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Caps Prospects at 2019 Showcase, II

Part two of a look at the Caps' two dozen players at the 2019 Prospect Showcase

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

During the Caps' 2019 summer development camp at Medstar Capitals Iceplex, Caps director of player personnel Steve Richmond generously spent some time with us, going over a number of the young hopefuls in the system. Since he and we didn't have the time to run through all of Washington's prospects, we mostly stuck to those who will be playing professionally this season. The notable exceptions are the four players the Caps drafted in 2019, only one of whom (forward Brett Leason) is likely to play professionally this season. 

What follows is the second of a two-part rundown of the 24 players who will be in Nashville later this week for the 2019 Prospect Showcase. Any and all quotes contained herein are from Richmond, in a lengthy interview conducted two months earlier. Part one was published on Thursday; the Caps play their first game of the tournament on Saturday afternoon against Carolina.

Bobby Nardella, defenseman (signed as undrafted free agent on April 5, 2019)

Nardella comes from a hockey family; his dad Bob Nardella starred for several seasons with the AHL Chicago Wolves in the 1990s, and the elder Nardella has been an assistant coach with the Wolves for the last three seasons. Bobby Nardella was a standout offensive defenseman at Notre Dame for the last four seasons, signing with the Caps upon concluding his collegiate career last spring. He dipped his toes into the pro waters soon after, getting into two late-season games with Hershey, where he will vie for playing time in 2019-20.

Garrett Pilon (3rd round, 87th overall, 2016 NHL Draft)

Like Malenstyn, Pilon is a 2016 draftee who played in last fall's Prospect Showcase ahead of his first full season as a pro in Hershey. Pilon finished the campaign with 10 goals and 33 points in 71 games. As a 21-year-old heading into his second pro season, Pilon is one of a handful of Hershey forwards who could see NHL time as soon as this season. 

"Last year he started out a little slow point-wise, and got a little frustrated as a first-year guy who has been used to scoring his whole career. But by the end of the year - and obviously [Mike] Sgarbossa was their best offensive player - he was their most creative guy, the guy who could generate the most offense, up front for sure.

"He is a young kid and it's going to take some time, but we're patient with him. He is going to play a top-six role this year and he is going to be on the power play. He is another guy with speed, and when he's got the puck he is good. And when he doesn't have the puck, he's not good. It's weird, and we're working on that with our skating coach, making sure he can get that good first step and then be able to maintain speed throughout a shift, because he breaks down too much right now.

"But again, he is a young kid who is just learning how to train. Even though he comes from an NHL background, there wasn't much training in him. And now he has had a whole year and will have another whole year. I think he has a chance to play [in the NHL] for sure."

Brian Pinho (6th round, 174th overall, 2014 NHL Draft)

Three of the players - Andre Burakovsky, Madison Bowey and Zach Sanford - the Caps chose ahead of Pinho in the 2013 Draft have established themselves as NHL players, and all three have been dealt away, leaving Pinho and defenseman Tyler Lewington as the only two players from that draft still remaining in the Washington system. After concluding his collegiate career at Providence College, Pinho turned pro last season. In a bottom-six role with the Bears, he finished with four goals and a dozen points in 73 games, adding a game- and series-winning overtime goal in the playoffs. At 24, Pinho is the second oldest player on Washington's roster and one of the oldest in the tourney.

"He came in as an offensive guy because he was the best player on his team [at Providence College] so he got to play on every power play. But I told him, 'You're not an offensive guy here. If you want to believe me and believe the staff that we can find a role for you in the bottom six as a PK guy, a face-off guy who can play left wing, right wing or center, be versatile and use your speed, you have a chance to play.'

"We're going to put him in that role as a third- or fourth-line guy down there so he can be ready to come up here. But I told him he needs to be the best penalty killer down there, and if he is playing center, he has got to be the best face-off guy. People always come back to Jay Beagle, but it's a great example. He found his niche. He was the hardest worker on and off the ice, right? And he worked on his skating all of the time and he became the best face-off guy in the league. He has been in the league for 10 years now, and he is doing pretty good for himself. I think [Pinho] realizes that now, and I think it's good for him because now he has a vision of what we think of him, and he can work on this all summer."

Aliaksei Protas (3rd round, 91st overall, 2019 NHL Draft)

Protas is an 18-year-old pivot from Belarus who stands 6-foot-4 and tips the scales at 205 pounds. He played some hockey in North America earlier in his teen years, and returned to play for Prince Albert last season, where he was a teammate of Leason's. Protas turned 18 midway through the season, totaling a respectable 11 goals and 40 points in 61 games. But he got better as the season wore on, and he put up beastly totals of 12 goals and 22 points in 23 Memorial Cup playoff games.

"If you see him, he looks like he is 12 years old. I don't think there is a whisker on his face. Me and Olie [Kolzig] were meeting with him and Olie goes, 'You look like the spitting image of a young Vincent Lecavalier.' When we interview guys, we ask them about nicknames. He had a nickname, but he hates it so we've been calling him Vinny. But he is exciting because he is so big physically. He is a big dude now. He looks like he has really good hands, and he is a good kid with a good attitude. He is obviously committed to the game. His skating needs work, but that's okay, that's why we're here. He is not going to play for us this year or next year or the year after, probably, but he's got a lot of things to work with. It looks like he has a good touch, a good feel. Once he gets going he is okay, but like a lot of big guys that first step for sure needs work, and we know that now. We are starting a program to make him a little quicker."

