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6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase

6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase

Hockey is back! Well, sort of. While the start of the NHL season is still weeks away, actual games will be played starting this weekend in Antioch, Tenn. as the Prospects Showcase begins. The Capitals are once again participating in the tournament that will also feature prospects from the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Washington’s first game is on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Whatever happens in a prospect tournament should be taken with a grain of salt. Whether players struggle or dominate, it has little bearing on their NHL hopes. Having said that, there are a number of prospects who Washington will be watching very closely.

Here are six players you need to watch in the Prospects Showcase.

Alexander Alexeyev

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Washington’s first-round pick from 2018, but how close is Alexeyev to being NHL ready? This tournament may give us a sense of that.

Granted, Alexeyev is a first-round talent playing primarily against players who were picked below him in the draft or perhaps are even free agent invites. He should be one of the best players in the tournament because he is one of the best players on the roster, at least on paper. That means the bar will be set very high.

The salary cap crunch in Washington has left the entire blue line in flux. There are spots on the third pairing up for grabs and it would solve a lot of problems if a player on an entry-level deal like Alexeyev were to show he was ready. That is a lot to ask for a player who just wrapped up his junior career, and we should not go into this tournament expecting Alexeyev to simply be the best player on the ice. Though if he wants to make a real push to reach the NHL this season, it would probably have to begin with a strong showing in Antioch.

Also, let’s not forget Alexeyev’s season ended with a brutal knee injury. We have seen him at informal skates, he scrimmaged against other prospects in the NHLPA’s rookie showcase, where he said the knee was “amazing” and he had zero limitations. Now we get to see him in a competitive game situation.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and projects as a bottom-six NHL forward. He did himself no favors last season, however, when he left Hershey after just 16 games to return to Sweden. Regardless of the personal circumstances that may have led to his decision, the problem is he has very limited experience playing the North American game. This offseason we saw Caps general manager Brian MacLellan sign Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway, four players who will play primarily on Washington’s bottom two lines, to four-year contracts. That is pretty damning for how far away he thinks Jonsson-Fjallby is from the NHL.

Being in Tennessee, obviously this tournament will be played on a North American-sized rink. Jonsson-Fjallby is a player to watch just to see how he handles the smaller rink and faster style of play.

Brett Leason

At 20-years old, Leason is supposed to be a lot closer to the NHL than most second-round draft picks are immediately after getting drafted. I have no doubt he will start the season in Hershey and probably stay there for the next year, but who knows after that?

Leason has a big frame and lots of tools, but how far along is he really? Physically, he should be one of the most mature players in the tournament. If Leason excels, that is a good indication he is right where he is supposed to be in terms of development. If not, then it may mean more than a year in Hershey to hone his skills and prepare him for the NHL.

Connor McMichael

McMichael is the first forward taken in the first round by Washington since Jakub Vrana in 2014, but reviews on him were mixed after he was selected. Some thought he was a reach and there were better targets available, while others loved the pick. This tournament will give us our first glimpse of him playing in a Caps jersey, allowing us to see if McMichael really was a first-round talent or if the Caps reached.

Ilya Samsonov

In case you have been living under a rock, Braden Holtby is on the last year of his contract, and it is going to be very hard for the Capitals to bring him back. So the question is not if Samsonov should get NHL playing time this season, it's when?

The decision of whether or not to move on from Holtby and anoint Samsonov as the new starter will not be made based on anything he does in this tournament, but it will give the team a gauge of just how far along Samsonov is in his development. Should the team call him up early in the season? Later? Is he not progressing as hoped? Is he ahead of schedule?

Samsonov looked very raw last year and still in need of more time to develop. With a decision on Holtby’s future coming in the next year, however, Samsonov’s timeline may be speeding up a bit. A solid showing in the tournament would certainly help the team feel better about getting him some NHL games this season.

Joe Snively

Most college free agents do not turn into big-time NHL prospects or players. Ultimately, there is usually a reason why they did not get drafted. Snively, however, may prove to be the exception.

Snively excelled in college, scoring 36 points in each of the past two seasons at Yale. He stepped into Hershey last season for nine games and recorded two goals and five assists. He should be even better this year as he grows more accustomed to the pros.

Still, because we have only seen him in a handful of games in the AHL, it's hard to gauge what his potential may truly be. That makes him very intriguing in this tournament. How does he stack up against other top prospects around the league?

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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