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Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov steals the show in World Juniors

Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov steals the show in World Juniors

Hershey update: 18-7-5-2, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-0

News broke last week that Madison Bowey, one of the Caps’ top defensive prospects, would be out indefinitely after suffering a cut by a skate to the tendon in his ankle.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir caught up with Bowey last week to talk to him about the injury. The projected time frame for the injury at this point is three months which would mean he would return at the beginning of April.

On the ice this week, Liam O’Brien put on a show for the Bears in Friday’s win over Bridgeport. O’Brien scored two goals and an assist in the game.

Watch the highlights here:

The game was the first three-point game of O’Brien’s career. He now has 18 points on the season, two more than he had in all of last season.

With the Caps currently carrying only 12 forwards on the roster, a call up from Hershey is imminent. Now is a good time for a player like O’Brien to be showcasing his talent.

When thinking about the team’s prospects in Hershey, O’Brien is not the player many jump to when considering who the Caps may call up. He is a gritty forward who is not afraid to drop the gloves. He played in 13 games for the Caps in 2014-15 scoring one goal and one assist. But O’Brien is proving he can me more than just an agitator this season.

"In the past, you'd think of him as maybe a tough guy, fourth-line left-winger, try to get him some penalty-kill time, try to turn the momentum," Hershey head coach Troy Mann said, "but now he's able to do that and contribute offensively, as you saw on the pass to Stephenson on the first goal."

It has been a tough season for Stanislav Galiev who has been limited to only 15 games due to injury. But the Russian forward had a good week with one goal and two assists including a great spin move to set up Brad Malone for the goal (see it in the video above). Malone made the play harder than it needed to be as Galive fed him the puck on his forehand with an empty net yawning, but Malone elected to deke and go for the five-hole rather than take the easy goal. Luckily, he still was able to finish the play.

Zach Sanford scored the Bears’ lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Providence on Saturday. In just nine games with Hershey, Sanford already has five goals and four assists.

RELATED:Orpik among the many Capitals amped up for Jackets

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov had a rough start tot the World Junior tournament allowing five goals against Canada, but he has played very well ever since.

On Dec. 29 in Russia’s first game against USA, Samsonov made 34 saves in a 3-2 loss. He followed that performance with two shutouts against Slovakia and Denmark. The in Wednesday’s semifinal rematch with USA< Samsonov really kept Russia in it for much of the game, making 40 saves in the 4-3 shootout loss.

You can see highlights of all four games he played over the past week here: USA (first round), Slovakia, Denmark, USA (semifinal)

It’s important to keep in mind while watching Samsonov that he is 19 years old and still very much a work in progress. You can see he over commits on a few goals and is slow to react on others, especially when dealing with a screen. The third goal he allowed in the semifinal game is ugly. That’s one he has to have.

But the junior tournament also highlighted Samsonov’s raw potential. He is similar to Braden Holtby in that he seems to play with an aggressive style. He is quick with the poke check which he used to stop a penalty shot in Russia’s first game with USA. While the third goal in the semifinal game was bad, he also came up with a big glove save on a penalty shot to keep the deficit at one in the third period. That was a big-time save in a big-time moment.

Samsonov has a 2.33 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage at the World Juniors. There have been only four shutouts in the entire tournament and he has two of them.

Russia will play in the third-place game against Sweden on Thursday.

It was also a successful tournament for the Caps’ two Swiss prospects, Jonas Siegenthaler and Damien Riat. Both players tied for second on the team in points with 1 goal and five assists each. Siegenthaler’s six points have him tied for second among all defensemen.

The reviews of Siegenthaler were particularly glowing as the young defenseman proved to be the Switzerland’s workhorse on the blue line. He led the team in ice time with an average of 25 minutes per game.

TSN analyst Craig Button also named Siegenthaler as a junior all-star.

In the college ranks, Chase Priskie tallied one goal and one assist in the Three Rivers Classic for Quinnipiac and was named to the All-Tournament team. Brian Pinho recorded three assists in Providence’s two games and now leads the team in points with 17 in 18 games.

Forward Beck Malenstyn had an impressive week in the WHL as he scored three goals and one assist in three games for the Calgary Hitmen. He now leads the team in goals with 16 and is second on the team in points with 25.

South Carolina goalie Adam Carlson was scratched from his start last week. He was not on the bench for either of the Stingrays’ games this week and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 bold predictions: Can Caps halt Columbus' win streak?

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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USAT Sports Images

Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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