Capitals

Quick Links

Capitals prospect report: Exploring the Samsonov, Vanecek goalie tandem in Hershey

ilya-samsonov-capitals-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports images

Capitals prospect report: Exploring the Samsonov, Vanecek goalie tandem in Hershey

Imagine you are the first-year head coach of an AHL team. You are given two goalies for the season. One of them is entering his third year in the AHL, the other is from Russia and in his first season in North America. He doesn’t speak English, but is considered your NHL affiliate’s top prospect.

And by the way, you’re expected to win.

That is the situation that was handed to Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery this season with Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.

The much heralded Samsonv was the Capitals’ first round draft pick in 2015. He is widely seen as the Caps’ future starter in net and there was a lot of excitement over his first season in the AHL.

But that didn’t mean Vanecek was simply going to yield the starting job in Hershey to Samsonov.

Vanecek was a high draft pick as well, going in the second round in 2014 just one year before Samsonov and he has NHL aspirations of his own.

So what do you do with two goalies competing to impress the NHL club, one with the experience and the other with the fame and expectations?

Carbery elected to go with an even split throughout the season.

Through 47 games, Samsonov has played in 25, Vanecek in 23. Rather than lean on one goalie as the clear starter, the goalies cycle in and out.

As was to be expected, Samsonov struggled initially while Vanecek thrived. Vanecek’s game seemed to go up to another level this season and to Carbery, it’s not hard to figure out why.

“Going into the year, I would have said that I think Vitek understood sort of the situation that Ilya Samsonov is coming here to play in Hershey is a top prospect,” Carbery said. “He understood all of that and I think he took it in a way of, OK, I need to now when I get an opportunity to play whether that's opening night, whether it's the next night, I want to prove to everybody in this organization and around the AHL and the NHL that I can be the guy and I'm going to push whether it's a first round, second round or a top prospect, I'm going to push whoever is my goaltending partner and that's kind of the way I think it started and Vitek had a great start.”

Vanecek was the team’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star game and was the best goalie at the event, helping lead the Atlantic Division all the way to the final in the 3-on-3 tournament before the team lost in a shootout. 

But regardless of how well Vanecek played and how much Samsonov struggled, Carbery maintained the cycle. By keeping the playing time an even split, it took away from any tension there may have been between the two netminders. Rather than feeling like they are in constant competition with one another, Carbery has been very impressed with how both netminders always seem to lift each other up.

“The cool thing between these two guys which I think I have grown to really appreciate and I've watched it and I keep kind of a close eye on how they interact is they pull for one another and they're very supportive of one another,” Carbery said. “They're very close when it comes to when they do their goalie drills, when they compete against shooters, they're rooting for one another. When they do shootouts, all these little things, they celebrate together which I always smile when I see that because they're two competitive guys that want to play every night, but they also have a special bond I feel like and I've observed.”

The continued confidence Carbery has shown both netminders seems to be working. Vanecek has played consistently well all season. Samsonov, on the other hand, seems to have turned a corner from his initial struggles.

“We've got we [feel] a good one, two or 1a, 1b where either guy plays gives us a great chance to win games,” Carbery said, “And now they're taking it as a competitive environment where they're trying to earn more starts, but also in a way that they're supporting one another and pushing one another in a real productive way.”

Other prospect notes:

  • In addition to feeling more comfortable on the ice, Samsonov also seems to be feeling more comfortable with the language as well.
  • Could something as simple as a number change be responsible for Samsonov’s turnaround? He began the season as No. 1 for the Bears, but recently asked for a different number and now wears 35. Apparently he feels there is a lot of pressure associated with wearing the No. 1. The change happened near the start of his hot streak. It’s far too simplistic to credit wearing No. 35 for his improved play, but I also would not dismiss what that little bit of extra confidence could mean for a goalie.
  • Aaron Ness is tied for first among all AHL defensemen with 32 assists.
  • Chase Priskie intended to sign with the Capitals last season, he told the New Haven Register, but returned for his senior season after Quinnipiac suffered a tough loss in the conference quarterfinals against Cornell. “My initial intentions were to leave and sign,” Priskie said. “But I thought I could leave more of a legacy at this program. I want to be one of the best players to ever come out of here. That’s my goal. I hadn’t obtained that after my junior year. I decided there was no rush and that it would be best to come back and mentor the big freshman class we had coming in.” Read the full story here.
  • Priskie has been nominated for yet another award in his phenomenal senior season. Priskie is among the ten nominees for the 2018-19 Senior CLASS Award. “To be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be classified as NCAA Division I seniors and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Priskie has 35 points this season, second in the nation among defensemen. He also leads the nation in power-play goals with nine and is tied for the most goals by a defenseman with 14.
  • Martin Fehervary competed for his native Slovakia in the Kaufland Cup this past week, a three-team international tournament. Slovakia won the tournament with a 2-1 win over Belarus and a 5-1 win over Russia.
  • In an interview, Fehervary talked about keeping in contact with the Caps will playing in the SHL in Sweden. He fills out a questionnaire for Washington every week talking about his games, how much he plays and in what situations, how much he sleeps, etc. It’s an interesting look into how the Caps keep track of their prospects overseas.
  • There’s a very touching story out of Vancouver involving prospect Alex Kannok-Leipert. A young 10-year-old girl has become a regular at Vancouver Giants games with handmade signs for the players. Several of the players, including Kannok-Leipert, returned the favor by showing up to her first hockey practice with signs for her. “She first saw us when she was on the ice,” Kannok-Leipert told the National Post. “She took a minute to read all the signs and then she had to skate away or else she was going to break down a little bit. Her reaction and the way her parents thanked us … it’s a time I’ll always remember. It was pretty cool that we were able to do that.” This is a very cool story and one that’s worth the time to read.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Third line forward

Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

2018-19 stats

Micheal Ferland (27 years old): 71 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points, 14:06 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, no goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 10:16 TOI

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Micheal Ferland: 4 years, $4,181,982 cap hit

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

The case for Micheal Ferland

Ferland fills the Caps’ need for a productive third-line player. He scored 40 points last year with limited minutes and ranked fourth on the Hurricanes in points despite being 16th on the team in time-on-ice per game. Being able to be productive without getting top-six minutes is a skill. Brett Connolly has it and so does Ferland.

In addition to his production, Ferland also plays a physical game which would fit in well with Washington as the Caps like to play a heavier game. While they do have some speedy players, the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas is a sign that the physicality is still highly valued by the organization.

Ferland turned 27 in April and is entering his prime. The projected price tag may be a bit much for him, but his injury-plagued postseason may help bring that price down.

Donskoi has good skill, but that has earned him career-highs of 14 goals and 37 points, both of which he scored last season so the Caps could end up paying a bit more than they should to obtain him. If you are frustrated by Andre Burakovsky, does it make sense to bring in another player with similar numbers to play on the third line?

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Donskoi will be a much cheaper option than Ferland and with Washington against the cap and given the fact that the salary cap could actually be lower than the $83 million originally projected, money talks.

Comparing Donskoi to Burakovsky may not be entirely fair. When Burakovsky is having a bad game, he is invisible. Donskoi, on the other hand, made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. His stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset.

The ultimate case against Ferland is the fact that his first name is Micheal – but he spells it "ea" instead of "ae" – making him the sworn enemy of every hockey writer.

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

Quick Links

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

caps-celebration-gm7-win-hero-usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I don’t know why Wilson and Gudas’ relationship would be any different from anyone else on the team. From what I have heard, Gudas is a very nice guy off the ice and there are few players, if anyone, who is as nice as Wilson. If you are asking because they fought once before, that does not matter. It was years ago, back when Gudas was in Tampa Bay. It is not like either player has been holding a grudge ever since. Don’t forget, Dmitrij Jaskin’s last fight was against Wilson in 2017 and he was still welcomed into Washington. This won’t be an issue.

As for their relationship on the ice, let’s just say there are a lot of teams that are going to be looking over their shoulders for 60 minutes every single game when they play the Caps.

Mike K. writes: Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t point produced but he’s strong on the puck and tough on the boards and has been able to create his own shot in tight spaces. I’m puzzled by the shunning when he’s been a difference maker on the ice. Brian MacLellan clearly sees talent which is why they kept him. Does he have a chance to earn a bottom 6 role? Do you have a projected top 9? Can we make a deep run with this roster?

When it comes to Jaskin they have to sign him first.

Like you, I was puzzled with how Jaskin was used over the season. He seemed to play well every time he got into the lineup, but for whatever reason, Todd Reirden did not appear to be a fan. Now as a restricted free agent, his future with the team is up in the air.

For most restricted free agents, it is an easy decision to bring them back. With Washington tight up against the salary cap, however, they may not be enough cap space to commit to him if he is not going to have a more regular role in the lineup.

It is clear the fourth line needs an upgrade. Is Jaskin good enough that he represents an upgrade or is the team better off letting him walk and saving as much cap space as possible to pursue more productive options? If he does sign, his role would be on the fourth line.

My projected top-nine as of now:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – free agent or trade

I ultimately do not think Connolly or Andre Burakovsky end up back with the team so they will need to find someone to plug into that third line who is not yet on the roster. This is where the salary cap not being determined yet or potentially being lower than that projected $83 million really hurts.

