Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. As we go through the summer of 2023, each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a look at one NHL team’s top prospects or other topical article. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! You can find all the articles here as well as our extensive NHL Draft preview. Today, we look at the 2023 Washington Capitals Top Prospects.
For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or 25 years old. However, these are not hard or fast rules, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
1.) Ryan Leonard
Washington’s first-round pick, eighth overall, in the 2023 NHL Draft tops the Capitals Top Prospects List. Leonard is a high-energy forward. He is a good skater and keeps his feet moving. He is involved in all three zones, getting in quickly on the forecheck, helping his team’s defence and always fighting for loose pucks. Leonard is always in the middle of the action. He loves to play in the dirty areas of the ice. He also has a very good wrist shot and quick release. Leonard gets to the net both with and without the puck. He has the soft hands to score in tight with hand-eye coordination to pounce on rebounds and get deflections. Leonard can also elevate the puck quickly, beating goaltenders in tight. Leonard is strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. He cycles the puck effectively, extending offensive zone time.
2.) Ivan Miroshnichenko
Washington took a chance on Miroschnichenko with their first-round pick in 2022 as the youngster was recovering from a bout with cancer. Now with a clean bill of health, it looks like that chance is going to pay off, as he is one of the Capitals top prospects.
Miroshnichenko marries his great skating with soft hands and stickhandling ability to make plays. Defenders have to respect his speed and back off in order that they aren’t beaten wide. When they do, Miroshnichenko can use them as a screen and fire his shot on the net. He has excellent power on a wide array of shots including a wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot and one-timer. He even has a good backhander. Miroshnichenko has a quick and deceptive release on his shot, which makes him even tougher to stop. On the power play, he loves to set up in the left circle and let that one-timer go. He also has the soft hands to finish close to the net. With his size, he can get to the net, provide a screen, get deflections, and pounce on rebounds.
3.) Andrew Cristall
A second-round pick in 2023, Cristall might be undersized, but he is extremely talented. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, beating defenders with his quick hands. Cristall isn’t the fastest skater, but he’s not bad either. His ability to make plays with the puck without slowing down allows him to play faster than his pure speed suggests. He also has excellent agility and acceleration. This allows him to beat players in one-on-one situations in the offensive zone. He has outstanding vision and hockey sense, making smart plays both with and without the puck. Cristall can make a tape-to-tape pass to set up a scoring chance if given the slightest of openings. His quickness and good hands allow him to open up passing lanes with a quick move. His shot is strong and his quick release helps him to be a goal-scoring threat as well.
4.) Vincent Iorio
Iorio has good size at 6-foot-3 and combines this with good skating ability to play a strong two-way game. This places him in the top five of Capitals prospects. Iorio has the skating and passing skills to start the transition game and create offence. His puckhandling ability is good. Iorio can carry the puck out of defensive zone and avoid forecheckers. He can also help transition through the neutral zone but doesn’t do so often. He prefers to pass the puck to a teammate and will join the rush as a trailer at times. Iorio has good vision and makes a smart first pass.
Iorio is very strong defensively. He is very smart and makes great reads which helps him to anticipate an opponent’s play and to cut it off. Iorio loves to step up in the neutral zone and stop zone entries before they get to the line. He also maintains a good position away from the puck. He is also physical along the boards and in front of the net.
5.) Ryan Chesley
Chesley plays an aggressive and physical defensive game. He forces attackers to the outside and can lay a big hit when they cut that way. He also does a good job of winning battles on the boards and in front of the net. Chesley’s defensive game is helped by his solid positioning. He does a good job of using his active stick to cut down passing lanes. Chesley is also willing to put his body on the line to block shots. He shows high effort in his own zone. He also has a big point shot and could develop into a power-play point man. Chesley could improve his skating though.
6.) Hendrix Lapierre
Lapierre is a creative playmaker who creates scoring chances for his linemates. He can pass the puck through tight openings and hits teammates on the tape. Lapierre’s ability to speed up the play or to slow it down allows him to control the pace of the game. He sets up on the half boards on the power play and acts as a quarterback. He also protects the puck well down low, extending plays in the cycle game. This gives Lapierre’s teammates the opportunity to get open, and he can hit them with a quick pass.
Lapierre could stand to increase his strength in order to battle along the boards as well as add some power to his shot. His wrist shot and snapshot are accurate but can lack power. His release is good and with his quick hands, he can quickly toe-drag the puck to change the angle on his shot. He is also able to get off his backhand and slap shots. Lapierre could add muscle to his upper body and this could really help him improve this aspect of his game.
7.) Alexander Suzdalev
Suzdalev is Russian-born, played his junior hockey in Sweden, moved to the WHL, and was acquired by Washington by using a third-round pick acquired in the Vitek Vanecek trade. Suzdalev is a creative winger with outstanding hands. He can stickhandle in a phone booth. He also has the ability to handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. His hands allow him to make a quick move and open up a passing or shooting lane. Suzdalev is very creative. He tries plays that other players won’t attempt and often pulls them off. He also has a pretty good wrist shot with a quick release. Suzdalev has good height but could stand to add some more muscle to his frame before he is ready for a full-time NHL role.
8.) Mitchell Gibson
A 2018 fourth-round pick, Gibson spent the last four years at Harvard before signing with the Capitals in the Spring. At 6-foot-1 he is a bit on the smaller size for a modern NHL goalie. Gibson makes up for this by being a tremendous athlete. He has very good reflexes and can make some amazing saves when it seems he is out of the play. Gibson is also a very good skater, allowing him to move around his crease, cutting down angles and getting side to side quickly. He has strong legs and gets in and out of the butterfly quickly, taking away the bottom of the net. Like many young goalies, Gibson needs to continue to work on his rebound control going forward.
9.) Ludwig Persson
Persson is a good skater. He can create openings with his acceleration and ability to change speeds off the rush. He also has very good agility and edgework, allowing him to make quick cuts and changes in direction. Persson can weave in and out of traffic. He also has great hands. He protects the puck well and can get by defenders in one-on-one situations. Persson can also make a quick move to open up a passing or shooting lane. He sees the ice extremely well. Persson has a knack for anticipating where a teammate is going and hitting them with a tape-to-tape pass when they get there. Without the puck, he does a great job of finding open ice and keeping himself open to take a pass.
10.) Alexander Alexeyev
Alexeyev defends well on the rush, keeping opponents in front of him, and forcing them to the outside. He can throw a big hit when given the opportunity and makes good use of his physical capabilities that way. However, when he is defending in the zone, he can sometimes get himself out of position by looking to be more physical. Alexeyev will need some coaching on his positioning. He needs to be better at cutting down the passing lanes and staying with his man instead of chasing the puck carrier. Alexeyev has good vision and passing skills. He can start the play with a good pass out of his own end, as well as quarterback the play from the blue line. He also has a hard slap shot but must do better to get it on the net.
HM (4th Round or Later): Clay Stevenson
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Dartmouth, Stevenson had a strong season in the ECHL, and even looked good in three AHL games with Hershey. At 6-foot-4, he has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goalie prospects today. Stevenson has strong legs and gets side-to-side in the crease very quickly. He comes out of his net to cut down shooting angles, but has the skating ability to get back to the net if the attacker tries to deke him. He gets in and out of the butterfly quickly, taking away the bottom of the net. Stevenson will need to work on his rebound control to make the next level.