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Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Hershey update: 16-6-4-2, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-1

Hershey Bears goalie Vitek Vanecek was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on Dec. 18.

Vanecek was given two starts over the week. He turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced in a shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday and stopped all 22 shots he faced Sunday against Springfield for his third shutout of the season.

You can see highlights of the shutout here:

In his first season in the AHL, Vanecek has earned a .930 save percentage, 1.85 goals against average and an 8-3-3 record in 14 appearances. His three shutouts is tied for second in the league.

This is Vanecek’s first AHL honor.

Vanecek is playing exceptionally well in the AHL, far exceeding my expectations. With his play I believe the Caps will at least consider promoting him next season to serve as backup to Braden Holtby if Philipp Grubauer is plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft.

Grubauer is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he almost certainly will re-sign with the Capitals. But Grubauer is rapidly becoming one of the most likely targets for Vegas in the expansion draft given his play this season.

Vanecek’s play in the AHL would certainly soften the blow of losing a dependable backup.

Granted, it’s not automatic that Vanecek would get the promotion to the NHL. He is a 20-year-old prospect with zero NHL experience. Expecting him to be able to start 15 to 20 games next season in the best league in the world would be a big jump. But I think he has at least earned consideration, especially if he keeps up this level of play throughout the 2016-17 season.

Forward Tim McGauley is finally healthy and poised to make his AHL debut in the upcoming week as he was recalled by Hershey from the ECHL on Sunday.

McGauley’s professional debut was delayed due to an injury, but he finally suited up for three games in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays. He earned an assist while there, his first professional point.

In his junior career, McGauley scored 259 points in 276 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

In other Hershey news, Stanislav Galiev tallied a goal and an assist in his return from injury this week. Defenseman Darren Dietz scored his first goal with the Bears on Sunday in the win over Springfield.

Travis Boyd continues his phenomenal season with two goals and three assists in three games. He currently leads the Bears in points with 28. Liam O’Brien and Christian Djoos also put together an impressive week as they each tallied four assists.

In one other note, Bears captain Garrett Mitchell has more holiday spirit than you do.

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Day 10

Other prospect notes:

In their first tuneup game in preparation for the World Juniors Tournament, Caps prospect Damien Riat scored a goal for Team Switzerland in a 4-3 loss to USA on Wednesday. Switzerland boasts two Caps prospects on the roster with Riat on offense and Jonas Siegenthaler on the blue line.

Check out a preview of the team for the tournament here from the SB Nation page “Eyes on the Prize.”

One player who should be at the tournament, but was not included on Team Canada’s roster is defenseman Connor Hobbs. He continued his sharp play in the WHL this week with a goal and an assist on Saturday, earning third star of the game honors.

You can watch the highlights here;

Hobbs boasts a fantastic slap shot, but what I love about this game is that he didn’t use it on either of his two points. On the goal, he recognized he had an opening and elected for the more accurate wrist shot which he hit perfectly in the top shelf. He showed that he doesn’t have to just unleash the slap shot every time he gets the puck. He has more than one tool in his arsenal and he’s smart enough to know when to use each.

Hobbs is definitely a player to watch as he continues to develop.

Just in case anyone forgot who the Stingrays’ NHL affiliate was, they made sure to remind everyone with these Caps-inspired alternate jerseys.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Burakovsky not enough for Caps in Philly

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2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings. How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams? This week, CSN is taking a look at each team’s offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: New York Rangers.

2016-17 Results: 48-28-6 (102 points, fourth in the division). Defeated Montreal in the first round before losing to Ottawa in the second.

Notable acquisitions: D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Ondrej Pavelec, C David Desharnais, D Anthony DeAngelo and assistant coach Lindy Ruff.

Notable departures: F Derek Stepan, G Antti Raanta, F Oscar Lindberg, D Dan Girardi, D Kevin Klein and F Tanner Glass.

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 8, at New York Dec. 27, at New York March 26 and at Washington March 28.

