With injuries mounting, the Capitals suddenly have a youth movement


Just about every expert you can find was not impressed with the Capitals prospect pool. The Athletic's Corey Pronman, for example, ranked Washington's prospect pool 28th out of 32 teams in September. Now a month into the NHL season, the Caps have leaned on its young prospects in a way the team was not expecting and, after the announcement of Anthony Mantha's surgery on Friday, they will be leaned on even more as the season continues on.

"Our guys will have to step up and opportunity for somebody to take on some minutes or jump on a power play and contribute," head coach Peter Laviolette said.

This was never the plan. If the Capitals had a healthy lineup, few of these rookies would be playing at all. With Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd in the middle, there's no room for centers Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre and Aliaksei Protas. Nor would there be a need for winger Brett Leason. Perhaps Martin Fehervary would still be with the team as he clearly beat out Michal Kempny for a spot on the blue line in the preseason. Beck Malenstyn may also be with the team as a 13th forward, but that's it.

Injuries, however, have forced Laviolette's hand. So far this season, Fehervary, McMichael, Lapierre, Protas and Leason have combined for 27 games played, four goals -- all of them NHL firsts -- and three assists.


"I’m so happy for everybody they made it so the guys have played pretty good, they like all score the first NHL goal so it’s really good," Protas said. "Good for them so they’re playing good and keep working like on the ice off the ice."

Though their minutes and roles on the ice have been limited, all players have impressed in their time at the NHL level. This does not mean that Pronman's rankings were wrong -- in fact, all five rookies are players he had listed in his article as being some of the team's top prospects -- but that the Caps are really maximizing what they can squeeze out of their prospect pool at the moment.

"We need these guys," Laviolette said. "Right now we need them. And they’ve done a good job.” 

These players have played well and seem to have injected a bit of youth and excitement into a very veteran locker room, but that alone is not enough to get the Caps to their ultimate goal.

Washington let it be known that its goal this season is to compete for a Cup. While their rookies all have bright NHL futures ahead of them, only Fehervary has managed to step into the lineup and established himself as a difference-maker right away. Very few players are able to do this so this should not be the expectation, but it also highlights the importance of getting their veteran players back as soon as possible and send the young players back where they can continue to develop their game.

The future may be brighter than many expected, but the future is still not now for Washington.