Caps Prospects at 2019 Showcase
Part one of a look at the Caps' two dozen players at the 2019 Prospect Showcaseby 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 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 two will be published on Friday, before the Caps play their first game of the tournament on Saturday afternoon against Carolina.
Alexander Alexeyev, defenseman (1st round, 31st overall, 2018 NHL Draft)
Alexeyev is one of three first-rounders at the 2019 Showcase. After the Caps chose him with the final pick in the first round at the 2018 NHL Draft, Alexeyev played his third season for WHL Red Deer, totaling 10 goals and 43 points in 49 games. Alexeyev skated in the 2018 Prospect Showcase and was one of the Caps' best players in that tourney. With a November birthday, Alexeyev is one of a handful of Washington prospects likely to turn pro in 2019-20 rather than return to junior hockey for an over-age season. His 2018-19 season was cut short by a late-season knee injury.
"I think he will be a very good player for Hershey in the American League. This is the first time he has ever been committed to conditioning. He spent a lot of time in Hershey after his injury at the end of the year, rehabbing his injury with [Bears strength and conditioning coach] Mike Wagner down there and with [Caps strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish]. They put a program together for him, and his strength numbers have improved dramatically and his body has improved in that short time.
"He didn't have bad training habits, but he was in a bad spot training-wise with where he was going. He was going to California, and we told him we didn't want him going to California. We wanted him to stay in St. Petersburg and we found a trainer up there that would monitor his situation. He has been away from home for a long time, so we told him to go home and spend some time with his family, and we have a good setup for him there.
"He is going to come back to DC at the beginning of August and spend some time with our guys and our trainers, and the other players will be here. I think you are going to see a way different player in September, which is hard to believe because he is a really good player now. He is pretty close to playing some games [in the NHL]. He is a great kid with a great attitude, and I think he is figuring out that, 'Okay this is serious now, and I've got to listen to what these guys are saying.' And we know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two."
Kristofers Bindulis, defenseman (signed as undrafted free agent on March 7, 2017)
Before signing with the Caps, the Latvian blueliner played in the NAHL, the USHL and he also played a season of college hockey at Lake Superior State in 2016-17. Injuries have limited Bindulis to just 50 pro games in two seasons, and he only played four games last season, all with Hershey.
Kody Clark, right wing (2nd round, 47th overall, 2018 NHL Draft)
Clark had a slight uptick in his production with OHL Ottawa in 2018-19, totaling 17 goals and 46 points in 57 games, while more than doubling his PIM (from 38 to 98). Clark turns 20 in October and can turn pro this fall. He played for the Caps in last year's Prospect Showcase.
"He really took strides last year. He had a tough start to begin with, but he got better as the season went on. He was on a really good team and he played an important part, and by the end he was on the first line, played on the PP and a little PK. His physical game really came around; he played hard, he finished checks and he finished them with a purpose. He has really good hands and can really shoot the puck, but he's got to work on his finish and making the right plays more often offensively to generate more offense. But his skating and his compete are good. He has so much room to grow and he has grown a lot already, I think five or six inches the last couple years."
Martin Fehervary, defenseman (2nd round, 45th overall, 2018 NHL Draft)
Only a couple of months after he was drafted in the summer of 2018, Fehervary was a standout for the Caps at the 2018 Prospect Showcase. He went on to have a strong season as a 19-year-old playing for HV71 Jonkoping in the Swedish League in 2018-19. Fehervary turns 20 next month and is able to turn pro this fall. He is one of the top prospects in the Washington system right now.
"I saw him play quite a bit [in 2018-19] with his team at HV71 [Jonkoping] and he played 18-21 minutes a game. He played on the PK, played late in the game, played a regular shift. I think he is head and shoulders above anybody right now, even Alexeyev. Someone has got to be first, and for me he is first. He is a powerful skater, he is really strong, competes like crazy, a workaholic away from the rink, great kid, great attitude, understands the game. I mean, I thought he could have played for us last year, to be honest with you. At the end of the year, I thought for sure he could play [in Washington], no question. I'd be shocked if he is not playing games for us this year. I think he is our best prospect right now. Everyone knows he is good, but he is going to surprise people when the exhibition games start."
