It was widely known that Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov was planning to stay in Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League, but with Monday’s news that he had signed a two-year contract with Traktor, it became concrete.
While Kuznetsov’s decision hardly came as a surprise, it highlighted the fact that Washington’s organizational depth among its forward prospects is incredibly thin.
As of now, arguably the Caps’ most NHL-ready forward prospect is Cody Eakin, who saw 30 regular season games with Washington last season. Yet, Eakin’s time in the NHL had the opposite effect of what the Caps probably hoped would become of their highly touted prospect as his mystique wore off as the season progressed and his deficiencies (offensive consistency on the NHL level, size) were brought to the surface.
After Eakin, the Hershey Bears currently possess little to no semblance of impact players. Mattias Sjogren, who was thought to be one of the aforementioned players when he signed last summer, did not impress, even leaving North America altogether during the season before returning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last month, Washington traded Chris Bourque, who had plenty of scoring upside, but could never translate it to the NHL level, to the Boston Bruins for Zach Hamill, who fits the same exact mold. Michael Carman will likely remain in the AHL throughout his career, while Garrett Mitchell and Christian Hanson might see some NHL time as fringe players in an energy role.
There is a reason why Hockey’s Future recently ranked the Caps 27th out of 30 teams in regards to overall prospect talent: they have a “surplus of role players,” but a “shallow pool in terms of overall NHL potential,” none of which have “proven game-breaking ability outside of Kuznetsov.”
Fortunately for Washington, it looks like help might be on the way. Stanislav Galiev will begin his first professional season in 2012 after another productive season with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A season with the Bears is likely in store, but that will allow Galiev to build strength and develop his game, which the Caps hope will be similar to that of Alexander Semin (minus the temperamental issues). Also, the Caps possess two first-round picks in this month’s NHL Draft at 11th and 16th. Both picks could bring in much-needed forward reinforcements.
The Caps have enough high-end forward talent on the main roster to keep them competitive for now, but they must restock the pond with quality forward prospects sooner rather than later. The last thing Washington – or any team for that matter – can afford is for the prospect pipeline to run dry.