat that can dish out passes, dangle around players, and rip shots, he’s a great offensive weapon. His skillset screams middle six in the NHL, he just needs a chance to prove it and sadly it probably won’t be with the Caps.

What’s Next: Barring something nutty happening, Pilon will probably go back to the Bears for his fifth season. The hope is he has an amazing season then is traded to a NHL team that has room for him, because the Caps simply don’t have that space currently or for the next couple years.

Full Story / Source: https://www.japersrink.com/2022/9/13/23282344/the-capitals-top-25-under-25-2022-23-part-i

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