Eric Florchuk (7th round, 217th overall, 2018 NHL Draft)
A center, Florchuk put up 21 goals and 50 points in 68 games with WHL Saskatoon last season. He will return to the Blades for his final junior season in '19-20, and will be eligible to turn pro next season. Florchuk might have a larger role in Saskatoon this season as Blades center Kirby Dach was drafted third overall by Chicago over the summer and could spend the season in the NHL.
Toby Geisser, defenseman (4th round, 120th overall, 2017 NHL Draft)
Geisser was the first player chosen by the Caps in the 2017 Draft, as Washington didn't have a pick until the fourth round. A tall (6-foot-5) defenseman, Geisser came over from his native Switzerland to play at AHL Hershey last season as a 19-year-old. As one of the youngest players in the league, he was deployed sparingly, but he also represented his country at the World Junior championship last winter.
"Despite the lack of ice time last year - and being a 19-year-old, it's hard to play in that league - I thought by the end of the year he was a lot better. They did a good job with him, and he got more involved offensively. I think he does have some offensive ability; not that he is going to be a 50-point guy, but he does have the skating ability and he has the sense to join the rush and lead the rush, and come late and generate some offense. He is strong, but he has got to know he is strong and play strong. He is getting a little more aggressive, and I think over time - when he starts playing regularly this year and he is in battles all of the time - he is going to start pushing back. He is going to have to.
"But he has got a lot of upside. Defensively, his stick is so good, you can't get around him. He has the reach of a wagon; he goes right across the rink. He closes on guys now, and we've just got to work on him closing on guys and finishing guys and punishing guys. Obviously it's not fighting, it's just finishing them with purpose - not because you have to, but because you want to."
Shane Gersich (5th round, 134th overall, 2014 NHL Draft)
Gersich got a taste of NHL action - three regular season and two playoff games - late in the Caps' Stanley Cup championship season of 2017-18. Last season was his first full campaign as a pro, and he finished with eight goals and 24 points in 66 games with AHL Hershey, adding a goal and three points in nine playoff games. This fall, the 23-year-old Minnesota native is one of several players in the mix for a fourth-line/extra forward role in Washington.
"He's another guy who is not really a pure offensive guy. He needs a lot of chances to finish, but he generates a lot of chances with his speed. They were happy with him last year in the role that he played. He came to work every day with a great attitude, tried to get better, he has gotten stronger, and obviously his speed is elite speed. He is hard on pucks, always disrupting things, sort of like [Axel Jonsson-Fjallby] but faster and more polished.
"I think he realizes what he is. He can shoot the puck; he's got good hands. I think he had 20 [goals] one year in college, but that was a great team and it was college hockey. And he was so much faster [than everyone else] that he'd have four or five chances a game. But in the American League, it's maybe one or two. And the odds are that you're going to have less in the NHL.
"First of all, his shot is really good but inaccurate, so he has got to work on that. But I think if he comes to play, and if he can add some more bulk without losing speed, he can play here. He needs to get stronger, because he is going to be bumping and grinding and when he gets outmuscled it's not because of lack of effort. It's just physics. He is working on it, and he is stronger now than he was at the beginning of last season and should be even stronger by the start of the season. The opportunity is there, and he knows that."
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (5th round, 147th overall, 2016 NHL Draft)
Jonsson-Fjallby played well at the 2018 Prospect Showcase, and he opened the 2018-19 season in Hershey before opting to return to Sweden where he finished the season with Djurgardens IF. A speedy left wing, Jonsson-Fjallby had two goals and three points in 16 games with the Bears and totaled a goal and 10 points in 36 games with Djurgardens IF, but added seven goals and 12 points in 19 playoff games. He is also in the mix for a varsity job as a fourth-liner/extra forward this fall.
"He's got the wheels and he's got the experience. He has played in the [Swedish] Elite league for two years. He played a big role for them the year before and last year. He played well in Hershey before he took the option to go home. He took the option, and it was his option, which we gave to him. He played well, but I think went 37 games without getting a goal and it was really frustrating for him. I saw him play quite a bit and I kept telling him, 'You're playing the right way. You're exactly the same player.' But it's easy for me to say, 'Hey, relax.' Then I think he got two goals in the next-to-last game of the season, and in the playoffs they went to Game 7 of the finals, and he was their best player. And he scored; I think he had seven goals in the playoffs. And still, the speed and the energy were there.
