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The Kids Are Alright: Capitals Fringe Players To Watch In 2022-23



Capitals forward Beck Malenstyn and Aliaksei Protas

The Washington Capitals got the depth that they were looking for in free agency. Still, there are several young fringe players in the system who are eager to prove they belong with the big club.

As has been evident in the past, nothing is set in stone. After all, anything can happen in training camp or over the course of a season, whether it be a standout player or injuries. Taking that into account, there are several Capitals up-and-comers to keep an eye on.

Here are some of the top Washington fringe players who could make an impact for the Capitals in 2022-23.

Aliaksei Protas

Protas got his taste of the rookie life last season, as numerous injuries led to him making the NHL jump. The 2019 third-round selection got 33 games up at the NHL level, where he put up three goals and six assists. He stood out on numerous occasions — and that’s not just because of his 6-6 frame. Protas showcased strong skating and versatility, and he also battled hard for pucks and played a solid two-way game. He also displayed skill and aggression on the forecheck and was able to make strong passes and plays. The Belarus native even got time on the top line, complementing the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov well.

He was sent back down as Nicklas Backstrom and the rest of the roster became healthy and finished the year strong with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 2021-22. He ended up with eight goals and 16 assists in 42 AHL games.

Overall, the 21-year-old has plenty of upside and now has NHL experience under his belt. Expect him to come to camp even stronger as he looks to catch Peter Laviolette’s attention and carry over lessons from last season.

Brett Leason

Like Protas, Leason earned a call-up in wake of injuries. The 6-5, 218-pound right wing ended up skating in 36 games for Washington last season, dishing three goals and three assists. He also got to play one game in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the AHL, he had six goals and seven assists in 31 games with Hershey.

The 23-year-old earned a two-year, one-way extension, meaning he’ll make the same salary regardless of where he plays. Still, it is a statement and indication that he’ll get more time up with the big club in the future.

Leason is a big two-way forward who has a stellar work ethic and awareness at both ends of the ice. He is a strong skater and knows how to get to the high-danger areas, and he’s not afraid to battle for pucks. Look for him to come back to D.C. motivated following his extension this offseason.

Beck Malenstyn

Malenstyn is another interesting name to keep an eye on. A 2016 fifth-round pick, Malenstyn has emerged as a proven two-way forward and utility player that loves to provide versatility, get to the dirty areas and play a defensive-minded game. The 24-year-old is a proven penalty killer and physical presence who loves to lay the body and shut down his opponents.

This past season, Malenstyn laced ’em up for 12 games with the Capitals, picking up his first career NHL goal and dishing 34 hits, which lead the team during his stay with Washington from Nov. 24 to Dec. 19. He spent the majority of 2021-22 down in Hershey, racking up 10 goals and six assists in 65 games while coming in clutch on numerous occasions to boot.

Malenstyn earned a two-year extension that will become a one-way deal in Year 2. Like Leason, Malenstyn is a hard worker, but given his ability and heavy-hitting style of play, he could bring a lot to the table, as his identity fits well with the team’s powerhouse fourth line.

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Joe Snively

The Little Caps alum and DMV native was outstanding in 2021-22 and earned a call-up following a red-hot start to his season in Hershey with 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points in 35 games. He got off to an even better start to his NHL career with four goals and three assists in his first 12 NHL games while earning a top-6 spot to boot. However, a wrist injury and subsequent surgery ended his season early.

The 5-9, 176-pound forward has great hockey IQ and vision. He plays the game with energy and speed, and like Conor Sheary, he is tenacious on pucks, drives to the crease and battles hard, and he also has a good shot and scoring sense.

There aren’t a lot of vacancies on the roster, but Snively will be a man on a mission come training camp after finally making his mark last year. He will want to keep that going while also making the most of the two-year, one-way extension he signed in March.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

Another proven penalty killer, AJF is someone who could see more NHL ice time this season. The Swede also got a taste of the NHL in 2021-22, skating in 23 games for the Capitals and dishing two goals and two assists. He also got to showcase his talent on the PK and showed strong awareness in the defensive zone. Down in Hershey, he was even better, scoring 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points in 44 games.

Jonsson-Fjallby has compared himself to Carl Hagelin. He brings a lot of similar traits to the table with his strong two-way play, smart decision-making and ability to generate pressure and crash the net, but he also has great speed. AJF is an outstanding skater who can not only get up and down the ice quickly but make things happen when he has the puck and time and space to work with.

Lucas Johansen

Perhaps the most likely to make the NHL jump this season, Johansen moved up the depth chart and put himself on the radar following an outstanding 2021-22 campaign. Following years of adversity and some tough injuries, Johansen broke out with a career year, dishing eight goals and 20 assists in 62 games. His strong play also led to his NHL debut, where he was able to carry over his smart defensive play, good decision making and playmaking ability while registering his first assist on a great stretch pass up to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a goal.

Johansen is a strong skater who takes good care of the puck, knows how to move the play up ice and doesn’t shy away from joining the rush. He also has a strong point shot.

The 24-year-old has shown a lot of growth over his time with the team and appears more than ready to make the jump after several years in Hershey. He faces some fierce blue line competition, with Erik Gustafsson coming in to replace Justin Schultz and Gabriel Carlsson and Matt Irwin also vying for roster spots. However, with a strong camp and the same mindset, Johansen can certainly make a case to not only stay but draw in.

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Alex Alexeyev

Like Johansen, Alexeyev has shown that he is capable of NHL ice time. The 6-4, 213-pound LHD brings a lot of size and speed to the table, and he also moves the puck effectively while staying collected under pressure. Though he’s not a major point producer or power-play quarterback, he’s still a smart and mobile defenseman who can join the rush, and he had a goal and 18 assists in 68 games with Hershey this season while also showing what he can do in his NHL debut.

Alexeyev was also expected to compete for a roster spot this season. However, he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery in June, and the earliest he’ll be back is in October given the 4-5 month timeline. However, when he comes back, expect him to continue growing his game and for the 22-year-old to be one of the first ones in line for a call-up.

Other names to keep an eye on: Hendrix Lapierre, Vincent Iorio, Zach Fucale, Bear Hughes…

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