The Washington Capitals are hosting their rookie camp this weekend. Most of their 2021 draft class are in attendance as well as fresh faces signed to the Hershey Bears and South Carolina Stingrays. As it stands, there are pretty much only 3 slots on the Capitals roster to fill for the 2021-2022 season. Washington loves their homegrown talent, so unless something drastic happens during their full training camp, they will definitely be choosing 3 from the rookies and other prospects in the system.
If there’s one Capitals prospect I root for every year, it’s Brian Pinho. I’ve written about him multiple times so I won’t bore anyone with his numbers. He came back from the COVID pause in 2020 to play 2 playoff games in the Bubble with the Capitals. He was then appointed to the taxi squad last season and was called up to play for another 2 games with the team. The thing about him playing this year is that unless he really upped his game in the off season, his position would be fringe at most. The forwards right now are all pretty solid in their spots on the roster; Pins would most likely just be a fill-in.
Probably the most notable on this list for Capitals fans is Connor McMichael. He was drafted 25th overall in 2019. He played one game with Washington last season, but spent 33 games in Hershey, where he notched 27 points. McMichael had a great season with the Bears, no doubt. What the question will be for the coaches is if that translates into being ready for the NHL full time. I think he has a lot of promise and seems like a very level-headed kid. He was named an alternate captain for Canada’s U20 WJC team last year, and scored 8 points in 7 games with them. I think he may just have what it takes.
More Potential Forwards!
Belarus isn’t a country you see too many NHL players come from. Aliaksei Protas hopes to be one of the few this year. According to the Rookie Camp Report (linked above), he had the second best season last year (in terms of points) out of all the rookies. He played 58 games for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL (18 points) and 16 games for Hershey in the AHL (7 points) last season. He also represented Belarus in the World Cup last year, notching 2 assists in 6 games. He’s also massive (6’6”, 210lbs). It’s been a weird couple of years to try to start a professional career in hockey, but it seems like he’s done well for himself. He could be a strong contender for one of the open spots.
Kody Clark isn’t a player you hear much about, even as a Capitals fan. He was drafted 47th overall in 2018 and has spent 2 seasons with the Bears in Hershey. His numbers suggest a strong upward trajectory in those seasons. He had 9 points both years, but the second year he scored those 9 points in 12 fewer games. He’s big (6’3”) but could use some more meat on his bones for the NHL (185lbs). Clark does seem to have a maturity about him; he was named an alternate captain for Hershey last year. This could be the year he sees his first of many NHL games.
One young player familiar with the feeling of playing in the NHL is Martin Fehervary. After being loaned to the Swedish Hockey League, Fehervary came to the US in 2019. That year, he played 8 games with Washington (1pt; 2 games during playoffs) and 56 with Hershey (14pts). He then returned to Hershey last season, having improved to 17 points in only 24 games. Fehervary is a hard worker whose game is more than just points; he’s a physical player as well. I think there’s an advantage to having played in the NHL before, but I think even if he hadn’t played those games, he would still have a great chance of making the NHL squad.
The one player who had more points than Protas last season was Alexander Alexeyev. Alexeyev spent 64 games in the KHL, scoring 17 points there, then 12 games in the AHL, scoring 9 more. He’s another big player (6’4”, 209lbs) who, judging by his points, is capable of making great passes. I think he could do well under the guidance of fellow Russian defenseman, Demitri Orlov. He’s a strong contender.
Ignoring all cap hit considerations, I think the 3 who get roster spots are McMichael, Pinho, and Fehervary. Part of my reasoning for these choices is that Protas, Clark, and Alexeyev are all exempt from waivers this year, so if called up and sent back to Hershey, there’s no risk of losing them to waiver claims. Another part of my reasoning is that Pinho is a centerman who can also play wing, and a more flexible player like that would, in my eyes, have more uses than a strict center like Protas or winger like Clark.
In terms of defensemen, I think it could be really close between those two. I think what gives Fehervary the edge would be those games he played with Washington. He held his own and did relatively well. Alexeyev is, in that way, unproven. He’s played in the KHL, sure, but the NHL is very different, so Fehervary would be a safer option.
I may be 100% off, I admit. But we won’t really know until we see who plays the best in the exhibition games coming in the next couple of weeks. It could be that Hendrix Lapierre (22nd overall, 2020) comes out swinging and translates his success in the Q to success in the NHL. In any case, I’m excited to see young, new faces play for Washington. I can’t wait to see whose dream comes true this year.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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