"He makes guys do things that they don't want to do because of his tenacity, and he has a good stick. He's just got to maybe settle down a little bit. Sometimes he gets too excited and he tries to make the great play. He's got to stop with the cross-ice pass where the guy burns him, and then he is out of the play and the puck ends up in the back of his net. He sometimes just needs to slow the motor down a little bit and just relax. He just gets so excited. He is another guy who has probably put on 15-20 pounds since we drafted him."
Alex Kannok-Leipert (6th round, 161st overall, 2018 NHL Draft)
Kannok-Leipert is another of many young defenseman vying to climb the organizational ladder, but he is also one of only a few right-handed shots among the Caps' bevy of youthful blueliners. After totaling five goals and 19 points in 67 games with WHL Vancouver last season, he turned in an excellent postseason performance with two goals and a dozen points in 22 Memorial Cup playoff contests. Kannok-Leipert turned 19 in July, and will be back in the WHL this season.
Brett Leason (2nd round, 55th overall, 2019 NHL Draft)
In his third and final season as a draft eligible player, Leason improved by leaps and bounds. Some believed he might be drafted as high as late in the first round, and the Caps were happy to be able to draft him late in the second round. The 20-year-old Calgary native piled up 36 goals and 89 points in 55 games with WHL Prince Albert, more than doubling his goal total and more than tripling his output in assists and points. He added 10 goals and 25 points in 22 playoff games.
"It's a great story and he's the kind of kid you want, a kid who is trending up. There is so much upside. And getting him here and seeing his body and talking to our strength coaches and the kid, he has done very little strength training. He is far from a finished product physically for sure, and obviously in his game. We've been drafting late and haven't had many high picks, and having to wait two years for a guy like [Connor] McMichael [to turn pro], now we all of a sudden get a guy who is almost ready made to turn pro. It's like we drafted him three years ago and he spent his two years [in junior] and he got better and we get him now, when we need an injection of that kind of skill and talent in our lineup at Hershey. We can fast track him to the NHL; he is two years ahead of everybody who was drafted this year."
Leason is listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds on the tourney roster, and we wondered what his playing weight might be at the NHL level a year or two from now and what his role might be in Hershey this season.
"I'm thinking a strength coach would tell you he could put on 15 or 20 pounds for sure. As for his role in Hershey, he should be able to play a top-six role. People don't know this, but I've talked to our scouts and I saw it at the World Juniors, and he is a hell of a penalty killer. He has a crazy good stick. If you go back and look at tapes of the World Juniors, I don't know how many times he used it to deflect a pass, and you see it out here [at summer camp], too. It's exciting to get a guy like that."
Beck Malenstyn, (5th round, 145th overall, 2016 NHL Draft)
Malenstyn is a 21-year-old left wing who was part of Hershey's large freshman class last season. After playing in the 2018 Showcase, Malenstyn totaled seven goals and 16 points in 74 games with Hershey as an AHL rookie.
"I think they used him exactly as they needed to use him. He is a bottom-six guy no matter what league he plays in, but he plays the role really well. He can skate all day, has great endurance, he competes, and sacrifices his body. I don't know how many shots he blocked last year, but he will lay out for anything and he plays for his teammates. He can skate, but he needs to work on his skills stuff.
"He needs to be able to make plays off the wall in his zone. Too many pucks don't get out with him right now, and he is working on it. If he can get 99 percent of those pucks off the wall and out of the zone or to a teammate, and if he can finish from in tight a little bit, he will have a chance to play. But he has got to work on his skill and has to make his hands quicker."
Connor McMichael (1st round, 25th overall, 2019 NHL Draft)
One of three first-rounders on the Washington roster, McMichael gets his first taste of tournament action ahead of his first NHL training camp. The 18-year-old center put up 36 goals and 72 points for Dale Hunter's London Knights of the OHL in 2018-19, more than quadrupling his counting numbers in all offensive categories from the prior campaign.
"He is in pretty good hands where he is. Obviously we have a good relationship with the Hunters and I've talked to them a couple of times since we drafted him. So I don't have to worry about whether he is getting the proper training or being taught the right things. He is going to learn how to play the game the right way. I don't know him as a player; I've seen [video] clips and I've seen him here [at summer development camp]. It looks like he doesn't have many holes in his game. His skating is good, his skills are good and it looks like he's got good hockey sense. His work ethic is good. So there is really not much to worry about. We just want to make sure he is progressing, and where he is at makes it easier for me and for the Caps because we know for two years he is going to be shown the right way to play the game, and how to get to the next level quickly."