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Capitals prospect report: New local prospect reflects growth of hockey in the DMV

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Capitals prospect report: New local prospect reflects growth of hockey in the DMV

The Alex Ovechkin effect on Washington hockey was clear in June of 2018 when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head. His lasting legacy, however, may be about far more than just one championship banner.

On Monday, the Capitals signed Herndon, Va, native Joe Snively to an entry-level contract beginning in the 2019-20 season. Snively just finished his fourth year at Yale and is an alum of the Washington Little Capitals youth hockey program. His new NHL contract reflects the growth of hockey in the area at the youth level.

“When the Caps started to become successful, you could just see the amount of people in the local rinks,” Snively said Monday on a conference call. “It just started to increase. More kids wanted to play hockey. For sure, hockey in general, it became a hockey city. It's been really cool to witness and be a local of Northern Virginia and just see how the hockey community's just gotten so much bigger.”

“He's (evidence) of generations of players that are starting to come around thanks to Ovechkin and [Nicklas Backstrom] and the growth of the organization,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. “It's going to be fun to watch the next few years the impact that they've been able to have on young hockey players and building the game of hockey in the area. It's just going to keep growing from there from what we were able to accomplish as a team last year. The overall numbers of players playing youth hockey and number of coaches that want to get involved in it is amazing and that's what it's all about: growing the game of hockey, for me. Our older guys that have been here for years have been great ambassadors and so fortunate to have such generational talents as a guy like Ovechkin and Backstrom and others. It's pretty neat to see it all kind of come full-circle."

Snively’s love for the Caps may have ultimately been cemented in a dentist’s office. Snively apparently shared the same dentist as Ovechkin growing up and ran into him while he was a kid.

"I was just waiting for my annual cleaning,” Snively said, “And Ovechkin came in -- he was obviously a lot younger than he is now because this might have been 10 years ago, I can't remember -- but of course, I recognized him. I had my hockey bag in the car because I was going to practice, and I got a pair of hockey gloves signed, which was funny."

Snively was a coveted free agent coming out of college. Frank Seravalli reported that more than 20 teams had expressed interest in signing him. While Snively said the number of teams he spoke with was much lower, it is clear that his love for the Caps growing up certainly played a role in him signing with Washington.

Snively confirmed this saying, “It for sure played a factor.”

"I love the Caps,” he added. “They're my favorite team. I root for them every year. It was really special to watch them win the Stanley Cup last spring, and I've been following them all the way since they wore the old black and gold jerseys. My dad's a season-ticket holder. Every year, I watch the Caps, so that kind of sums it up."

The fact that interest in the game is growing at the youth level and that it is producing talent reflects the growing popularity of the game in the area. That it can also help the Caps snipe a few of those homegrown players is also a definite plus.

Other prospect notes:

  • Snively signed an amateur tryout agreement with Hershey on Wednesday. The Caps currently have the maximum of 50 contracts so Snively’s does not actually begin until next season. In order to play for Hershey then, he had to go this route and sign an amateur agreement.
  • Riley Barber now leads the AHL in goals with 31 and his 58 points ties him for fifth. He is also tied for first on the team in points with Mike Sgarbossa. I have gotten a lot of questions on Barber in recent days. I would have liked to see him get called up at some point given how great of a season he has had in Hershey, but I am not sure it makes sense to do it now at the tail end of the regular season. The fact is, the Caps still have 14 forwards on the roster and Devante Smith-Pelly in Hershey and I am not sure eight games with the Caps at fourth line minutes would be enough for Barber to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup over players like Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd or Smith-Pelly. One other thing to note is that 31 of his 58 points have come on the power play this season. That is not a bad thing at all, but Barber would not be getting any power play time in Washington so I am doubtful he would be able to step into the lineup and produce right away. I would have liked to see it earlier in the season, but for now the best place for him is Hershey for the playoff push.
  • The Bears’ remarkable turnaround now has them at third place in the Atlantic Division. After a slow start to the season, Hershey has gone 21-2-3-2 in its last 28 games. Two big factors in that turnaround have been Sgarbossa and goalie Ilya Samsonov. In those 28 games, Sgarbossa has 11 goals and 19 assists while Samsonov has gone 12-1-1-1 with a 1.64 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.
  • Aaron Ness leads all AHL defensemen with 43 assists. His 47 total points sits third in the league among blueliners.
  • Garrett Pilon scored the overtime winner in Tuesday’s game against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He took the drop pass from Sgarbossa and ripped a shot top-shelf for the win. You can see the highlights of the game here:


