6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

Hockey is back! Well, sort of. While the start of the NHL season is still weeks away, actual games will be played starting this weekend in Antioch, Tenn. as the Prospects Showcase begins. The Capitals are once again participating in the tournament that will also feature prospects from the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Washington's first game is on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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Whatever happens in a prospect tournament should be taken with a grain of salt. Whether players struggle or dominate, it has little bearing on their NHL hopes. Having said that, there are a number of prospects who Washington will be watching very closely.

Here are six players you need to watch in the Prospects Showcase.

Alexander Alexeyev

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Washington's first-round pick from 2018, but how close is Alexeyev to being NHL ready? This tournament may give us a sense of that.

Granted, Alexeyev is a first-round talent playing primarily against players who were picked below him in the draft or perhaps are even free agent invites. He should be one of the best players in the tournament because he is one of the best players on the roster, at least on paper. That means the bar will be set very high.

The salary cap crunch in Washington has left the entire blue line in flux. There are spots on the third pairing up for grabs and it would solve a lot of problems if a player on an entry-level deal like Alexeyev were to show he was ready. That is a lot to ask for a player who just wrapped up his junior career, and we should not go into this tournament expecting Alexeyev to simply be the best player on the ice. Though if he wants to make a real push to reach the NHL this season, it would probably have to begin with a strong showing in Antioch.

Also, let's not forget Alexeyev's season ended with a brutal knee injury. We have seen him at informal skates, he scrimmaged against other prospects in the NHLPA's rookie showcase, where he said the knee was "amazing" and he had zero limitations. Now we get to see him in a competitive game situation.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and projects as a bottom-six NHL forward. He did himself no favors last season, however, when he left Hershey after just 16 games to return to Sweden. Regardless of the personal circumstances that may have led to his decision, the problem is he has very limited experience playing the North American game. This offseason we saw Caps general manager Brian MacLellan sign Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway, four players who will play primarily on Washington's bottom two lines, to four-year contracts. That is pretty damning for how far away he thinks Jonsson-Fjallby is from the NHL.

Being in Tennessee, obviously this tournament will be played on a North American-sized rink. Jonsson-Fjallby is a player to watch just to see how he handles the smaller rink and faster style of play.

Brett Leason

At 20-years old, Leason is supposed to be a lot closer to the NHL than most second-round draft picks are immediately after getting drafted. I have no doubt he will start the season in Hershey and probably stay there for the next year, but who knows after that?

Leason has a big frame and lots of tools, but how far along is he really? Physically, he should be one of the most mature players in the tournament. If Leason excels, that is a good indication he is right where he is supposed to be in terms of development. If not, then it may mean more than a year in Hershey to hone his skills and prepare him for the NHL.

Connor McMichael

McMichael is the first forward taken in the first round by Washington since Jakub Vrana in 2014, but reviews on him were mixed after he was selected. Some thought he was a reach and there were better targets available, while others loved the pick. This tournament will give us our first glimpse of him playing in a Caps jersey, allowing us to see if McMichael really was a first-round talent or if the Caps reached.

Ilya Samsonov

In case you have been living under a rock, Braden Holtby is on the last year of his contract, and it is going to be very hard for the Capitals to bring him back. So the question is not if Samsonov should get NHL playing time this season, it's when?

The decision of whether or not to move on from Holtby and anoint Samsonov as the new starter will not be made based on anything he does in this tournament, but it will give the team a gauge of just how far along Samsonov is in his development. Should the team call him up early in the season? Later? Is he not progressing as hoped? Is he ahead of schedule?

Samsonov looked very raw last year and still in need of more time to develop. With a decision on Holtby's future coming in the next year, however, Samsonov's timeline may be speeding up a bit. A solid showing in the tournament would certainly help the team feel better about getting him some NHL games this season.

Joe Snively

Most college free agents do not turn into big-time NHL prospects or players. Ultimately, there is usually a reason why they did not get drafted. Snively, however, may prove to be the exception.

Snively excelled in college, scoring 36 points in each of the past two seasons at Yale. He stepped into Hershey last season for nine games and recorded two goals and five assists. He should be even better this year as he grows more accustomed to the pros.

Still, because we have only seen him in a handful of games in the AHL, it's hard to gauge what his potential may truly be. That makes him very intriguing in this tournament. How does he stack up against other top prospects around the league?

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6 Capitals prospects to watch in the Prospects Showcase originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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