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Prospect report: Does Zach Sanford or Jakub Vrana replace Andre Burakovsky?

Prospect report: Does Zach Sanford or Jakub Vrana replace Andre Burakovsky?

Hershey update: 25-14-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-1-0

It was a weekend Zach Sanford is not likely to forget. Not only did he score the game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, his first NHL goal, he also scored twice for Hershey against Bridgeport the very next day.

Sanford was recalled by the Caps earlier in the week but was not expected to play. An injury to Andre Burakovsky, however, got Sanford into the lineup on Saturday. With Washington starting their bye wee, Sanford was sent back down to Hershey following Saturday's game.

With Burakovsky expected to be out until March, the Caps will likely call up a player to replace him in the lineup as well as a rotating player to scratch for road games. Sanford and Jakub Vrana are the most likely candidates to replace Burakovsky. I assumed it would be Vrana considering the similar skill set of the two players. The Caps could plug Vrana into the third line without having to change too much in terms of the line’s makeup.

Vrana, however, had a tough day on Friday.

In overtime against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Vrana gave up a turnover that ended up costing the Bears the game. Vrana pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and tried to turn it up ice himself with his teammates headed to the bench for a line change, Vrana has the puck poked away to another Penguins player who passes up ice to set up a breakaway goal. Vrana has to be aware that there is nothing but open ice behind him with his teammates headed to the bench. He can’t get overly aggressive with the puck in such a critical moment..

You can see the play here.

The turnover earned Vrana a seat in the press box on Saturday.

Via Capitals Outsider, Hershey head coach Troy Mann described Vrana’s play of late as “inconsistent, especially without the puck” since his return from a four-week stint with the Caps.

Is this a huge cause for concern? Not really. When players are on the verge of moving up to the NHL full-time, their play often becomes inconsistent. Sometimes players lose focus after their first prolonged taste of the big leagues when they go back down to the AHL. Friday’s bad game likely will have no bearing on whether Barry Trotz decides to call up him or Sanford for the next few weeks.

Riley Barber made his triumphant return to the lineup over the weekend after a 35-game absence. Barber played Saturday and Sunday and scored three goals in those two games.

Christian Thomas is a newcomer to the Caps’ organization this season and currently leads the Bears in goals with 17. In a feature on Thomas published by Penn Live, Thomas talks about the grind of the AHL and how tough it is to make it to the big league. Coach Mann also provides some interesting notes on Thomas saying, “He's a dynamic scorer at the AHL level. He's got an NHL shot, a great release. When he's moving his feet he has some real good quickness to him from a skating perspective.”

Defenseman Darren Dietz is also in his first season with the Bears. In an article for the Lebanon Daily News, Dietz talks at length about his AHL career. Here’s what he has to say about signing with Washington:

“The end of last season my contract expired and I became an unrestricted free agent. On July 1 I made the decision to sign with Washington and Hershey to come here. There were some other options available but I didn’t waste any time jumping on this opportunity to be involved with this organization.

“To be brutally honest, it was getting the opportunity to win and be in a playoff situation because I hadn’t been in the playoffs as a pro so that made the decision an easy one. The group here, and the long run they made last year, I knew it was something good here and I wanted to be part of it. I had played in Giant Center a couple times with either Hamilton or St. John’s and I remember it was not a fun place to play.

You can read the full article here.

RELATED: Bye week grades: Special teams

Other prospect notes:

Both Ilya Samsonov and Damien Riat walked away champions over the week after playing in small international tournaments for their respective nations.

Samsanov played in the third and final game for Team Russia in the Sweden Hockey Games tournament, helping lead Russia to a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic to clinch the tournament. You can watch the highlights here in Russian.

Samsonov said in an interview that his focus right now is to play for the national team and finish his KHL contract, but he did give a subtle nod to the Caps (as translated by RMNB):

“Everyone dreams about playing in the NHL, but for right now I’ve got a lot of work to do to find a roster spot [on the National Team], and I still have to finish my contract. ... The guys and I sometimes play soccer or hockey video games. I play as Washington, but just because there’s no Magnitogorsk [in the game].”

Riat scored two goals in two games to help lead Switzerland to a win in the Slovakia Cup. Switzerland opened the tournament with a 4-2 win over Belarus on Friday and won in the final 4-3 against host Slovakia on Saturday. You can see the highlights of Saturday’s game here in German.

Coincidentally enough, Rait opened the scoring in both games with a goal in the second minute.

Tim McGauley scored two goals in South Carolina’s game on Feb. 9 to lead the Stingrays to the 5-4 win over Reading. It was the first two-goal game of his professional career.

In the WHL, Connor Hobbs recorded two goals and three assists in four games for the Regina Pats. Lucas Johansen scored one goal and three assists in three games for the Kelowna Rockets, earning third-star honors on Saturday. Beck Malenstyn of the Calgary Hitmen was named the second star of the game on Sunday after scoring a goal in his team’s overtime loss.