Joe Snively (signed as an undrafted free agent on March 18, 2019)

Snively is a local product who was born in Herndon, Va. He played youth hockey in the area before embarking upon a successful collegiate career at Yale, where he led the team in scoring in each of his four seasons and was a Hobey Baker nominee in 2018-19. Snively got into nine late-season games with Hershey and acquitted himself well; he scored twice and had seven points in nine games. He is another of several players who figure to comprise a large class of first-year pros in Hershey this season.

Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen (7th round, 213th overall, 2017 NHL Draft)

The Norwegian winger spent his draft season of 2017-18 playing in Sweden, but came over to North America and played the 2018-19 campaign as Florchuk's Saskatoon teammate. He totaled 13 goals and 29 points in 62 games with the Blades last season, but is not currently among the 16 forwards listed on Saskatoon's preseason roster for 2019-20.

Ilya Samsonov (1st round, 22nd overall, 2015 NHL Draft)

Tampa Bay chose goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Seven years later, the Florida Panthers chose netminder Spencer Knight with pick No. 13 in the 2019. In between those two first-round goaltenders, only Washington's Ilya Samsonov was chosen as high among goalies in any draft. Samsonov cut his teeth playing in the KHL from 2015-2018 before making his North American pro debut with Hershey last season. After a slow start, Samsonov finished strong in 2018-19, and he is almost certain to make his NHL debut at some point in 2019-20. He is the only first-rounder from 2015 who has yet to debut in the league.

"He did have a tough start last year, which I expected for sure. The number one reason was he had never been away from home. Now, he has been away from home. We put him in a bad spot down in Hershey, having him room with [Sergei] Shumakov, but he felt comfortable because he was Russian. As soon as that guy left, all of a sudden he turned into a different person down there. Now he had to mingle and talk to all of his teammates and hang out with them, because he had no crutch. He couldn't just go to practice with Shumakov and then go eat Russian food and speak Russian. Now he had to communicate. So it was no coincidence that his game started slowly getting better.

"Sure, the angles and the style of play and guys crashing the net are different than in Russia, but he didn't play a lot really in Russia the last couple of years so he had to re-learn everything. I think [Hershey goalie coach Alex Westlund] and Scotty [Murray] did a great job with him, bringing him along slowly and believing in him even though he was struggling to stop the puck. But you could see him getting a little better every week and then around January both goalies took off. And Vitek [Vanecek] was really good for him, too. They were partners. They hung out together, they worked together, they helped each other, they pushed each other, and it was a good relationship and they both benefited from it.

"Sammy is going to be here in July. So he is going to come and spend the summer here, and Scotty Murray is coming back a month early to work with him, and I think he will be so much further ahead at the start than he obviously was last year."

Riley Sutter (3rd round, 93rd overall, 2018 NHL Draft)

Sutter played well for Washington at the 2018 Prospect Showcase before heading into what was likely his final season with WHL Everett. Sutter turns 20 in October and is eligible to turn pro this fall. He was off to a strong start with Everett before a frustrating late-December injury intervened, derailing most of the rest of his season. He finished the season with 14 goals and 41 points in just 38 games.

"Obviously [the injury] set him back. I was at the game when he got hurt, and their staff didn't see it as that serious when it happened. They thought it was 4-6 weeks, but obviously it was more than 4-6 weeks and the kid was getting a little frustrated because they kept saying, 'One more week, one more week,' and it winds up being like three months. I think it is 100 percent healed, but it's probably still sore and he is still trying to get everything back together.

"He is obviously a big kid, strong, competes, best face-off guy in the WHL. He is a guy who has skill, so when he has a chance to score, he'll be able to finish. His skating is good, but his first step has got to be better and he knows it. And I told him, 'The quicker you can be, the higher you can play in the lineup.' He's got the skill to play at a top level but he doesn't have the speed right now. He needs some quickness. But he is a young kid, and obviously the genes are pretty good. Another workaholic, a good teammate, plays hard, hard to play against. He gets a lot of good advice from his family and he is a great kid, so he will get better."

Logan Thompson, goaltender (undrafted free agent, signed to a Hershey contract on May 21, 2019)

After three seasons with WHL Brandon, Thompson turned in a fine 2018-19 season (18-6-0, 2.22 GAA, .934 save pct.) with Brock University (St. Catharines, Ont.) He got into eight late-season games with ECHL Adirondack after his season ended at Brock, and also played a full game with AHL Binghamton. Thompson signed a Hershey deal last spring, and he offers the Bears a viable goaltending insurance policy for the season ahead.

Mitchell Vanderlaan (free agent invitee)

Vanderlaan is one of only two free agent invitees for the Caps at the 2019 Showcase (goaltender Beck Warm is the other; free agent goalie Logan Thompson signed a Hershey contract in May). A native of New Brunswick, Vanderlaan spent the last four seasons playing college hockey for Cornell, finishing up with a career-high 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games in 2018-19. After finishing his Cornell career, he got into two late-season games with AHL Utica.

Sebastian Walfridsson, defenseman (5th round, 151st overall, 2017 NHL Draft)

Since the Caps drafted him two summers ago, Walfridsson has skated in 53 games with MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish League, totaling five assists. Washington is fairly stacked with blueliners, so it likely makes more sense for Walfridsson to continue his development in Sweden rather than in Hershey for the upcoming season.

Beck Warm, goaltender (free agent invitee)

Warm is a 20-year-old native of Whistler, B.C. whose workload has increased dramatically over the last three seasons with Tri-City of the WHL. Warm saw action in 10 games in 2016-17, 35 games in '17-18 and backstopped the Americans in 61 contests last season, tying for the league lead. Warm posted a 32-23-5 mark with a 2.94 GAA and a .916 save pct. for Tri-City in 2018-19.

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