Capitals' prospects Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary, both defensemen, competed in the 2019 World Junior Championship in Canada last week, flashing their offensive prowess in the under-20 tournament that spanned from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Playing for Team Russia and Team Slovakia, respectively, they combined for 11 points. When their teams met in the quarterfinal, both players scored a goal. Team Russia would prevail, then lose to Team USA in the next round and eventually capture Bronze.
But where it was most important to the Capitals - evaluating their own - the 2018 first- and second-round picks in the NHL Draft delivered.
"I couldn't have been happier with the way they played," said Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney. "You're playing against, and with, the best in your age group in the World Junior games. And they're certainly on great pace."
Alexeyev scored two goals - one on a power play, the other for a game-winner - and recorded four assists in seven games total. He placed second in points among Team Russia defensemen, reflecting his numbers in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels, where he's tied for fourth among defensemen in points per game (1.03).
"You have to play well in all areas," said Alexeyev, who called the World Junior Championship one of the best experiences of his hockey career. "I thought I did good things on defense, but I've also made it a point to add offense to my game."
Washington drafted Alexeyev No. 31 overall in 2018 primarily for his puck-moving and skating abilities as a defenseman. But Mahoney saw even more in the World Junior games, noting the 6'4" prospect's effort on the power play and penalty kill as well. Alexeyev's versatility forced Team Russia to keep him on the ice.
"In every game, if [Russia was] winning by one or losing by one, he was on the ice," Mahoney said. "The coach showed a lot of confidence in him. Alex showed how patient he is with the puck. He has that ability to slow the game down."
"I just try to use my size and speed to gain control of the puck and help set up plays," Alexeyev said. "I've really worked hard on [improving] on the power play this season in Alberta and it was good to [contribute] during the junior tournament."
Fehervary, the captain of Team Slovakia, notched five points (1g, 4a) in five games, which led Team Slovakia defensemen. The Capitals drafted him in the second-round in 2018, 15 picks after Alexeyev, taking particular note of his presence on the penalty kill.
Fehervary showed that potential in the tournament, Mahoney said, as the 6'1" Slovak threw a few hits and competed for the puck on the disadvantage. But his skating and leadership, at just 19-years old, were a pleasant surprise.
"He showed a little more offense," Mahoney said. "He was the captain on the power play. More in the penalty killing, checking role, but he played really well [on offense, too]. He can skate. He's a smart player, really competitive. Obviously making the captain of the team says a lot about his character."
The Capitals anticipated three defensive prospects competing, but Team Switzerland's Tobias Geisser, 19, was sidelined with an injury. Mahoney said Geisser's progressing well, though, both in terms of his recovery and development with the Hershey Bears in the AHL.
And while Alexeyev and Fehervary are chasing bigger things for their hockey careers, the World Junior Championship isn't merely a stepping stone. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who's played in four World Championships, still reflects on the junior event as one of the highlights of his career.
He competed in three World Juniors for Team Russia, capturing gold in 2011 and breaking the record for most points in a game for a Russian player in 2012, when he notched nine (3g, 6a) against Latvia. Kuznetsov said Alexeyev and Fehervary will look back fondly on these days, playing for their country on a big stage.
"Every tournament was special for me," Kuznetsov said. "When you're 19 or 20 years old, you probably don't understand, but you can only play [in the World Juniors] a few times in your life. Just like Rookie of the Year - you only have one chance to win. But it's a huge tournament. You can see how people in Canada love it - they sell out almost every game. The atmosphere and experience, you'll remember forever."
Kuznetsov offered a few words of encouragement for his fellow Russian, with who he spent time in training camp and the preseason.
"He's a pretty good guy and I'm pretty sure he's going to have a good career in the NHL," Kuznetsov said. "But it's about patience. If he keeps working like he's been working, he'll be playing [in Washington] soon."