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Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Hershey update: 16-6-4-2, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-1

Hershey Bears goalie Vitek Vanecek was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on Dec. 18.

Vanecek was given two starts over the week. He turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced in a shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday and stopped all 22 shots he faced Sunday against Springfield for his third shutout of the season.

You can see highlights of the shutout here:

In his first season in the AHL, Vanecek has earned a .930 save percentage, 1.85 goals against average and an 8-3-3 record in 14 appearances. His three shutouts is tied for second in the league.

This is Vanecek’s first AHL honor.

Vanecek is playing exceptionally well in the AHL, far exceeding my expectations. With his play I believe the Caps will at least consider promoting him next season to serve as backup to Braden Holtby if Philipp Grubauer is plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft.

Grubauer is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he almost certainly will re-sign with the Capitals. But Grubauer is rapidly becoming one of the most likely targets for Vegas in the expansion draft given his play this season.

Vanecek’s play in the AHL would certainly soften the blow of losing a dependable backup.

Granted, it’s not automatic that Vanecek would get the promotion to the NHL. He is a 20-year-old prospect with zero NHL experience. Expecting him to be able to start 15 to 20 games next season in the best league in the world would be a big jump. But I think he has at least earned consideration, especially if he keeps up this level of play throughout the 2016-17 season.

Forward Tim McGauley is finally healthy and poised to make his AHL debut in the upcoming week as he was recalled by Hershey from the ECHL on Sunday.

McGauley’s professional debut was delayed due to an injury, but he finally suited up for three games in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays. He earned an assist while there, his first professional point.

In his junior career, McGauley scored 259 points in 276 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

In other Hershey news, Stanislav Galiev tallied a goal and an assist in his return from injury this week. Defenseman Darren Dietz scored his first goal with the Bears on Sunday in the win over Springfield.

Travis Boyd continues his phenomenal season with two goals and three assists in three games. He currently leads the Bears in points with 28. Liam O’Brien and Christian Djoos also put together an impressive week as they each tallied four assists.

In one other note, Bears captain Garrett Mitchell has more holiday spirit than you do.

https://twitter.com/HockeyJunkie82/status/810660202634743810

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Day 10

Other prospect notes:

In their first tuneup game in preparation for the World Juniors Tournament, Caps prospect Damien Riat scored a goal for Team Switzerland in a 4-3 loss to USA on Wednesday. Switzerland boasts two Caps prospects on the roster with Riat on offense and Jonas Siegenthaler on the blue line.

Check out a preview of the team for the tournament here from the SB Nation page “Eyes on the Prize.”

One player who should be at the tournament, but was not included on Team Canada’s roster is defenseman Connor Hobbs. He continued his sharp play in the WHL this week with a goal and an assist on Saturday, earning third star of the game honors.

You can watch the highlights here;

Hobbs boasts a fantastic slap shot, but what I love about this game is that he didn’t use it on either of his two points. On the goal, he recognized he had an opening and elected for the more accurate wrist shot which he hit perfectly in the top shelf. He showed that he doesn’t have to just unleash the slap shot every time he gets the puck. He has more than one tool in his arsenal and he’s smart enough to know when to use each.

Hobbs is definitely a player to watch as he continues to develop.

Just in case anyone forgot who the Stingrays’ NHL affiliate was, they made sure to remind everyone with these Caps-inspired alternate jerseys.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Burakovsky not enough for Caps in Philly

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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