In the college ranks, Brian Pinho enjoyed a big game against UConn on Friday, scoring a goal and two assists in the win. You can see the highlights here:

Defenseman Chase Priskie scored in Quinnipiac’s 4-2 loss to Clarkson on Friday. He was also featured in the Bobcats Weekly video as the “Bobcat of the Week.” In the video, he talks about his role on the team’s power play and team chemistry. You can also see a few highlights of Priskie as well as a super enthusiastic anchor.

MORE CAPITALS: 5 things to know about Tom Gilbert

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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

Barry Trotz didn’t like a whole lot about Friday’s 4-0 preseason loss to the Blues.

One thing he didn’t mind so much, however, was the play of 6 foot 5 center Tyler Graovac.

The fourth liner had a handful of scoring chances and finished the game tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four. The 24-year-old also recorded a couple of hits, won nine of 11 draws and saw a prominent role penalty kill.  

“He’s had two pretty good games,” Trotz said of Graovac, who made his debut against the Devils earlier this week. “We’re getting to know him as a player and a person.”

RELATED: CAPS DEFENSE OVERMATECHED IN LOSS TO BLUES

Graovac was acquired via trade from Minnesota in June so that Washington could protect Lars Eller in the expansion draft. Given that the Caps already had four NHL centers, it was believed that Graovac would eventually end up in AHL Hershey, despite a one-way contract that will pay him $650,000 this season.

That thinking, however, might need to change after his eye-opening performance against St. Louis.

“He’s competing,” Trotz said. “He’s a big man, he’s skating well, he’s creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done. His faceoffs have been good. We said there are opportunities and he’s trying to grab one.”

Although Graovac is a center by trade, the Brampton, Ontario native said he’d be comfortable skating on the wing if that’s what it takes to win a job.

“Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward,” he said. “I’m just trying to show all aspects of my game really. [Penalty kill]. My defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little more offense. Speed. I’m going to show them everything I’ve got to the best that I can.”

Graovac said he was playing softball when he found out that the Wild, which had selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, had dealt him to the Caps for a fifth round pick. Once the shock wore off, he came to the realization that a change of scenery might turn out to be good for him. He had split the 2016-17 season between the Wild and the minors.

“It was bittersweet,” he said. “I was with Minnesota since I was 18, but I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from a top-place team in the West to a top-place team in the East that’s closer to home…it was a great change for me.”

Graovac heard the reports that the Caps made the move with an eye on the expansion draft. It’s also likely he’s noticed that his name is often absent from media reports about the youngsters who are vying for jobs in Washington.

But he hasn’t allowed any of that to deter him.

“That’s the vision,” he said of claiming a spot on the 23-man opening night roster. “I try to tell myself that every morning. You put a picture on your wall and you go for it. I try not to look into too many things. Washington wanted me for a reason and I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, we got this kid and he can do a couple of things here for us and actually make us better.’”

MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN'S SURPRISE PUTS A SMILE ON KIDS' FACES

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

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USA TODAY Sports

Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

The Caps dressed a young defense for their preseason home opener and the St. Louis Blues took advantage. The Blues scored twice in a 39-second stretch in the first period and rode that to a 4-0 win over Washington on Friday.

Here is who stood out:

Thumbs up

Mathias Bau: Bau was a player to watch coming into this game because of his size (6-foot-7). He was not supposed to play in the preseason, but his play in camp caught Barry Trotz's notice which led to him dressing on Friday. He quickly showed he was more than just a gigantic human. Bau set linemate Tyler Graovac up twice with great feed passes that could easily have turned into goals. He is a better skater and stick-handler than you would expect for someone of his size. He certainly will not make the Caps roster, but he has shown he is someone the team should keep an eye on in Hershey.

Tyler Graovac: Centering the fourth line, Graovac was the Caps’ best offensive player on the night. He showed good speed and drove the net very well, generating the team's best scoring opportunities. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal.

Lars Eller: Eller was one of the few veterans who took advantage of playing against youngsters. He had a strong night offensively and on the penalty kill with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts.

RELATED: CAPITALS MAKE FIRST ROUND OF CUTS

Thumbs down

The defense: It was a very rough night collectively for the Capitals’ blue line. With a defensive lineup that featured only two players from last year’s NHL squad, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney, Washington looked completely overmatched by a youthful St. Louis squad in the defensive zone. Apart from a few good hits from Tyler Lewington, none of the defensive prospects fighting for a roster spot did anything to help their stock at all.

Anthony Peluso: Given the level of competition, Peluso should have been able to contribute more than two shot attempts and two penalties. The days of the enforcer are over. Players need to be able to do more than just drop the gloves. Peluso looks to be Washington’s response to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Ryan Reaves, but he needs to show he can provide the Caps with something other than just fists. The fact that he could not do that against a non-NHL roster is a bad sign.

MORE CAPS: OVECHKIN MAKES KID'S DAY ON STREETS OF DC