Over the last few years, the Washington Capitals have seriously strengthened their pipeline. The team has scored big with top picks and has made the most of their selections over time. And they’ve also managed to make some waves with major steals as well.
Several late-round picks have turned into stars at the NHL level, including Ondrej Palat. In fact, the Tampa Bay Lightning took Palat right after the Capitals passed on him for Garrett Haar in 2011. Fast forward to now, and the team may already have future stars waiting for their shot.
Here are some of the top prospects who could be big names to look out for down the line:
C Hendrix Lapierre
Heading into the 2020 draft year, Lapierre was projected to go in the top 10. However, due to ongoing concussion and neck injury concerns, he dropped further down in the first round. So, Washington traded up, moving to No. 22 to snag Lapierre while he was still available. And so far, it’s paid off.
The QMJHL forward is arguably the top center in the pipeline. He moves the puck well and has a high hockey IQ, quick hands, great playmaking ability and speed. He has also grown more confident in his shot and improved his skating, as well as his positioning and play in his own end.
After cracking the opening night roster last season with a strong camp, Lapierre scored in his NHL debut. After a six-game trial, he returned to the Q to continue his development and finished the year with a career-high 51 points in 41 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Heading into 2022-23, Lapierre has his sights set on a pro jump, whether it be to the Capitals or Hershey Bears. He has been showcasing his skill all summer, and the 19-year-old is showing that he could be a future star in this league.
F Haakon Hanelt
At the 2021 NHL Draft, Hanelt was the only forward Washington took in a defense-heavy class for the franchise. The German-born center was ranked No. 56 among international skaters and ended up going to the Capitals late in the fifth round with the 151st pick.
While his post-draft season didn’t exactly go according to plan, Hanelt made the most of it. The 19-year-old made his QMJHL debut in 2021-22 with the Gatineau Olympique and posted 10 points in 16 games. However, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery interrupted his first year. Still, he worked on his skating and other aspects of his game while rehabilitating and came back with a vengeance.
Hanelt was among the standouts at development camp, showing off his speed, quick hands, vision and versatility. He’s willing to play any position up front (though he’s most comfortable at center), and he is aggressive and smart on the forecheck. Hanelt just finished representing Germany at the World Junior Championships on Wednesday. He had a game-winning goal against Switzerland helped the team advance to the quarterfinals and also had an assist in Germany’s QF loss to Finland.
F Oskar Magnusson
Magnusson was a seventh-rounder in the 2020 NHL Draft, but with the way he has been playing, it looks like he could have gone much higher. The Swede is a speedy, versatile player with a quick shot, good hands and strong two-way play. He isn’t afraid to block shots and sacrifice the body, and he has also thrived as a penalty killer. Plus, he can use his speed and skating to get behind the defense and generate pressure in the offensive zone.
The 20-year-old is coming off a solid year with AIK, where he dished five goals and six assists in 41 games with the HockeyAllsvenskan club. HockeyAllsvenskan is the second-highest tier of pro hockey in Sweden. After a solid development camp, he went to represent Sweden at the World Juniors. So far, he has a goal and assist and earned player of the game honors against fellow prospect Hanelt and Germany, and he has helped his nation to the semifinals.
As he continues to evolve into a versatile, all-around player, look for him to make waves going forward.
G Chase Clark
Clark was Washington’s last selection of the 2021 NHL Draft, where they wrapped things up with a goaltender at No. 183. And he could end up being a major steal.
The 6-6 netminder reads the ice well and doesn’t have any problem following the play and tracking the puck, and he also uses his size to his advantage. Clark is coming off a solid 2021-22 in the USHL, where he had a .915 save percentage through seven games with the Tri-City Storm before his trade to the Muskegon Lumberjacks, where his SV% dipped to .889. However, he bounced back with an impressive postseason, boasting a .915 SV% again when it counted most.
At Washington’s development camp, Clark was among the standouts, coming up with some huge saves and being a shutdown guy in net. The Capitals have outstanding goaltending depth, with Zach Fucale, Hunter Shepard, Clay Stevenson and Garin Bjorklund also in the pipeline, but don’t sleep on Clark. He’s headed to the NCAA next season and will continue his development with Quinnipiac. Expect him to go nowhere but up.
C Bear Hughes
Hughes is still waiting on an entry-level deal but is coming into his first season after signing with the Bears and is ready to show what he’s got. The 2020 fourth-rounder had an outstanding season with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, and in 64 games this season, he broke out with 24 goals and 43 assists for 67 points. Not only that, but Hughes also earned the captaincy and was named the “Players’ Player” this season.
The 21-year-old forward takes good care of the puck and has a strong shot and good skating ability, and he goes hard on the forecheck and isn’t afraid to engage in puck battles. He also has quick hands and reads the ice well, and he also shows great awareness at both ends of the ice. This season in Hershey will be a big step for him, and if he can capitalize on his opportunity and transition well to the pros, he could earn a contract from the Capitals.
Honorary Mentions: F Ivan Miroshnichenko & D Ryan Chesley
Both 2022 picks in Miroshnichenko and Chesley have shown that they have the potential to be big steals.
Washington took a big swing by drafting MIroshnichenko 20th overall, and they may have pulled off what will be the biggest steal of the 2022 NHL Draft. The Russian had been pegged as a top-5 talent last fall, but a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis in March ended his campaign early and led to a drop in draft stock. He fell all the way down to No. 20, where the Capitals took him without hesitation.
The 18-year-old is a dynamic player who possesses a wicked shot and high hockey IQ. He can put the puck in the net and play big minutes at even strength and on the power play and has the potential to be one of the game’s future stars. There’s still a lot to be seen from Miroshnichenko following a limited season, but he went into remission in June and has since worked his way back onto the ice. He intends to play for Omsk this season and honor his KHL contract, where he will continue his development and further grow his game before coming to North America.
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals’ Ivan Miroshnichenko Back On Ice After Remission
As for Chesley, the defenseman could have potentially been a first-round pick but ended up dropping to Round 2. As part of the Vitek Vanecek trade, Washington eagerly moved up to take the defender at No. 37.
Chesley makes quick decisions and is calm and collected under pressure, and he does a good job of moving the puck up ice and starting the breakout. He has great stickhandling ability and makes smart passes, and he doesn’t shy away from joining the rush. And, in his own end, he takes good care of the puck, battles hard and can play a shutdown game while not shying away from physicality to boot.
So, looking at these two, the Capitals potentially left the 2022 draft with two of the top prospects up for grabs.