It sure pays to lose. Lose games, lose money. That is what happened to the Washington Capitals. The result was the Caps gutting their team of most of their veteran core players and getting the top pick in the 2004 entry draft. Gone are the likes of Lang, Gonchar, Konawolchuk, Jagr, Nylander, Grier, Klee, Bondra, Simon in what was one of the biggest dumping of players and contracts that the league has ever seen.
Now the Caps consist of a handful of veterans, a slew of young prospects at all positions and some young man named Alexander Ovechkin whom the Capitals are going to build around. When you look at the big picture, despite all that talent moved out, the Caps are really in great shape for a strong future.
The current Caps team is built around veteran goalie Olaf Kolzig. For a team that has few proven scorers and a young, pourous defence, it is paramount that Kolzig is in the lineup almost every night to give the team any chance of winning. But he is in his late 30s and wont be able to carry the Caps forever. But Washington can be buoyed by the fact that there are two solid goaltending prospects in the organization. Maxime Ouellet is yet another fine goalie prospect from Quebec. As with most French Canadian goalies, Ouellet plays the typical butterfly style. With Kolzig around, it has allowed Ouellet to develop properly by getting a couple of years in the AHL. he should emerge as the teams backup for next season. spending a year watching Kolzig should be good for Maxime as he could learn a thing or two about using his big 6’2 frame to his advantage much like Kolzig has in his career.
But Ouellet is not the only goalie named Maxime in the Caps system. They also have Maxime Daigneault. He is another French Canadian butterfly goalie. Given some more time to learn the pro game, he could challenge Ouellet for the number one job in Washington. With the two Maxime’s, the Caps are in great shape in goal for the future.
The Caps last season played most of the year with 2 NHL calibre defencemen. Then around the trade deadline they moved out one of the best offensive blueliners around in Sergei Gonchar. That left the Caps with only Brendan Witt as a proven player back on defence. Though Witt was highly coveted at the trade deadline, his toughness and leadership are deeply needed for this young Caps team. In time though the Caps should boast a talented deep blueline. Shaone Morrisonn was one of the players acquired for Gonchar. He may not rack up the points like Gonchar has but he should be a decent offensive contributor. Morrisonn has good speed, makes good passes out of the zone and has a nice accurate shot from the point. he should be a solid PP QB for years. It is play in his own zone that needs work as he is tall but thin so physical play is tough for Shaone to handle and he still needs to be smarter positionally otherwise he will be completely overmatched. That is what has held him back so far.
Another solid blueline prospect for Washington is Steve Eminger. Eminger is a Wade Redden type who can do a solid job at both ends. He can efficiently star the rush and join the attack. He will be a capable PP point man and though not the biggest guy around, can play a solid defensive game and take the body if needed. He simply needs more experience at the pro level. he was overwhelmed in his first crack at the NHL but that was due to playing with inferior teammates and trying to do too much.
The 2004 entry draft was known for the Caps star prospect Ovechkin but Washington did have 2 other first round picks and those were used to grab a couple of solid blueliners. Mike Green was chosen for his strong skating and offensive ability. he is yet another strong prospect to quarterback the PP. Jeff Schultz was picked for his huge size (he stands 6’6). Schultz is another quality offensive blueliner but needs to work on his game in his own end to move up in the prospect ranks. At his size he needs to be more imposing in his own end and really take care of things back there with tough physical play. In time he may be able to develop that characteristic.
With others like Jacob Cutta, Nolan Yonkman, Sami Lepisto around, the Caps have tons of depth on D and should be in sound shape for years.
The real success of the Caps will depend on how their forwards develop. Mainly star prospect Alex Ovechkin. He is their franchise player. He is the face of the franchise. He has great size, game breaking speed, tremendous puck skills, an excellent shot, and the flair of a superstar. He has a great attitude too and should not only develop into a star in Washington but for the league as well which is great for everyone. The Caps will go as far as this kid can take them. But he is not all they have up front. Alex Semin played briefly for the Caps last season and looks like a keeper. Though not as highly touted as fellow Russian Ovechkin, he is a dynamic talent who can skate, shoot and stickhandle with ease. Those two together should be fun to watch.
There is also WHL 2005 player of the year Eric Fehr in the Caps system. At 6’3 he has the body to be a power type winger with hands. You could compare Eric to players like Andreychuk, Leclair or Glen Murray. He is still young but is willing and able to do anything to score goals. you have to like the fact he has a nose for the net. You can add Tomas Fleischmann as another fine scoring prospect who has racked up big numbers in the WHL. Tomas is flashy and quick and should be an exciting player to watch. If he can get bigger and stronger and better able to handle the physical play he should be a keeper in Washington.
You can also throw in the likes of Jared Aulin, Jakob Klepis and Jonas Johansson in the group of fine young talent to come out of the WHL. All 3 have and can produce offence. that is their game. Injuries and inconsistency have held them back but because the Caps have so many prospects, these 3 are not as highly touted as they would be playing somewhere else.
With the likes of solid two way players in Boyd Gordon, Brian Sutherby, Brooks Laich and Chris Bourque (the son of Bruins legend Ray Bourque), the Caps have a nice core of young role players who have the skills and potential to chip in on offence. It adds a nice balance to all the top end skilled prospects they have.
With Jeff Halpern and Dainus Zubrus the only proven returnees up front for Washington, there will be plenty of growing pains. But these two guys are quality two way players who work hard and will be able to lead by example and help in the development of the Caps prized prospects.
With good coaching, these young Caps could be one of the best teams around in a few years and after enduring a terrible season and with one of the best young players in Ovechkin, there is no where to go but up for the Capitals.