Caps' Development Camp takeaways: Which prospects stood out? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Capitals gathered some of the best young prospects in their organization at their practice facility this week for their annual development camp, putting the young players through a series of drills, tests and scrimmages to assess their progress and pinpoint areas of improvement for them to focus on the rest of the offseason.
It was a bit of a thinner group at MedStar Capitals Iceplex this year compared to summers past, though for good reason. All of Washington’s AHL players who helped carry the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup title in June were excused from camp to give them a chance to rest and recover.
That only served to benefit the Capitals’ prospects who did attend, increasing the coach-to-player ratio and giving the scouts and executives who watched from upstairs an extended look at some of the younger prospects in their system. Recent first-round picks Ryan Leonard and Ivan Miroshnichenko were among some of the biggest standouts, but they weren’t alone.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from development camp:
Ryan Leonard looked the part of a top-10 draft pick
Leonard has only been a member of the Capitals’ organization for a week. He reported to MCI for his physical and off-ice testing Friday just two days after walking across the stage at the NHL Draft in Nashville. Yet the No. 8 overall pick had no problem putting his talents on display, impressing the Capitals with his shooting ability and compete level.
“I think he showed why we were so pleased to get him,” assistant GM Ross Mahoney said Wednesday. “Strong, explosive, I think I said before after the draft — his shot, it was on display here at this development camp that we had. It’s not only accurate, not only does he have a quick release, but he has such a heavy shot…He’s not afraid to take the puck to the net to score goals in those tougher areas so yeah really, really happy with him.”
The second-youngest player in camp, Leonard will join a stacked Boston College roster this fall to continue his development before considering making the jump to the professional ranks. It’ll be at least a year or two before he starts accelerating his NHL track, but the Capitals are bullish on Leonard’s chances of developing into a goal-scoring impact player.
Ivan Miroshnichenko added weight, showed off goal-scoring capability
Participating in his first Capitals camp since being drafted 20th overall in 2022, Miroshnichenko would’ve been faulted by no one had he just tried to ease himself in. This time last year he was just wrapping up chemotherapy treatments. He’s spent the 12 months since working to regain all the weight he lost. He was in a foreign country where he barely spoke the language.
None of that seemed to matter at MCI, where Miroshnichenko showcased his tooled-up skillset by scoring from all over the ice and throwing his weight around with some heavy checks. In the Capitals’ three-on-three tournament on the final day of camp Wednesday, Miroshnichenko racked up the goals including one game when he scored four during a five-minute span.
“Just look where he was 13, 14 months ago,” Mahoney said. “Like we’ve talked about it before where he was in Germany a year ago from May and doing his cancer treatments. To see where he is and perform like he did this week was really good…Really happy for him just to see where he’s at hockey-wise and also just physically.”
Capitals gave Andrew Cristall strength-building regimen to improve speed
There was a lot of skill on display at the Capitals’ development camp, but Cristall found plenty of opportunities to shine on his own. He helped lead his three-on-three team to the tournament championship Wednesday, besting other squads with first-round picks with savvy puckhandling and aggressive playmaking off the rush.
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Then again, Cristall had enough talent that made him a potential first-round pick in his own right. Washington snagged him early in the second, surprised that he was still available when their turn came up. Perhaps the biggest concern teams had that allowed him to fall was his skating speed, something the Capitals plan to address by building up his lower-body strength.
“He’s going to leave here talking with the strength coaches,” Mahoney said. “They’re going to give him a plan to work off the ice to improve his leg strength, which will probably help him with his overall speed. He’s got really good edges. He can turn and change directions really quickly and he’s got a really good change of pace. It’s just a matter of that top-end speed.”
Alex Suzdalev impressed with his year-over-year improvement
Joining Cristall on that three-on-three tournament champion squad was Suzdalev, a 2022 third-round pick who burst onto the scene in the WHL last season. Playing for the Regina Pats — who also rostered No. 1 pick Connor Bedard — Suzdalev racked up an impressive 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 66 games to earn the Pats’ team rookie of the year honor.
“He played very well and he’s starting to get stronger,” Mahoney said. “Obviously came off a really good year in Regina last year…A lot of people thought it was because he was with Bedard, but he actually didn’t play with Bedard a lot five-on-five.
“From watching him last camp and watching him this camp, you can see that he’s getting stronger and more confident. I thought he played very well.”
Suzdalev, 19, was listed at 6-foot-2, 172 pounds at the start of last season by Regina but the Capitals announced his development camp as 181. Even though he wasn’t the heaviest player in camp by any means, Suzdalev created his own space on the ice and used it well. His continued development will be something to monitor heading into next season.