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Prospect Report: Evaluating the Caps defensive prospects

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Prospect Report: Evaluating the Caps defensive prospects

Hershey update: 21-13-2-5, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-0-1-0

Riley Barber had perhaps his best game as a professional on Saturday to help lead Hershey to a 4-3 shootout win over Springfield. Barber scored twice and added an assist on Chris Bourque's game-tying goal.

"I felt early on that Barber was on," Hershey head coach Troy Mann said. "You saw his hands on that power play goal. It was good to see him have a big night. The puck's not always going to go in, but he's stayed patient and kept working."

You can watch the highlights from Barber's big night here:

As good as Barber was on Saturday, Travis Boyd has been more consistent over the course of the season. He currently ranks 13th among rookies in the AHL with 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists).

RELATED: Capitals players were skating on the roads, too

Bears assistant coach Bryan Helmer provided mid-season evaluations for the team's defensemen. You can read his full comments here and it's definitely worth the time, but here are some of the highlights of what he had to say about the Caps' prospects:

Tyler Lewington

He makes rookie mistakes, but he responds well after doing that and that’s what I like about him. He has to be physical and strong in front of the net because we don’t have lot of those guys on the back end.

In his first year as a pro, Lewington has established himself as a physical presence on the blue line. It's tough to do that as a 21-year-old. He has only three points in 19 games with Hershey, but offense is not his strong suit. He's sticking with what he knows and it's working for him, especially because Hershey does not have too many physical defensemen.

Madison Bowey

I compare him to John Carlson when he came here and I was still playing. He moves in from the point and always seems to do it at the right time. He wants to make plays and make something happen and plays with a swagger. He just needs to try and not do too much in the defensive end.

The issue of doing too much in the defensive end can often be a problem for talented players as they transition to a higher level of competition. In the WHL, Bowey had the skill to make up for his mistakes in his own end. That's no longer the case in the AHL and he certainly won't be able to do it in the NHL. Still, you have to like what you see thus far in his first professional season. His offensive acumen remains high, though his skill is more as a set-up man than a scorer.

Christian Djoos

Chrisitian Joos is very talented and calm with the puck who slows the game down and always seems to make the right plays. He’s put on some weight, seeing a nutritionist and working real hard at that. His hockey IQ is off the chart because he sees the game so well, but he gets in trouble in our end because he gets out-muscled.

Djoos has tremendous talent, but his size is a major concern. Hershey's website lists Djoos as 6-feet, 162 pounds and that may be generous (Elite Prospects lists him as 159 pounds). At that size, he would get pushed around at the NHL level. How could he be expected to defend against a power forward like Milan Lucic, for example? It's good to hear he's putting on weight because the talent is certainly there. If he had Bowey's size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds), Djoos would likely be considered the top defensive prospect in the Caps' system. He's that talented.

Connor Carrick

He’s starting to get it as far as playing both ends of the ice, is on the special teams doing a real good job on the PK. Overall, his whole game is coming around.

Despite the increased role he is enjoying in Hershey, Carrick just has not been able to stick at the NHL level. There was a real opportunity for him given to stay with the Caps for an extended period because of the injuries to Carlson and Brooks Orpik, but he did not take advantage. With Bowey enjoying a great rookie season, I'm beginning to wonder if Carrick's ceiling may be as an occasional call-up rather than as a full-time NHLer.

Other prospect notes:

Vitek Vanecek returned to action on Saturday in his first start for South Carolina since returning from the World Juniors tournament. It did not go well as he allowed five goals on 22 shots in the overtime loss.

The silver-lining is that Vanecek seemed to play better as the game went along. He gave up a goal just 12 seconds into the game and three goals in the first period. He would allow only one more in the next two regulation periods and even stopped a breakaway in overtime before he was eventually handed the loss.

You can see highlights from the game here:

Brian Pinho is enjoying a terrific sophomore season for defending national champion Providence College. With an assist in Saturday's win, Pinho matched a career high five-game point streak. He has also matched his point total last season with 18 despite playing in 17 fewer games. 

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby: 'Our goal isn't to win the regular season'

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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