MORE CAPITALS: 25 most important Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

2017-18 Rangers Analysis: Following their second round loss to the Senators, this much had become clear about the Rangers: in order to return to contender status they needed an offseason refresh on the backend.

So GM Jeff Gorton got to work.

He signed hometown standout Kevin Shattenkirk, the top prize on the free agent market, to a team-friendly deal. He re-upped late-season addition Brendan Smith. He also bought out longtime Ranger Dan Girardi, while 32-year-old Kevin Klein retired from the NHL.

As a result, the Rangers will enter camp next month with a revamped—and improved—blue line that’ll boast Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Smith in the top 4.

The third pair? There’s options, including 10-year vet Marc Staal, Nick Holden and 2014 first rounder Anthony DeAngelo, acquired in the June trade that sent top line center Derek Stepan to Arizona. (The Stepan deal, which also sent valuable backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for DeAngelo and a first round pick, cleared much needed cap space, some of which was used to sign Shattenkirk.)

Up front, the Rangers’ offense (fourth best last season at 3.09 goals per game) figures to miss Stepan and his 55 points, but the group still looks awfully potent with the likes of Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad shouldering the scoring load.

In all, New York returns nine of its top 10 point-getters from a year ago, while adding power play wiz Shattenkirk.

Over the past six seasons, the Rangers have advanced to the conference final three times and the Stanley Cup final once. With the renovation on defense, might this be the year Henrik Lundqvist and Co. finish the job?

2017-18 Rangers Season prediction: 

Speaking of Lundqvist, I suspect he holds the key to unlocking New York’s full potential.

He’s been the Rangers’ rock for past decade, but you can’t gloss over the fact that he’s 35 years old, has logged some hard miles and is coming off the worst season regular season of his career, during which he posted a .910 save percentage and a 2.74 goals against average. He’s also returning from a sprained knee that he suffered while backstopping Sweden to the gold medal at the World Championships in May.

In a recent interview with NHL.com, Lundqvist said he doesn’t expect the knee to give him any trouble. But he also acknowledged the need to be more consistent, saying of last season, “The highs were as high as any other year. The lows were a little too low.”

Was a blip? Or is King Henrik slowing down? The answer, right now, is not clear.

If Lundqvist bounces back, though, I like the retooled Rangers’ chances challenging for the division title…and, perhaps, a much bigger prize, as well.

More Metro Division previews:

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

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USA TODAY Sports

The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some roles are bigger than others.

The Caps will look to their prospects to take carry a bigger load than in recent years while there while the team’ leaders and superstars will continue being tasked with leading the way.

Jill Sorenson, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan are counting down who the 25 most important players for the Caps will be in the 2017-18 season.

Today’s player: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

How does the team's No. 3 goalie make this list? Because there is a good chance he will not be the No. 3 goalie for long.

Copley originally signed with the Capitals in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. He was shipped off to St. Louis in 2015 in the trade package that netted Washington T.J. Oshie, but the team reacquired Copley in 2017 as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade.

RELATED: 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

The move was an instant boost for Hershey. Copley managed a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage in 25 games with the Bears and played well in the playoffs until a groin pull prematurely ended his postseason.

As good as Copley looked in Hershey, general manager Brian MacLellan did not target the 25-year old netminder just to boost the AHL squad. Copley was brought in as a possible replacement for current backup Philipp Grubauer and there is a good possibility that he could take that role at some point this season.

It's no secret that Grubauer wants to be a starter. After a season in which he posted a 2.04 GAA, .926 save percentage and 13-6-2 record, one could argue he is ready to make that jump. After Vegas selected Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft and with no goalie market over the summer, Grubauer still remains in Washington, but that does not mean he will remain for the entire 2017-18 campaign.

Some goalies don't pan out for teams and others get injured. There will be teams out there who will find themselves in need of a goalie this season and they will come calling, perhaps even as early as training camp if someone suffers an early injury. The Capitals are a team with obvious needs. They do not boast the same depth they have had in recent years and will likely be willing to listen to offers for their German backup. If and when that happens, then Copley will most likely step make the jump to the NHL as backup to Holtby.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber