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Prospect report: Samsonov leads Russia to bronze medal

Prospect report: Samsonov leads Russia to bronze medal

Hershey update: 18-8-7-2, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 0-1-2-0

Liam O’Brien and Paul Carey were reassigned to Hershey on Tuesday. O’Brien was originally called up to the NHL on Friday as insurance as the Caps began a two-game road trip. That insurance turned out to be necessary as T.J. Oshie missed Monday’s game with an upper-body injury. O'Brien played Monday against Montreal and recorded 6:08 of ice time.

With 18 points this season in Hershey, O’Brien has already surpassed his 16-point total from last year.

Travis Boyd will be joining teammate Chris Bourque in the AHL All-Star game. This is his first selection. Boyd is the Bears’ leading scorer with 31 points this season.

The All-Star game will be held in Lehigh Valley on Jan. 29-30.

Zach Sanford scored two goals on Sunday in Hershey’s overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. You can watch highlights of the game here:

One thing to notice about Sanford is that a lot of his highlights don’t involve tons of stickhandling or a dynamic individual effort. He takes a pass, he shoots, he scores. That’s not a knock on his abilities in any way. One of Sanford’s best attributes is his positioning. It’s something I have always loved about his game. Even when he doesn’t have the puck, he always knows where to go. Both of his goals reflect that. He's in a great position where all he has to do is finish the play.

On the first, he positioned himself on the far-side of the net, setting himself up for a shot in which the goalie would immediately be out of position. It was a difficult angle to make, but he was able to nail the shot. On the second, Sanford positions himself in the slot for the easy shot.

Those kinds of instincts can be hard to teach.

Riley Barber appears to be nearing his return as his status has been upgraded to week-to-week. Initial projections after the injury are that he would return sometime in January. The latest upgrade to his status seems to indicate he remains on pace.

RELATED: Carlson leaves Thursday's practice early with injury

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov helped lead Team Russia to a bronze medal in the IIHF World Junior Championship with a 38-save performance against Sweden. His performance earned him some high praise from Swedish forward Rasmus Asplund who said, “Samsonov is a great goalie. He can win matches for Russia, like he did today. We had a lot of chances, but we couldn’t convert them. He’s amazing. He’s going to be in the NHL pretty soon, I think.”

Samsonov finished the tournament with a 2.11 GAA and .930 save percentage, was named to the all-tournament team and was named the top goalie of the tournament.

Defenseman Connor Hobbs was named the third star in Regina’s 6-2 win on Fridayin the WHL. He recorded three assists in the game.

Hobbs continues to impress with both his play on both ends of the ice. He showed great stickhandling moves on his first assist as he skated through pressure in the neutral zone and carries the puck past the blue line before passing it off. What you don’t see as much of is his defensive acumen. Those skills don’t tend to translate well on highlight videos, but you do get a glimpse of it in his third assist as he sets up the rush with a good steal in the neutral zone.

The South Carolina Stingrays saw a seven-game win streak snapped on Wednesday, but it was still a good week for Tim McGauley who scored his first professional goal in Saturday’s win over Greenville.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Ovechkin did not keep anyone waiting

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Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

When you win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals, lead your team to a Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, you certainly belong in the discussion among the best in the game.

Even after Alex Ovechkin's incredible season, however, he falls just short of the top spot, according to NHL Network.

The NHL Network revealed the "Top 20 Wings Right Now" rankings as part of its countdown series on Sunday and Ovechkin came in second. Ahead of him was Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A compelling case could certainly be made for both players. Kucherov finished third in the NHL in points with a career-high 100 points (29 goals, 61 assists). Ovechkin, meanwhile, led the NHL in goals with 49 in his 87-point season.

The main argument for Kucherov is that he is 25 while Ovechkin will turn 33 in September and the ranking is for "right now." Ovechkin, however, is still basking in the glow of the Caps' Stanley Cup run which happened just a short two months ago. He also beat and outplayed Kucherov when the Caps met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, outscoring him with seven points (four goals, three assists) compared to Kucherov's five (one goal, four assists).

Ovechkin's case is a compelling one as evidenced by the fact that he edged out Kucherov in the fan voting.

And then...there's analyst Mike Johnson who believes Ovechkin is neither No. 1 or No. 2. In fact, he barely cracks the top five.

Father Time is undefeated and there will come a point where Ovechkin begins to decline. But when the last competitive NHL hockey game was played, it featured an Ovechkin goal and him hoisting both the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. Two months wasn't that long ago so perhaps we should not be expecting his production to fall off a cliff just yet.

The Great 8 has a way of making those quick to bury him look pretty foolish. Will he keep up that trend this season?

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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.

Today's team: Carolina Hurricanes

2017-18 Results: 36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Micheal Ferland, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Dougie Hamilton, D Calvin de Haan, G Petr Mrazek, head coach Rod Brind’Amour

Notable departures: F Elias Lindholm, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Derek Ryan, F Jeff Skinner, F Lee Stempniak, D Noah Hanifin, G Cam Ward, head coach Bill Peters

When they will play the Caps: Dec. 14 in Raleigh, Dec. 27 in Washington, March 26 in Washington, March 28 in Raleigh

Offseason recap: The offseason was one of change for the Hurricanes as new owner Tom Dundon tried to make his mark. Peters and Ron Francis are out, Brind’Amour and Don Waddell are in as coach and general manager. Carolina’s new front office had a busy offseason with a number of splashy moves.

Hanifin, Lindholm and Skinner all will have new homes next season as the Hurricanes traded all three players in two big-time trades. Hanifin and Lindholm netted the team Hamilton, Ferland and a prospect while Skinner brought back a prospect, a second, a third and a sixth-round pick.

In addition, Carolina also added Svechnikov with the second-overall pick in the draft.

Biggest strength: Defense

Carolina was solid defensively last season, it just didn't seem that way because of how bad the goaltending was. Adding de Haan and Hamilton bolsters what was already a formidable blue line.

Biggest weakness: Goaltending

Did I mention how bad their goaltending was last season? Darling and Ward combined for a .909 save percentage, better only than the Buffalo Sabres. Ward put up better numbers (2.73 GAA, .906 save percentage) than Darling (3.18 GAA, .888 save percentage), but he has moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks. To replace him, the Hurricanes picked up Mrazek who also struggled last season (3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage).

So to recap, Ward and Darling both had subpar years, but to replace Ward the Hurricanes picked up a goalie who was worse.

It makes sense that Carolina would want to give Darling another shot at earning the starting job considering they traded for him to be their starter of the future, but just because the goaltending could not get much worse than last season is no guarantee it will be better.

2018-19 season outlook: The Hurricanes enter the season with a lot of question marks.

Can Brind'Amour handle the responsibilities of being a head coach in the NHL with zero head coaching experience at any level? Did they do enough to address their scoring woes? Will someone play like a starting-caliber goalie? Is Dundon breaking the mold of an NHL owner or will his meddling negatively impact the team? Will Hamilton adjust to his new team? Is Svetchnikov ready for a top-line role in his rookie season? Is Sebastian Aho a center?

If they can find positive answers to all of those questions, this is a team that could surprise. More likely, however, there are simply too many issues in Carolina right now for this team to make any real noise.

A new owner, new general manager, new head coach and a new-look roster are too much for one team to adjust to in one season.

2018-19 season prediction: The Hurricanes miss the playoffs and it's not close.