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Capitals prospect report: MacLellan evaluates Samsonov's season, talks on his future

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Capitals prospect report: MacLellan evaluates Samsonov's season, talks on his future

Considering just how good a goalie Ilya Samsonov looked in the KHL, you could be forgiven for thinking he would make an easy transition to the AHL. It has not worked out that way.

The transition to the North American game can be harder on some than others and the numbers have been pretty ugly this season. In 19 appearances for Hershey, Samsonov has a 3.40 GAA and .871 save percentage.

Yikes.

But the Capitals are not concerned.

General manager Brian MacLellan acknowledged it has been a difficult year, but he still sees the talent behind the ugly numbers.

“I think he’s being challenged, I think that league is a hard league for goalies to adapt to,” MacLellan said. “I think his numbers aren’t great, but I think the way he is, the athletic ability is still evident in the way he plays. So, we’re still optimistic that he’s going to figure it out, but I think it’s been a challenging year in a difficult league for him. I think that going through this process is going to make him better in the end. I think he’s learning a lot, I think he has a lot more respect for the American League than he did coming into it. I think he’s adapting off the ice which is probably just as important as on the ice for his long-term development.”

MacLellan also said Samsonov is about where the team expected him to be in his progression.

“I think we would have anticipated this year to be up and down, he'd have good spots and weak spots and it'd take him a year to figure out the league and then next year he would be a good goalie in that league. I don't think he's behind or ahead of any schedule that he had.”

MacLellan’s faith appears well founded. After speaking on Samsonov, the young netminder recorded back-to-back shutouts, the first Hershey goalie to do so since Pheonix Copley on Oct. 19 and 26 in 2014, per Penn Live.

For now, Samsonov appears to be Hershey’s No. 2 goalie behind Vitek Vanecek who earned his first AHL All-Star nomination with a 2.87 GAA and .901 save percentage. But according to MacLellan, this year was all about adjusting for Samsonov. He anticipates him remaining in Hershey next season where he will have a much more dominant season in his second year of North American competition.

Other prospect notes:

  • Speaking of Samsonov, he remains the Caps’ top prospect according to TSN’s Craig Button. Button ranked the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects and Samsonov came in at No. 27. Alex Alexeyev was the second Caps’ prospect to make the list at No. 33.
  • MacLellan also spoke one on one with Mike Vogel and said this about the team’s prospects: "I think [Connor] Hobbs is coming, he's getting more consistent in his game. We like his progress. Lucas [Johansen] has taken a step back here with the injury. We'll wait and see how he does in the last part of the year. Really optimistic about the two guys we drafted last year, [Alex] Alexeyev and [Martin] Fehervary. Both had strong world junior camps, both had good training camps and good rookie camps. We're excited about those two, also."
  • Vanecek is very excited about going to the AHL All-Star game.
  • Beck Malenstyn received some high praise from Hershey coach Spencer Carbery who called Malenstyn “our Tom Wilson.” Check out this feature on Malenstyn who is certainly making an impact in his first professional season.
  • Riley Barber has 14 points in his past 10 games. He owns a team-high 10 multi-point games this season. If the Caps find themselves in need of a forward call up, Barber will be near or at the top of the list. At his age (24), however, and on the final year of his contract, you have to wonder what his future is with the organization. He is a great player for Hershey, but has his chance of becoming a full-time NHLer passed him by?
  • Brian Pinho’s goal on Sunday against Lehigh Valley was the first game-winning goal of his professional career.
  • Mike Sgarbossa played in his 400th professional game on Wednesday and recorded an assist. He currently ranks first on the Bears in goals (17), third in assists (14) and second in points (31).
  • Chase Priskie has been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s most prestigious award. He is one of 83 (!!!) nominees. Yes, 83. I don’t know why the Hobey Baker Award Foundation chooses to water itself down with so many nominees and it’s a shame because Priskie should be considered among the top finalists. Priskie ranks second in the ECAC in points (27) and is tied for first in goals (13) and he’s doing it as a defenseman. A statement released by Quinnipiac said “Among defensemen, Priskie ranks even higher as he leads the nation in goals, goals per game, power-play goals, power-play points, game-winning goals (5), shots (88) and shots on goal per game (4.00). He is also second with 27 points and third with 1.23 points per game.” (One thing to note, the statement says there are 81 nominees. I counted, there are 83). The first phase of the award process is a fan vote which you can do here. The voting is open until March 10.

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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