Can they make a deep run? It depends on who they get. I am not going to overreact to last season. The roster is roughly the same as the one that won the Cup and there was no reason to dismantle it just because they ran out of gas in the playoffs. Having said that, it is a fair question to ask when you could potentially lose Connolly, Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt NIskanen and Brooks Orpik and replace them with Radko Gudas whoever they can afford through trades and free agency.

I will say yes, the team can still go on a deep run with the caveat that I want to see what the roster looks like after free agency. If they completely whiff and fail to address their need for depth offense, then I will change my opinion.

Nathan S. writes: Why is NHL behind the trend set by MLB and NFL where managing and coaching trends are toward younger and more innovative leaders (Alex Cora and Sean McVay come to mind)?

Be careful what you wish for. The trend for younger managers in the MLB largely stems from the analytics movement that, in my opinion, completely undervalues managers. If you are managing just based on analytics, you can go cheaper and younger and it won’t matter. But those managers do not know how to manage players and personalities. I am not a dinosaur, I recognize the value of analytics and I am not arguing for the antiquated notion that numbers can’t tell us anything because the game is played on the field and not on the spreadsheet. But you cannot pretend that managing players and a team is just about the numbers.

Having said that, I see what you’re saying. Hockey very much as an “old guard” problem. Whenever a head coaching vacancy opens up, it always seems like the same candidates and coaches are recycled over and over again. There is just a different mentality in hockey that says you have to have the experienced coach in order to succeed. In the NFL and MLB, however, a lot of teams are starting to take the exact opposite approach believing that you have to find someone willing to be different in order to succeed.

This is changing a bit in the NHL as we have seen a few more general managers venture into the college ranks to find head coaches. Hopefully that will lead to other general managers looking outside the box to find their next bench boss. Really all it takes is for one coach to find success, then everyone will follow.

Rodney O. writes: Has a team ever won a Stanley Cup and their affiliate (ECHL, AHL) won the league championship as well in the same year?

The Stanley Cup winners have seen their AHL affiliates go on the win the Calder Cup in the same year three times. Both the Montreal Canadiens and affiliate Nova Scotia Voyageurs won in 1976 and 1977 as did the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats in 1995. Those two Montreal wins came before the ECHL was founded and the 1995 winner of the Kelly Cup was the Richmond Renegades who, at the time, was the affiliate of the Hartford Whalers so no, it does not appear an organization has ever been able to pull off the triple NHL, AHL, ECHL championship.

Nathan S. writes: How much of the fact that no Canadian team has won the SC since 93 and many Canadian teams struggle to even make the playoffs consistently because so many players are reluctant to play in Canada (even Canadians) because of taxes, media/fan pressure, weather, and lack of endorsement opportunities?

Taxes are something analysts love to talk about, but I truly believe that is more of a talking point than a factor in players not going to Canada. I am not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m just saying I do not believe it matters as much as we think it does. There are still big-money players in Canada and let’s not forget that Toronto won the John Tavares sweepstakes, the biggest free agency extravaganza in years. Before you say, Tavares doesn’t count because he grew up a Toronto fan, that is exactly my point. Of all the factors that went into his decision, the positives outweighed the negatives such as taxes.

Also, it’s not as if every team in the U.S. is tax-free. Only two states with NHL teams, Florida and Texas, do not have any income tax while California has the highest income tax in the country. And yet both Anaheim and Los Angeles have won the Cup since 1993 and San Jose is seemingly always in contention.

I would also quibble with your idea that there are limited endorsement opportunities. I think there are plenty of those in Canadian markets especially Toronto and Montreal.

As for your other factors, media and fan pressure is real and I think definitely a factor. You hear a lot of relief from players who leave Toronto and are able to walk down the street without getting harassed by fans and media. Weather can be a factor and you hear a lot of players list Winnipeg and Edmonton on their no trade lists because of this and because there is a perception that there is nothing to do there. Then again, the weather is nice in Arizona and you do not exactly see players lining up to be a Coyote.

For me, the two biggest factors are the league’s efforts to expand to more American markets and the salary cap. Since 1990, the NHL has added 10 teams, 11 if you count Seattle in 2021. Only two of those new teams were in Canada, eventually three when the Atlanta Thrashers eventually moved to Winnipeg. In 1990, seven of 21 teams were in Canada, or one-third of the league. As of 2021, seven out of 32 teams will be in Canada. That’s less than a quarter. Simple math says those teams will not win as much.

Second, while the salary cap was not instituted until 2005, it mitigated one of the biggest advantages teams like Montreal and Toronto had. Those teams are held in high regard because of history and tradition, but in terms of money they are just like everyone else, beholden to the same salary cap.

Thanks for all of your questions!. If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS