The Washington Capitals are kicking off their official return to action with rookie camp on Saturday. The camp will run through Monday and features a roster of 10 forwards, eight blueliners and two goaltenders. Those participating include a number of top prospects, recent draft picks and free-agent invitees.
Here are just some of the names to watch as the Capitals’ youngsters take the ice from Sept. 18-20.
Connor McMichael, Forward
Washington’s 2019 first-rounder is among the team’s top prospects right now and could even make the NHL jump this season. Following an impressive performance with the London Knights, he made a near-seamless transition to the AHL. He fit right in with the Hershey Bears and led the team in scoring in his rookie season with 14 goals and 27 points in 33 games.
The 20-year-old center has a wicked shot and handles the puck well, and his hockey IQ and speed make him absolutely lethal on the forecheck. Former Capitals forward and bench boss Dale Hunter coached McMichael at the OHL level and helped him elevate his game as a solid all-around pivot. He has tremendous upside and the potential to be a top-6 center and standout talent at the NHL level.
Look for him to not only make noise in rookie camp but training camp as well as he makes a run for a spot on Peter Laviolette’s opening-night roster.
Hendrix Lapierre, Forward
Washington traded up to No. 22 in the 2020 NHL Draft to take Lapierre, who could turn out to be a major steal. Bob McKenzie coined the QMJHL centerman as a “top-10 talent,” but his draft stock dropped amid continued injury struggles. However, the 2020-21 campaign was a turning point. Lapierre stayed healthy and had 31 points in 22 regular-season games. In a normal, 68-game regular season, he would have been on pace for a 100-point year.
Lapierre has quick hands and is a passer first with great vision and playmaking ability. He takes good care of the puck and can generate high-danger scoring chances on the fly, and he also plays well in his own end. Over the course of 2020-21, he grew more confident in his shot as well.
The 19-year-old has a chance to show off his ability at rookie camp and keep the momentum going from last season.
Aliaksei Protas, Forward
Protas built his resume big time last season and took a major step forward following a busy year with a heavy workload. He played the second-most games among Capitals’ prospects (74) and started the season on loan with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk. In 58 games, he registered 10 goals and 18 points. After that, he headed to Hershey and put up two goals and seven points in 16 games. The 20-year-old pivot also laced ’em up for Belarus in the 2021 Olympic Qualifiers in August, recording one assist in three games.
Towering at 6-foot-6, Protas is a talented center who uses his size to his advantage. He’s still improving his skating and owns an impressive shot and playmaking ability. As was the case with Lapierre, Washington had traded up in the 2019 draft to take “the Viper” 91st overall following an impressive campaign with the WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders.
Overall, Protas has a lot of talent, speed and promise and will be a top name to watch as he continues his development and journey.
Vinnie Iorio, Defenseman
Washington’s first pick of the 2021 NHL Draft is a promising WHL defenseman. He markets himself as a “poised, smooth-skating, two-way defenseman who’s reliable in all three zones.” Iorio said he takes pride in his exits and has become more confident in joining the rush and generating offense from the blue line.
The 2021 No. 55 pick had five goals, 12 points and a whopping 53 shots on goal in 22 games last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“I’m very eager to learn and go to camp and just to soak everything in like a sponge and take everything in and all the information in,” Iorio said back in July. “That’s one thing my parents and coaches told me to do and I’m really looking forward to that.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Meet Washington Capitals 2021 Second-Rounder Vinnie Iorio
Dru Krebs, Defenseman
The younger brother of Vegas prospect Peyton Krebs, Dru was taken in the sixth round of the 2021 NHL Draft. The 6-0, 181-pound LHD is a tremendous skater who uses his ability to make deceptive plays and strong passes. He had 11 assists in 23 games with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers last season.
Krebs enters camp as an impressive, playmaking skater who could be a hidden gem and develop into a reliable, top defenseman in the future.
Hunter Shepard, Goalie
Washington signed standout college talent Shepard to a two-year, two-way contract this summer, and the undrafted free agent could add serious depth to the Capitals’ goaltending pool going forward. He’s was one of the best college netminders of recent years, making waves with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and going 3-0-0 with the Bears last year.
The two-time All-American and two-time NCHC Goalie of the Year holds the NCAA record for the most consecutive starts (115). He is also UMD’s all-time leader in wins (76), GAA (1.94), save percentage (.922) and shutouts (17). Shepard was also the Bulldogs captain back in 2019-20.
Overall, Shepard is a smart, patient butterfly goaltender who is able to keep track of the puck and has quick lateral movements. He also stuns with highlight-reel saves. Expect him to capitalize on his opportunity in D.C.