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What's goalie prospect Vitek Vanecek's upside? Let Olie Kolzig explain

What's goalie prospect Vitek Vanecek's upside? Let Olie Kolzig explain

The injury to Ilya Samsonov left an opportunity for another goalie to step in as the backup to Braden Holtby and prospect Vitek Vanecek has taken that opportunity and run with it. He beat out Pheonix Copley for the job despite the fact that Copley was the backup just last season in 2018-19. When looking at the Capitals' future in net, that conversation has largely begun and ended with Samsonov. But what exactly is the upside of Vanecek? Who better to ask than Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig is one of the best goalies in franchise history so he knows a thing or two about goaltending. As a professional development coach for Washington, he is also very familiar with Vanecek. Kolzig joined the broadcast on NBC Sports Washington on Monday and, when asked about Vanecek, he offered a glowing review.

"I think if you see the small sample size that he showed last week in the exhibition game against Carolina, he can fill in adequately," Kolzig said. "He's got a great demeanor about him, players love playing for him and his progression over the last three or four years has been nothing but phenomenal."

RELATED: VANECEK WILL PLAY IN ROUND-ROBIN, CAPS' FATE THOUGH WITH HOLTBY

Vanecek now has five years of experience in North America under his belt, but has yet to play in an NHL game. He has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, but his appearance in Wednesday's exhibition against the Carolina Hurricanes was the closest he has come to NHL action.

With the likely departure of Holtby in the offseason, there is going to be an opening on the roster at the goalie position. That makes the biggest question on the mind of Caps fans is just what is Vanecek's ceiling?

"I think he can definitely be a No. 2 in the NHL," Kolzig said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he could battle for a No. 1, but as of now is a No. 2. He's progressed here since [the Capitals] drafted him. His demeanor, his relationship with his teammates, he just needs to be seen. He needs to get some NHL action because he's proved it at the East Coast level and the American League level, but small sample size we saw last week shows he can do it so far at the NHL."

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This is going to be a tricky situation for Washington. If the feeling on Vanecek is that he is a No. 2, then you can see why the team was all-in on Samsonov this season as the backup to Holtby to prepare him for the future. Even if Samsonov is the No. 1 going forward, however, it is not a given that Vanecek will be the No. 2. If the Caps still see themselves as contenders, will general manager Brian MacLellan really want to hand the crease over to two goalies with a combined 26 games of NHL experience? Probably not.

Having a No. 2 goalie in the system is a good player to have, but the timing of it makes it difficult to see what the possible future of Vanecek may be in Washington.

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan doesn't expect John Carlson to miss games with injury

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan doesn't expect John Carlson to miss games with injury

The Capitals believe John Carlson will be ready for the round robin and do not expect him to miss any time due to injury, general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday. Washington's first round robin game is against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 3.

Carlson did not play the final 10 minutes of Wednesday's exhibition game after getting tangled up behind the red line and falling to the ice. He did not practice on Thursday, but head coach Todd Reirden said he expected Carlson to be back after the team's day off. MacLellan reiterated that hope.

RELATED: CARLSON MISSES PRACTICE

"I think they’ll go through treatment today, that’s the hope that he will be [there Saturday]," MacLellan said. "We’ll see how treatment goes today and make a decision there tomorrow morning."

While the news is encouraging, MacLellan also stressed that the team was going to be very cautious with their star defenseman.

"We’re not going to put him in a situation where he can further risk injury and it will hinder his performance going forward here," MacLellan said. "Our most important games are going to be the first round, so we’ll make a decision based on where he’s at health-wise and recovery-wise."

When asked if Carlson would be ready for the start of the round robin, MacLellan said, "Yeah, I think so."

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MacLellan also provided an update on goalie Ilya Samsonov who was in Washington for training camp, but was not on the ice for any practice and was ultimately left behind when the team departed for Toronto.

"He had an off-the-ice injury back at home in Russia, didn’t pass his physical, and we’re working with him in the rehab," MacLellan said. "He should be available to start next season."

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