It's time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.
Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Luka K. writes: Which Hershey players have a legitimate chance of making opening night roster? Jonas Siegenthaler seems like a safe bet and Tyler Lewington is probably in competition for 7D, but what about forwards? Are Liam O'Brien, Nathan Walker or Axel Jonsson-Fjallby ready to be full-time 4th line NHLers? What went south between the Caps and Riley Barber? Why not show more respect to 4-year good organization soldier in Riley? Can't blame Riley for wanting fresh start but is it possible he changes his mind with a 2-year one-way minimum NHL contract? Should Caps offer him that?
I would not even consider Siegenthaler to be a "Hershey" player anymore. He is an NHL defenseman and that's where he will be next season. Lewington will be in competition for the No. 7 only out of necessity. He really is more of an AHL player. If the cap crunch gets to be too much this offseason and the Caps do not sign a depth defenseman, then sure. Otherwise, probably not. I also see Liam O'Brien as more of an AHL player. I do not think he can contribute enough at the NHL level to warrant getting a roster spot in Washington, especially considering the decrease in fighting across the league.
Of the prospects most likely to compete to make the NHL roster, Walker and Jonsson-Fjallby would be my picks, but both players are still huge question marks. Walker is an unrestricted free agent so if the Caps wanted to go this route, Brian MacLellan would have to convince him to re-sign. I spoke with him in May while the Bears were still in the playoffs and he said he would be open to a return. If he does re-sign, I think he could definitely be a good fit as a fourth line player or as the 13th forward.
Jonsson-Fjallby's ceiling I see as a third-line NHL player. Whether he will be ready for that role next season, however, is a different story. This is where going back to Sweden hurts. His game is similar to that of Carl Hagelin and losing Hagelin would sting a little less if the Caps knew Jonsson-Fjallby was ready to make the jump to the NHL. The team could feel more confident about that had he stayed in Hershey and had a full season of North American hockey under his belt. Instead, he left for Sweden and now has 16 games of North American experience in his career. He is going to have to really impress the coaches at training camp to convince them he does not need more time to adjust.
While in Hershey, I also got a chance to speak with Barber. I asked if he would be open to re-signing and he said, "I've spent a while here. I know how [the Capitals organization feels] about me. Didn't get a lot of opportunity. I don't think I'd see myself coming back, but I never know."
That seems pretty definitive to me.
The fact is that the Caps have been all-in on trying to win the Stanley Cup the last several years and signed a lot of depth free agents as a result which kept Barber from getting a real shot at the NHL. Whether they would have signed those players if they thought he could contribute or if he was not given a chance to contribute because the Caps signed those players is a chicken and the egg debate with no real answer. What we do know is that Barber has played in three NHL games in four professional seasons and he wants a chance to prove he is an NHL player. I doubt that will be in Washington which is sadly ironic because next season is the year there will be spots open.
Justin C. writes: If you had to pick one Caps prospect who has the most potential to be a franchise mainstay, who would it be and why?
Ilya Samsonov and Alex Alexeyev are the two players I see as having star potential. Samsonov has all the tools to be a top-tier starting goalie, he just needs to adjust to the NHL game and develop those skills. The only reasons why re-signing Holtby is even a debate is because the Caps have their next starter in the pipeline. Having watched him play in Hershey, he still has work to do to develop his game, but given how dramatically he improved from the start of the season to the end, I do not think it is a reach to believe we could see Samsonov play a handful of NHL games next season.
Alexeyev looks like he has all the tools to be a top defenseman on an NHL team. He has the size, the skill and his maturity is next level. When the Caps brought the Stanley Cup to development camp last year, he would not have his picture taken with it. He told me it was because "I should deserve my Stanley Cup. Then I can take pictures."
Having said that, I want to see what Alexeyev looks like next season coming off the knee injury. Can he return to 100-percent and does he remain the star player he was before the injury? Alexeyev would not be the first-star junior player to fizzle in the AHL, but I like him and his skillset a lot.
Nathan S. writes: Do NHL teams run camps or academy's in other countries the way MLB teams do in Latin America? Are there other efforts by NHL teams to develop talent in Europe and elsewhere or is NHL content to allow local teams and leagues to act as a farm system for the NHL?
The European leagues have the resources and organization to provide solid training and competition for future NHL players. MLB camps in Latin America offer resources a lot of those players would not otherwise have. Those camps also allow MLB teams to discover talent. NHL scouts have relationships with teams in Europe and scouting these players to find talent is not really an issue. In that sense, there is no real need to hold camps in European countries.
The NHL is always looking to increase its footprint and expand its market, hence the Global Series games, but in terms of development I do not think the league is looking to reinvent the wheel and open up camps all over the continent. Teams want their prospects to get to the AHL as soon as possible and develop them from there.
Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
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