HERSHEY, Penn. -- With the Capitals out west on their longest road trip of the season, that gave me an opportunity to visit Hershey and check in on some of the team's prospects. The two names with the most buzz around the Bears at the moment should come as no surprise: Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary.
Both players have cemented themselves in top-four roles already in just their first season in the AHL. They also happen to be roommates.
“It's pretty fun,” Alexeyev told NBC Sports Washington. “He knows some Russian, I know some Czech so it's fun.”
On the ice, they represent the future of the Caps’ blue line.
Alexeyev’s final WHL season was cut short by a knee-on-knee hit and he was not able to participate in Caps’ training camp due to a hit to the head he received in the Prospects Showcase.
But Alexeyev was able to step right into the AHL and make an impact, scoring on the first shift of his first game.
“It felt awesome,” he said. “Had how many months, like six or something off, to not playing and first goal, first shift, unbelievable feeling. I think it's fired me up for the rest of this season so it feel better now.”
While Alexeyev dealt with injuries, Fehervary had his own struggles as he stepped into the North American game for the first time. Alexeyev played three seasons in the WHL before graduating to Hershey. Before training camp, Fehervary’s hockey career had been played entirely in Europe and he had to adjust to a very different style of hockey.
“The hockey's faster, everything's a little bit quicker, but lot of physical players so that's a little bit different,” he said.
If you speak with Fehervary, he will bring up the fact that he is adjusting to the North American game without prompting. For Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery, however, he believes there has not been much he has needed to adjust at all.
“It's honestly been seamless,” Carbery said. “There hasn't been one instance where I've thought this is different for him because of the smaller ice sheet or the language. He's a player and he's a gamer.”
Apart from their skill which is undeniable, the maturity of both players is striking. Alexeyev would not even have his picture taken with the Stanley Cup in 2018 during his first development camp because he wanted to “deserve” it first. That maturity level is clearly shared by his new roommate.
“His focus and just his daily approach is unlike typical 19-year-olds,” Carbery said of Fehervary. “He knows what he needs to do, very serious about what he needs to do, prepares. So mature in that respect, but also his game. You can tell, and I think the years of playing against men over in Europe have helped him a lot because his game is very polished for a first-year pro in North America.”
That was evident in Washington as well. With Michal Kempny still working his way back from a hamstring injury last season, the Caps had an open spot on the blue line to start the season. Fehervary won the job and played three games before being sent down to Hershey.
“It was really perfect that I made right away the debut in NHL,” Fehervary said. “My confidence went really up. Of course it help me a lot playing here also. I'm playing a lot of minutes so I think I'm getting better every game and just adjusting at that style. But the confidence went really up like I played first games in NHL.”
Despite the fact that he would have certainly been in the running to earn that job on the Caps’ opening roster had he not been injured, Alexeyev is focused on his development in Hershey and not on lost opportunities.
“I think I still need to adjust to the North American style of hockey and I think my time in the NHL is going to be in the future so I don't worry about it,” he said.
Other prospect notes
- That hit to the head Alexeyev took in the Prospects Showcase? Yeah, he’s still mad about it. “This player shouldn't play hockey. If you want to do something like this go to beer league or something, but it's not at this level.” You can read the full story here.
- For more on Alexeyev’s development, you can check out an in-depth AHL profile on him here.
- Axel Jonsson-Fjallby looks a lot more comfortable in his second season in the AHL, an assessment Carbery agreed with “100-percent.” When he left for Sweden last season, I saw that as a bad sign. This year he committed to staying in America and, when I spoke with him, I was struck by how much he has settled into life in Hershey and how that has helped him. You can ready my full story on this here.
- There’s a lot of left-shot defensemen in the organization and Lucas Johansen still has yet to prove that he is ready to compete for an NHL spot. While he told me he loves the organization, now that he is on the last year of his entry-level deal he knows that if he wants a shot to make it in the NHL, he may have to find another team to get it. You can read the full story here.
- Now nine games into his AHL career, Brett Leason is still looking for his first goal. He had three really good scoring chances against Utica and I think he is close to breaking through. He needs to soon because there is some skepticism over what his ceiling may be. Let’s not forget, this is a guy who was passed over twice in the draft and then suddenly he was being talked about as a high-round draft pick. Obviously opinions of him within the league were mixed which led him to fall to the second round. One of the big issues for him right now is entering a league in which he is no longer the biggest player on the ice on most nights.
“That's a big part of his adjustment is now when he gets into traffic, all of a sudden the puck is getting taken off his stick and he's getting bumped off it,” Carbery said. “That's been eye-opening for him because usually he can fend off defenders and hold onto it and in traffic he would come up with the puck. Well, now that's not happening as frequently so now what it means is OK, I've got to be a little bit stronger in these areas and make sure that I'm ready for contact because these guys are really big and can bump me off the puck. Part of that is him developing and making sure that he's doing the appropriate things in the weight room and strengthening his body and working on being heavy on your hands. Stuff like that, but it's a prime example of one of the reasons that, ok he openly admitted to me, yeah it's harder for me to fish out pucks than it was a calendar year ago. That's just the way it is in this league and because of the caliber of player and the pros and the maturity level, that's an adjustment and he'll continue to progress in that department.”
I asked if being passed over in the draft made Leason more coachable. Carbery’s response was “maybe a little bit just because of where he’s been” which is a polite way of saying no. He did mention, however, that there is “zero sense of entitlement there or feels like he should be given anything. I haven't gotten that sense and maybe that's because of where he's come from and the path of him being in Tri-Cities and being traded, not really getting an opportunity there and all that stuff. I think it builds a little bit of character and you may be a little bit more appreciative and have that, I'm going to have to earn it. He's been fantstic that way, receptive to what he needs to do, understanding when he's not doing the things being very accountable to that and saying, you know what, I have to be better in those spots.”
- Carbery spoke with Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News on Leason who asked him about using Leason on the penalty kill: “He PK’d quite a bit last year in P.A. and was successful. I don’t focus on scoring for young guys – he has so far to go and producing in this league is challenging. It’s about the details in his game if he wants to have a long NHL career. He has to make quicker decisions, quicker reads. He’s going to play both sides of the puck here. Hopefully he can be a PK guy and a power play guy in the NHL.”
I don’t think there is enough offensive upside in Leason for him to ride on alone. He has to be able to add elements to his game like the PK in order to be an NHL player.
- Kody Clark and Riley Sutter still are recovering from injuries and have not yet played this season. I saw both players participating in the morning skate in non-contact jerseys.
- Connor McMichael is making a believer out of prospect expert Corey Pronman. Though he noted some concerns in McMichael’s skating, Pronman is impressed with his start to the season in the OHL (13 goals, 13 assists in 12 games).
- Part of the reason for McMichael’s strong start? Caps training camp where McMichael took advantage of every opportunity afforded him to improve his game.
“I feel like I got a lot of confidence up at Caps camp and I was able to bring that back here and show everyone what I learned in Washington,” he told The Athletic. “That’s the reason for the hot start. I just hope I can keep it up.”
- Damien Riat was added to Team Switzerland’s initial roster for the Deutschland Cup which will take place Nov. 6-10.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Special bond: Caps, Nats root for eachother
- Ovi celebrates: Ovechkin celebrates Nats World Series win
- Mailbag: So far, so good for Kuzy?