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Caps top prospects: Where does Nathan Walker rank?

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps top prospects: Where does Nathan Walker rank?

Nathan Walker has had an interesting season. He first made the Caps' team out of training camp, was placed on waivers, claimed by the Edmonton Oilers, placed on waivers again and was reclaimed by Washington and is likely on his way to Hershey after the NHL's holiday roster freeze is lifted at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday.

That's quite the journey for a young prospect.

As a small, scrappy forward and the first Australian player to play in the NHL, it is understandable why Walker has become a fan favorite. But where does he actually rank among the Caps' prospects?

SEE THE UPDATED CAPS PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

After a strong preseason, Walker struggled in the regular season on certain aspects of his game, including wall play and transitioning the puck out of the defensive zone, skills that are particularly important for bottom-six forwards. He still needs to work on those aspects of his game, but he has shown potential as a bottom-six NHL forward.

Considering how many drafted players never make the NHL at all, the fact that Walker looks like he could potentially be a fourth line forward means something. But it's also important to remember he is not a Jakub Vrana or Ilya Samsonov. Putting those kinds of expectations on him would be unfair and would diminish his accomplishments if and when he does make the NHL.

Given his potential, if Vrana spent his career primarily as a bottom-six NHL forward, that would be a disappointment. The same would not be true for Walker.

So where does Walker ultimately rank among the Caps' prospects? Does he crack the top 10? Find out here in the updated Caps prospect rankings.

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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Devils

4 reasons the Caps lost to the Devils

The Capitals returned from the bye week and battled back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a well-deserved point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. Here are the reasons why Washington finished the game on the losing end.

Getting behind the defense

Three of New Jersey's four goals came on breakaways. Marcus Johansson launched Drew Stafford on a break after a bad pass from Devante Smith-Pelly was misplayed by Dmitry Orlov at the blue line. Sami Vatanen took the puck off a Devils' faceoff win and saw Miles Wood had a step on the defense. Vatanen flipped the puck over everyone's heads into open space creating a footrace that he knew Wood would win for the breakaway. The game very fittingly ended on another breakaway in overtime. The Caps lost not one, but two board battles as Vatanen tipped the puck past Dmitry Orlov on the boards up to Hall who then tipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov to set himself up for the break. More on that later.

Holding their fire

Not getting enough shots has been a problem for the Caps. They rank dead last in the NHL in shots on goal per game. It's something we have talked about before. So how did they look out of the break? Just as bad. This game lasted 60:34 with 60 regulation minutes and 34 seconds in overtime. In that time, Washington managed just 19 shots on goal. New Jersey had 32. That's just not good enough. If you go one step farther and look at total shot attempts, the Caps were still outshot badly 56-44.

Power play

The power play was an absolute mess in this game. Tom Wilson drew three penalties and Washington had five total power plays and they were unable to score on any of them. They looked completely out of sync, especially on zone entries. Yes, the Capitals are returning from a bye week. They were scheduled to practice on Wednesday in New Jersey, but travel delays forced them to cancel. A certain amount of rust is to be expected. But they are too good to be a middle of the pack power play team and they are way, way too good to play as badly as they played Thursday.

Two failed board battles

We have already touched on the overtime winner that was set up by two tips off the boards. You can watch the play here.

Vatanen originally tipped the puck past Orlov who took a weird angle in his approach. It looked like he could have beaten Vatanen to the puck, but seemed to pull back. Perhaps he thought the puck was moving faster and would get to him before Vatanen could get there. Once the puck was past him, it was a race between Kuznetsov and Hall. Hall was going full speed, but similarly to Orlov, Kuznetsov seemed to pull back a bit allowing Hall to beat him to it. Either Orlov or Kuznetsov should have been able to slow the play at the very least by challenging the puck. For whatever reason, they misjudged the play and it resulted in the loss.

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3 stars of the game: Caps fight back to earn a point, but fall in overtime

3 stars of the game: Caps fight back to earn a point, but fall in overtime

The Caps' return from the bye did not go quite according to plan as Washington fell 4-3 in overtime to the New Jersey Devils.

Both teams battled to a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes, but New Jersey took a two-goal lead in the second period. Dmitry Orlov pulled the Caps within one late in the second just 14 seconds after the Devils took the 3-1 lead. Brett Connolly then tied the game with under four minutes remaining in the third with his second goal of the night thus guaranteeing a point for both teams. Ultimately, the Caps would be handed the defeat in overtime as Taylor Hall scored just 34 seconds into the extra session.

MORE CAPS: IMPROVEMENTS THAT CAN BE MADE IN THE SECOND HALF

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Brett Connolly: He did it again. Just before the bye it was Connolly who tied the game against the Carolina Hurricanes late in the third before Jay Beagle won on the buzzer-beater. This time, Connolly tied the game in New Jersey with less than four minutes remaining. He found a soft spot in the defense in the high-slot and Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to find him from behind the goal line.

Connolly may have whiffed on the shot as it stayed on the ice, but it got the job done, sliding through Keith Kinkaid and into the net. It was Connolly's second goal of the night as he also had Washington's first goal. This is the second two-goal game of Connolly's career.

2. Sami Vatanen: The Devils took control in the second period with two goals and Vatanen assisted on both of them. He first created a turnover in the defensive zone and the resulting rush ended with a goal for Andy Greene. Later in the period, the puck came to Vatanen on a faceoff. He saw Miles Wood could split the defense so he flipped the puck up in the air over the head of the defense creating a foot race. Wood won that race and scored on the breakaway.

Vatanen earned a third assist in overtime as he tipped the puck past Dmitry Orlov on the wall up to Hall who tipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov and took it all the way for the game-winner.

3.  Tom Wilson: The Caps had five power plays on the night and Wilson drew three of them. First he was sent flying when Damon Severson stuck out his leg to prevent the streaking Wilson from getting by him in the defensive zone and chasing the puck. Later in the second period, Wilson delivered a thunderous, but legal hit to Brian Gibbons and Brian Boyle took issue with it. Wilson was all too happy to drop the gloves in response, but Boyle received the extra two minutes for instigating.

Finally in the third, Travis Zajac interfered with Wilson as he knocked him into the New Jersey net with enough force to send the net off its moorings. Wilson ended up seeing time on the top line in the third period.

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