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Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Hershey update: 37-18-8-3, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 4-0-0-0

Madison Bowey made an early return to the lineup on Friday in his first game since Dec. 28. Bowey suffered a lacerated tendon against Syracuse that day that was expected to keep him out of the lineup until April. On Friday, however, Bowey was back in for the Bears. He played in three of Hershey’s four games over the week and tallied one assist.

Fellow defensive prospect Christian Djoos remained red-hot with another outstanding performance. Djoos scored two goals and two assists in Friday’s win over Hartford including the game-winner in overtime.

Djoos recorded at least one point in each of Hershey’s four games over the week and now has three goals and 11 assists for the month of March.

On a team that already boasts Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler within the organization, Djoos is often overlooked, but his recent play cannot be ignored. He has been absolutely fantastic. There is no question he has the skill to be an NHL player. If he bulks up, Djoos is someone who should see some time in the NHL next season.

Hampus Gustafsson, who was signed by the Caps on March 7 as a college free agent out of Merrimack College, made his professional debut on Friday as he suited up for the Bears. On Wednesday, in his third game, he recorded his first professional assist.

Speaking of defensive prospects, the Bears have added another to their roster. On Monday, the Capitals re-assigned Siegenthaler to Hershey. Siegenthaler’s season in the National League A in the Switzerland came to an end as his ZSC Lions were eliminated in the playoffs. The young blue liner recorded one goal and six assists in 34 games.

Hershey head coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that Siegenthaler would practice with the team, but would not play in his first week.

Siegenthaler is a highly regarded prospect, but the one question mark he has is how he will adjust to the North American game. He played in six games for Hershey last season and his performance was underwhelming and a family issue over the summer also affected his play in Caps’ training camp. But, he was fantastic in the 2017 World Junior Championship so it’s hard to know just what to expect from him. The talent is there, but how will it translate to the AHL/NHL? I think the Caps are hoping to see a lot more improvement from him from last season’s performance. I also believe this summer’s development and training camp will be critical for his future within the organization.

Pheonix Copley continued to show why he has taken over as Hershey’s top netminder with three wins over the week, turning aside 88 of the 93 shots he faced.

With Philipp Grubauer a potential target for Vegas in the expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov under contract in the KHL until 2018, Copley may compete to backup Braden Holtby next season. Isabelle Khurshudyan goes into more detail in her article in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

If Copley does play for the Caps next season, he will at least look the part with his sweet new mask.

Though he may not be getting nearly as much playing time as he was before the Copley trade, Vitek Vanecek put together a solid month. In his four March appearances, Vanecek registered a 3-0-0 record, 2.18 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Other big performers from the week include Travis Boyd (one goal, six assists), Riley Barber (two goals, two assists), Stanislav Galiev (three assists) and Garrett Mitchell who scored two goals including his 100th career point.

Finally, while I focus the prospect report on younger players, I would be remiss if I did not note the outstanding performance of forward Paul Carey. Carey scored six goals and two assists in Hershey's four games over the week, including a four-goal performance on Saturday in the Bears' 6-4 win over Hartford.

With his monster performance, Carey is now tied with Christian Thomas for the team lead in goals with 24. Yes, he scored a full quarter of his goals for the season in just one week.

RELATED: Playoff opponent watch: Toronto jumps into wild card

Other prospect notes:

It’s March so it’s time for the real madness to begin. Shane Gersich’s North Dakota and Brian Pinho’s Providence both made the cut for the NCAA hockey tournament. North Dakota is a 3-seed in the West Region and will play No. 2 Boston University on Friday. Providence is a 4-seed in the East Region and will play No. 1 Harvard also on Friday.

Gersich saw his team fall in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final to Minnesota Duluth on Saturday after upsetting Denver in the semifinal. North Dakota gave up the game-winning goal with less than a minute to go in a devastating 4-3 loss.

In some happier news, Gersich made the cut as one of the Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA as ranked by SB Nation’s College Hockey blog.

Gersich came in at No. 43.

Gersich has always been a very smooth skater. This year, he’s added a little more muscle to his frame, making him much better at winning battles along the boards. He’s more of a shooter than a playmaker, and the extra bulk has made his shot more effective as well.

