Hershey update: 11-4-3-1, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 3-0-0-0
One of the players to watch this preseason was 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana.
Vrana has yet to make his NHL debut, but has shown clear talent in the AHL and was thought to be one of the few players with a chance of breaking into a stacked Capitals roster. Ultimately, he was cut and sent back to Hershey.
On Wednesday, Vrana was recalled to Washington and could potentially make his NHL debut on Thursday against the New York Islanders.
So what changed?
Vrana’s biggest weakness in the preseason was puck distribution. He has shown improvement in that area recently, however, with four assists in his last three games.
Vrana currently sits tied for third in the AHL with nine goals. Goal scoring is his clear strength, but he is showing more versatility now with seven assists as well.
The Caps have been inconsistent offensively of late which explains why they would look to someone like Vrana, but his recall was made possible because he now seems to be more responsible with the puck.
What other players could be playing their way into a call-up this season?
Christian Thomas’ signing did not garner much attention in the offseason, but he has been spectacular in Hershey. Thomas currently sits tied with Vrana for the team lead in goals. Travis Boyd notched two goals and two assists in Hershey’s last three games and now is tied for first on the team with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists).
Nathan Walker showed the NHL isn’t too big for him with an impressive showing in the preseason. He carried that momentum with him to Hershey. With two goals and one assist last week, the Australian prospect now has 11 points on the season. He also leads the team with a plus-13.
Defensively, Madison Bowey is day-to-day with an injury, but he has at least tried to stay ready should he get the call to the NHL.
“I watch the Capitals whenever I can and see their system because you never know when the call might come and you want to be ready,” Bowey told Don Scott of the Lebanon Daily News. “I take notes on what their D-men are doing because I know that will help me here and to get up there.”
Barring injury to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer, we won’t be seeing Vitek Vanecek in D.C. anytime soon, but the way he has played certainly opens the possibility that he could get a shot next season.
Vanecek continued his impressive play with another two wins between the pipes. The Czech netminder earned his second shutout of the season with a 24 save performance over rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and added a second win on Saturday against Springfield. You can see highlights here:
Vanecek finished the game with 16 saves on 19 shots. One thing to note about all three goals he allowed is that they came in low. Perhaps that is an area in which he needs to focus over the next few weeks.
One quick injury update, Riley Barber has been out of the lineup since Nov. 13 with an upper-body injury. According to Scott of the Lebanon Daily News, Barber is not expected to return until January.
Other prospect notes:
— Damien Riat and Jonas Siegenthaler have both been named to the initial roster of Switzerland’s U20 World Junior Championship team. The team will have cuts after the first week of camp and again after two preliminary games so both players will have to earn their final spots in order to play in the tournament in Canada.
— One player who surprisingly did not make his country’s junior team is Regina defenseman Connor Hobbs. His exclusion from Team Canada’s roster is a surprise given that he attended the team’s development camp in the summer and is one of the WHL’s top scoring defensemen with 29 points in 21 games.
— Greg Harder of the Regina Leader Post did a feature on Hobbs and how the snub has motivated him to work harder. Check it out here.
— Shane Gersich had another impressive week offensively for North Dakota. On Friday, the forward prospect scored his 11th goal of the season and notched two more assists as he contributed to all three of his team’s goals on the night.
— Gersisch has clearly emerged as the top scoring threat on his team and one of the top threats in the nation and it’s a role he has embraced despite being only a sophomore, writes Tyler Buckentine of Minnesota Hockey Magazine.
— Goalie Ilya Samsonov may only be 19-years old, but he is already one of the best players in the world who is not yet playing in the NHL. Bleacher Report ranked the best players not currently in the NHL and the young Samsonov came in at No. 6.
“Samsonov is the backup goalie for his team but plays a lot and has been outstanding this season. The KHL is a strong European pro league, and Samsonov's strong performance at such a young age suggests the Capitals could have an impact goalie prospect on their hands.”
In 18 games this season in the KHL, Samsonov has registered an impressive .934 save percentage and 2.14 GAA.
One thing to note about the Bleacher Report’s analysis, however, is that it indicates the Caps may bring him to the AHL next season. They actually can’t do that because he is under contract with his KHL team until 2018. So for any fans out there who read the full article (which you certainly should), don’t get too excited. It will be at least another year before he plays in North America.
— One last piece of goalie news, congratulations to Adam Carlson who earned his first professional shutout on Sunday. Carlson turned aside all 19 shots he faced against Atlanta leading the South Carolina Stingrays to the win. Both teams were locked in a scoreless tie at the end of regulation, meaning Carlson had to stay perfect for over 60 minutes to get the win.
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