  • Pilon leads Bears rookies with 30 points. He managed only 11 points in his first 34 games, but has 19 points in his last 31.
  • Goalie Vitek Vanecek registered his second shutout of the season on Tuesday, turning aside all 17 shots he faced from the Penguins.
  • It’s playoff time for the junior leagues! In the OHL, Kody Clark helped the Ottawa 67s to a first place finish in the league with 17 goals and 46 total points in 57 games. Ottawa will play Hamilton in the first round of the playoffs.
  • In the WHL, Alex Alexeyev has been declared out of Red Deer’s first-round series against Prince Albert, according to the Red Deer Advocate. He was seen wearing a large knee brace as he accepted an award as the Red Deer Advocate’s Male Athlete of the Year award.
     
  • Erick Florchuk finished with 21 goals and 50 points in 68 games for Saskatoon while teammate Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had 13 goals and 29 points in 62 games. Saskatoon will play Moose Jaw in the first round of the playoffs starting on Friday. Florchuk was also presented with the Heinrichs player of the month award on Friday.
  • Riley Sutter has yet to play in the 2019 calendar year and is listed as week-to-week. His WHL team, the Everett Silvertips, finished atop the U.S. Division and will play Tri-City in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Alex Kannok-Leipert scored five goals and 19 points in 67 games for the Vancouver Giants this season who will face Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
  • It is also tournament time in the NCAA. Quinnipiac will have to wait until Friday’s selection show to discover where they will play in this year’s NCAA tournament. Chase Priskie had to watch his Bobcats get swept in the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals by Brown as he was serving a two-game suspension for a kicking penalty in the season finale. The good news for him is that he was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, just the third finalist in school history. He was also named ECAC Hockey First Team All-League.
  • Steven Spinner saw his season come to an end as Nebraska-Omaha was swept by Minnesota Duluth 2-0 in the NCHC Quarterfinals. Spinner scored two goals and four points in 29 games this season.
  • The season is also over for Benton Maass as well as New Hampshire was swept by UMass 2-0 in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Maass had one goal and six points in 30 games. 

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How Jakub Vrana could be game changer for Caps over next two seasons

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How Jakub Vrana could be game changer for Caps over next two seasons

The Capitals took care of their last major order of business this summer by signing restricted free agent Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract extension. 

The deal: Two years, $6.7 million with a salary-cap hit of $3.35 million. That’s not bad for an RFA who posted 24 goals in his age 22/23 season.

Washington now has 13 forwards under contract and six defensemen plus both goalies. According to the invaluable web site CapFriendly.com, that leaves salary-cap space of $935,706. That's tight. 

The Capitals need to add one more depth defenseman to get to seven. Christian Djoos received a qualifying offer of $715,000, but as an RFA himself elected to go to arbitration. That hearing is July 22. Chandler Stephenson, another RFA, also chose arbitration. The forward has his hearing on Aug. 1. There might be room only for Djoos unless another move is made. 

During his age 22/23 season, Vrana broke through with a career-high in goals (24) and points (47) and established himself as a legitimate top-six forward on an aging team that needs its young talent to produce if it wants to continue as a Stanley Cup contender.

With captain Alex Ovechkin, 33, center Nicklas Backstrom, 31, and right wing T.J. Oshie, 32, in the top six, Washington has kept a good mix with Vrana, 23, Tom Wilson, 25, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, 27, all still in their 20s. Vrana, especially, plays at a speed few others on the roster other than Carl Hagelin can match.  

Since the 2010-11 season, a player who began a season 22 or younger scored 24 goals just 95 times. The list of 55 players who accomplished that feat is littered with stars (Connor McDavid, Nathan McKinnon, Patrick Kane, Taylor Hall) or young phenoms (Sebastian Aho, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel) and there are very few one-hit wonders or busts on that list. 

At worst, those players have provided steady production for several seasons. The Capitals are hoping for a lot more from Vrana, who scored his 24 goals and got his 47 points with limited power-play time (93:28) on the second unit. 