Gersich likely projects to play a scoring role at the pro level, so the big increase in scoring is a positive sign for his development.

You can see the full profile on Gersich and the rankings so far here.

Chase Priskie’s season is over after Quinnipiac fell 4-1 to Harvard in the ECAC Hockey Tournament Semifinals. He was named to the ECAC Hockey Third Team on Friday. Last season, he was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.

It’s also postseason time for the WHL. Each of Washington’s five WHL prospects will play in the playoffs.

Lucas Johansen and the Kelowna Rockets will face Garrett Pilon and the Kamloops Blazers in the first round starting on Friday. Kelowna and Kamloops finished 2nd and 3rd in the B.C. Division, respectively.

Dmitri Zaitsev will also be in the postseason as Moose Jaw finished 2nd in the East Division. They will play Swift Current in the first round.

The only Caps’ prospect whose playoff hopes had not yet been determined was Beck Malenstyn. The Calgary Hitmen were fighting for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend. Malenstyn came up big to lead the Hitmen into the postseason with a hat trick performance in his team’s 6-1 win over Kootenay on Friday. He was named the second star of the game, second to Kootenay’s goalie who allowed the six goals so go ahead and figure that one out.

For the season, Malenstyn scored 32 goals and 24 assists.

Calgary’s reward for making the playoffs is a first-round matchup with the Regina Pats. Regina finished with the top record in the WHL thanks in large part to the performance of defenseman Connor Hobbs.

On Saturday, Hobbs set a franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman with his 31st of the season.

Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post spoke to Hobbs about his impressive season.

Hobbs led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals and 85 points in 67 games. He was named the top defenseman in the Eastern Conference and named a first-team all-star.

“It’s an honour and it’s really cool to be talked about in those conversations,” said Hobbs. “I’m really proud and I’m so thankful I had the teammates I did this regular season to help me get to that point.”

Defenseman Cody Corbett, who was acquired by the Caps in the trade that sent Joe Cannata to the Colorado Avalanche, recorded an assist in each of his first two games with South Carolina in the ECHL.

Like Siegenthaler, Damien Riat saw his NLA team, Geneve-Servette, eliminated from the playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of EV Zug. For the season, he had seven goals and seven assists.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk still looking for first goal as a Cap after scoring change

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Will Samsonov overtake Holtby this season as the starter?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Will Samsonov overtake Holtby this season as the starter?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

@bikeandtrainfan on Twitter writes: Rob. Do you and Alan think there is a much deeper reason as to why Braden Holtby has looked a bit woeful the first week plus?

First, you spelled “JJ” wrong. Second, I have to wonder if pressure over being in a contract year and the fact that Ilya Samsonov is on the roster are messing with Holtby’s head. I asked him this directly on Tuesday and he kind of skirted the question.

Holtby has been in goalie competitions before, but this is different. When Philipp Grubauer overtook him for the starting job in 2018, Holtby was still under contract so at least he was secure in that way. He still had to reclaim the net from Grubauer, but I never got the sense that the organization believed Grubauer was their long-term starter.

Samsonov, however, is different. You don’t draft a goalie in the first round unless you believe he is going to one day be the starter. Now he is in the NHL, backing up Holtby and playing well. The fact that he is with the Caps this season with Holtby on the last year of his contract is no coincidence and I'm sure that fact is not lost on him.

It also won’t be lost on Holtby that the team is tight against the salary cap and there is virtually no way it can afford to bring him back if he makes anything close to his market value. Perhaps he rebounds and plays well the rest of the season in which case he earns a contract at least comparable to Sergei Bobrovsky’s which carries a cap hit of $10 million. That’s more than the team can afford. On the other hand, Holtby could continue to struggle making his value goes down. At that point, why would you re-sign your struggling starter when his replacement is already here ready to go?

It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for Holtby who looks like he is going to play himself out of town with either good or bad play.

...Or maybe this is just a short slump that all goalies go through and Holtby’s right, we won’t even be talking about this a month from now.

Douglas F. writes: With Ilya Samsonov playing really well to start the season and Braden Holtby struggling a bit do you think Samsonov could start over Holtby like Philipp Grubauer did in 2018?

