When the 2019-20 season ended for the Capitals and the focus turned to the next season and what the roster would look like, prospect defenseman Martin Fehervary looked like an obvious addition.
He had played six games in the regular season for the Caps and another two in the postseason. Though clearly the NHL game was going to take some getting used to, he certainly did not look out of place or in over his head at all. And yet, when the dust settled on the free-agent frenzy, Washington had eight defensemen on their NHL squad without Fehervary and that's not even including Michal Kempny, who is out with an Achilles injury.
Why did a team up against the salary cap add three new defensemen instead of turning to a prospect who looks about ready to make the jump to the NHL? Does this reflect a sudden lack of trust or a downturn in his development? Absolutely not, according to Zack Fisch, voice of the Hershey Bears.
"I think he's a great hockey player and I think he is very close to making that jump," Fisch said on the Capitals Talk Podcast.
Fehervary's first season in North America was extremely impressive. In 2019-20, he played 56 games for the Hershey Bears where he recorded four goals and 10 assists. With his strong play, he carved a sizable role for himself on a Hershey team that had more defensemen than it could play.
"Really smooth skater, good first pass and sound defensively," Fisch said of Fehervary. "Can kill penalties, he's a good shot-blocker, can clear the net-front. And that's the benefit compared to an Alex Alexeyev, who I think has a very high ceiling, but Martin played against men playing overseas while Alex was playing junior hockey so there was less of a curve for him coming in where he starts in the NHL and then scores in his second game and really contributed."
So why is Fehervary and his less than $800,000 cap hit slated to play in the AHL next season?
Washington's Stanley Cup aspirations were dashed in the first round in 2020 after getting dominated in five games against the New York Islanders. The team's biggest weakness was on defense, particularly on the right side where there was no clear candidate to play right defense on the second pair.
General manager Brian MacLellan tried to address the team's hole on the right by adding three right defensemen in the offseason in Justin Schultz, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Paul LaDue. Though Fehervary has played on both sides, he is primarily a left defenseman.
Washington added three defensemen to the roster to fill a need on the right side, meanwhile the left side remains just as crowded as ever with Brenden Dillon, Dmitry Orlov and Jonas Siegenthaler returning for the 2020-21 season. Really, there's just no room for a budding left defenseman looking to make the jump to the NHL.
"I don't think the defensemen they've signed are the Capitals' feelings on Martin Fehervary at all," Fisch said. "I think they see that as an area to address and there were some pieces out there that they liked and you never know. With COVID and everything, it's probably good to have the extra bodies around."
As of now, Fehervary is one of those extra bodies. The good news, however, is that he is going to get plenty of ice time in Hershey to continue to hone his skills as Fisch said Fehervary is expected to be a top-pair player for the Bears coming into the season.
"There's not a problem with having a guy play some extra time in Hershey," Fisch said. "Even John Carlson who has obviously turned into a Norris candidate spent a little bit of extra time, maybe more so than people thought in Hershey. [The Capitals are] fine with that."