That might not change much this year, but it’s intriguing to think what Vrana could do if injuries strike and he’s moved up. He was on the ice for 59 goals at even strength and just 37 against, which was the best differential among all Capitals forwards last season.   

The two-year bridge contract is no real surprise. The Capitals took the same tact in 2017 with Andre Burakovsky, their 2013 first-round draft pick. But Burakovsky, while he scored some huge goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, struggled to maintain consistency in his game and never had a year like Vrana’s 2018-19. He was traded to Colorado last month in part because of the salary-cap crunch and he just drove coaches crazy for the better part of five years.

Vrana is in essence betting on himself. If he is able to make another leap and get to that 30-goal mark, he will still be a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season at age 25, but one with vastly more leverage. He would be arbitration eligible. He was not eligible this summer. He would be in line for a big payday on a long-term deal from Washington - or would have just two years left before unrestricted free agency after the 2022-23 season.

A similar RFA case happened with the Toronto Maple Leafs and forward Kasperi Kapanen this summer. The Leafs gave their young winger a three-year bridge deal worth $9.6 million and a $3.2 million salary-cap hit. They, too, were facing a tough salary-cap crunch. Kapanen was the 22ndoverall pick in 2014. Vrana was 13ththat same year. Kapanen had 20 goals and 24 assists (44 points) this past season. Vrana gets more power-play time, but Kapanen kills penalties (125:22).    

So Vrana in the end received a little more money than the Kapanen deal and can re-set his contract sooner if he breaks out big. Washington believes that he can and will because Vrana’s skill is undeniable. 

Go back and look at some of his best goals from last season. They often came off the rush when opposing defenders simply couldn’t deal with him or when he snuck behind a defender for a rip off and a scoring chance. He is almost always the last regular on the ice after practice. He’s scored a big goal in a Stanley Cup clincher.

The Capitals now have a balanced top nine with a solid mix of veterans and in-their-prime players. Vrana still has to prove he can build on the promise of last season and his pointless playoff series against Carolina in April, while allowing for a possible shoulder injury, shows his game isn’t a finished product quite yet. 

But Vrana is the one young under-25 forward on the roster – likely in the entire organization – who has the raw talent to become a 30-to-40 goal, 60-to-70 point player. That’s the package the Capitals hoped they were taking in the first round five years ago. Now we will see if Vrana can get there. 

 

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Jakub Vrana's top 5 moments as a Capital so far

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Jakub Vrana's top 5 moments as a Capital so far

Jakub Vrana has made it through his entry-level contract and signed a new deal Tuesday for two-years, $6.7 million.

To celebrate his new bridge deal, we look back at the top 5 moments from Vrana's last three seasons with the squad.

5: Vrana's first goal

Against the Buffalo Sabres on the road, Vrana introduced himself to Capitals fans with a tap-in off an Evgeny Kuznetsov feed to beat Robin Lehner.

It would be the first of 40 goals he's scored in his young Caps career.

4: Pick-pocketing the Flyers

They say the best offense is a good defense, but Vrana didn't have to settle on this goal.

With a nifty poke check at the Caps defensive blue line, Vrana went full blast towards the Philadelphia Flyers defense, beat them, then roofed a shot for his 13th goal of the season.

3: Helping to lift the curse against the Penguins

Vrana scored his first-ever playoff goal against the Penguins during the 2018 Stanley Cup run, but it was his Game 5 dagger that put Caps fans on their feet.

Thanks to a cross-crease feed from Alex Ovechkin, Vrana was able to slot the puck past Matt Murray in the dying minutes for the game-winning goal. The Caps would add two more, going on to win 6-3.

2: Stanley Cup Celebration

It's no secret the boys partied hard after they won the Cup in 2018, and Vrana presented us with one of the greatest moments during the epic celebration. 

This moment with Joe B. will never, ever get old. The party continued at the Stanley Cup parade a couple days later. 

After a solid show along the parade route, Vrana graced us with his stellar dance moves.

1: Game 5 Stanley Cup Final opening goal

Big players come up in big games, and Vrana proved to be one of those players in the Capitals' 2018 Stanley Cup run.

In enemy territory against the Vegas Golden Knights with the Stanley Cup on the line, Vrana powered down the ice and roofed a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for the opening goal of Game 5.

Here's to hoping we see many more big moments in the years to come from Jake the Snake.

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