That depends on what you’re asking. If you’re asking could Samsonov get to a point where he is considered the No. 1 heading into the playoffs? Sure, I could see that. If you are asking could Samsonov start taking the bulk of the starts and finish with 45-50 or more starts this season? No, I dont’ see that unless Holtby completely bottoms out.

First off, when Grubauer took over as the No. 1, he had a lot of starting experience at that point. He played in 50 total games in 2014-15 (49 with Hershey, one with the Caps), 45 games in 2013-14 (28 with Hershey, 17 with the Caps), 56 games in 2012-13 (26 with the Reading Royals, 28 with Hershey and two with the Caps) and 43 games with South Carolina in 2011-12. The team knew Grubauer could handle the rigors of being a starting goalie.

The most games Samsonov played in a single season was 37 and it came last year with Hershey. There is no way the team just decides he is going to be the starter from now on and put him on pace for a bulk of the starts in his first NHL season.

Even when Holtby was at his worst in 2018, Grubauer did not just take over. Holtby was pulled from a game on March 6 and was given some time to reset. Once he returned, it was an even tandem. Holtby got back in on March 16. At that point, there were 12 games remaining in the regular season and Holtby ended up starting in six of them.

@Cappie2020 on Twitter writes: Why does Reirden keep going back to Chandler Stephenson over Nic Dowd?

When the Caps signed Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic in the offseason, I thought it was clear that Stephenson was on the way out. When he signed his new contract that was just under the maximum for a buried salary, I was positive he was Hershey bound and that training camp was just a formality. But Reirden challenged Stephenson in training camp to prove himself and he responded. That carries a lot of weight with coaches. I think the hope is that at his best, Stephenson can be a player like Carl Hagelin. He has the speed and I know Reirden likes him on the penalty kill which is why he kept getting in the lineup last year over guys like Dmitrij Jaskin.

Now sometimes in sports the unfortunate reality is a player can do everything you ask and it is still not enough. To me, that’s where I am with Stephenson. He did everything asked of him, but I don't see room for him in the lineup because the fourth line just clicks better with Dowd and Dowd is a more consistent player. Stephenson is better in terms of skill set than Dowd, but we do no see it consistently enough.

I understand why Reirden wants to keep Stephenson in and will be trying to find a spot for him. He earned at least that in training camp. Overall, however, I agree with you. Dowd is a much better fit for that line and should be playing. The fourth line can’t be just a placeholder for a guy you want to play on the penalty kill. If you want the fourth line to make an impact, it seems to produce and perform better with Dowd at center.

Benjamin C. writes: Richard Panik isn’t big on goal scoring but I haven’t seen any contribution from him whatsoever besides the PK. When do we start to seeing something from him?

Panik has not been great. I liked him a lot in the preseason, but he has struggled since the season has began. He was good against Dallas and had a great scoring opportunity against Colorado, but overall he has been unimpressive.

It's important to remember though that we are seven games into the season. I don't know if every high school was like this, but in mine we had "interim" grades which were a gigantic pain. They were report cards sent in the middle of the quarter that weren't official, but showed what your grade was at that point. They were always terrible because that point in the quarter even if you had one missed homework assignment it would drop your grade significantly. My parents were the type of parents who got on me about my grades so I always hated those stupid things.

The point of that seemingly needless tangent is that it is far too soon to write the book on Panik and declare him a bust. Let him settle in with his new team and his new role first. It is going to take some time. People don’t want to hear that, but sometimes it takes a while for a player to adjust.

So basically what I’m saying is that it is too soon to Panik.

See what I did there?

@sports_god1 on Twitter writes: Why does Todd have such an itchy trigger finger moving pieces around so much and so early? I mean they’ve been producing points up front, everybody except Richard Panik really.... leave it alone.

This is just something coaches do. Barry Trotz used to do this all the time. Reirden changed the lines and people are upset, but if he did nothing after that horrendous game against Colorado people would be upset about him not adjusting after a bad loss and saying it’s because he doesn’t know how to coach.

I’m not going to go nuts about the fact that Reirden is changing lines. Having said that...I’m not a huge fan of these lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Garnet Hathaway
Brendan Leipsic - Chandler Stephenson - Richard Panik

Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Radko Gudas
Nick Jensen - Tyler Lewington

There’s not much you can do with the defense until Michal Kempny returns, but I’m not sure putting Jensen on the left is a good idea. He does not seem to do well playing on his off-side.

Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie had its time, but in this day and age that’s a pretty slow line. I have long advocated Oshie should move down to the third line with Eller whom he has chemistry with. Oshie at this point would benefit from fewer minutes and the third line could use an offensive boost, but Oshie is playing really well right now and already has four goals, so I get it why Reirden would move him up.

Vrana has been in Reirden’s dog house for a while now. The problem is he is starting to become one of those players who, if he doesn’t score, he doesn’t do much else. You need more from a top-six player. Panik has struggled so I get that, but Hathaway is a fourth-line player, plus that fourth line was very good with Leipsic, Dowd and Hathaway. I mentioned before, I would not put Stephenson in over Dowd, but that’s just me.

Benjamin C. writes: The Capitals are struggling to close games out and hold a lead. This goes back to that Game 7 loss to Carolina. Is it a mentality issue? Blueline? Braden Holtby? Why are we blowing our leads every game?

My theory on this is that the Caps have been far too passive when playing with the lead. Let’s take the two games against Dallas as an example. In the first game, the Caps held a lead in the third period and did not even register a shot on goal until over 10 minutes into the period. By that point, Dallas had already tied the game. In the second game against Dallas, Washington was very aggressive in the third period and made a 2-0 game 3-0 early on.

Now let's be clear. I am not advocating for the run and gun Caps' style of defense which was, don't play any and always try to outscore your opponent. What I am saying is this team is not good playing on its heels and circling the wagons. They need to play a possession-heavy game and continue pressuring offensively and not simply let the opposition take it to them in the third.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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4 things to know for Caps-Maple Leafs: Caps go back to Samsonov

4 things to know for Caps-Maple Leafs: Caps go back to Samsonov

The Capitals (3-2-2) were handed an ugly loss Monday and will look to rebound against the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-2-1) on Wednesday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). The game is the second of a three-game homestand for the Caps. You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 6:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are four things to know for Saturday’s game.

Ilya Samsonov gets the start

Samsonov was always likely to get one start in the team’s three-game homestand, but it was expected he would start Friday’s game against the New York Rangers instead of Wednesday. After Holtby’s rough performance on Monday, however, Samsonov will get the start.

Reirden said Tuesday, “I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, [Holtby] gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

Will that reset mean Holtby starts Friday or will it last longer than that? That's the big question. Reirden would not commit to Holtby starting on Friday, but did say there is no goalie controversy and Holtby remains the No. 1.

New lines

Monday was Washington’s worst game of the season thus far and in response, Reirden decided to mix up the lines. Here is how the Caps will lineup on Wednesday:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Garnet Hathaway
Brendan Leipsic - Chandler Stephenson - Richard Panik

Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Radko Gudas
Nick Jensen - Tyler Lewington

I have long thought that Oshie would benefit from a move down to the third line where he would get fewer minutes, but play with Eller who he has good chemistry with. Oshie is second on the team with four goals already so I understand the thought to move him up instead of down.

Vrana has been in Reirden’s dog house for much of the season for his inconsistent play. He is a top-six talent without questions, but he is in danger of turning into a player who is only good when he scores. You need more from your top-six. Plus, the third line has struggled to find much production so hopefully he can boost that.

It has been a tough start for Panik who is still looking for his first point as a Cap. I thought he played well against Dallas and he had a good scoring opportunity against Colorado, but the Caps need more than zero points.

Still no Kempny

Kempny will not play Wednesday so the Caps will have to figure out the defense against one of the top offenses in the league.

Holtby definitely had his struggles on Monday, but he also did not get much help from the defense. The first goal came with Andre Burakovsky left uncontested to screen Holtby, the second goal came off a turnover by John Carlson and a misplay on defense and the third goal was the result of a misplay by Tyler Lewington on Nazem Kadri. That will have to change Wednesday or the Caps can expect a similar result.

A back-to-back for the Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs played on Tuesday meaning Wednesday’s game is the second leg of a back-to-back for them. Then again, they hosted the woeful Minnesota Wild so they probably aren’t really all that tired.

Toronto won 4-2 and the stars all came out to play with Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares each recording a goal. Most importantly, Frederik Andersen got the game which should mean Michael Hutchinson will get the start in Washington.