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Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Hershey update: 28-17-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 2-1-0-0

You can officially scratch Zach Sanford off the Capitals prospect list.

Sanford was shipped to St. Louis as part of the trade package that landed the Capitals Kevin Shattenkirk. While that may be good news for the Caps, it is also bad news for the Hershey Bears who now stand to lose two key forwards.

Wait, two?

Before the Shattenkirk trade, the Capitals looked set on carrying Sanford and Jakub Vrana as forward depth for the playoffs. With Sanford now gone, that will mean more time over the last stretch of the season for Vrana in the NHL. Even when Andre Burakovsky returns from injury, the Caps may still choose to keep Vrana around to keep him practicing with the team. I would expect to see him with the Caps for most if not all of the remainder of the regular season and for the team to keep cycling through other Hershey forwards in search of who may be the best fit in case of multiple postseason injuries. Forwards like Riley Barber.

Barber had a busy week. With the injury to T.J. Oshie, the forward prospect was recalled from Hershey and played in the first three NHL games of his career. He registered two shots on goal against the Edmonton Oilers. Following Saturday’s game in Nashville, Barber was sent down to the AHL where he earned an assist in Sunday’s loss to Bridgeport. He was then recalled again for the Caps' game in New York on Tuesday and returned to the AHL prior to the NHL’s trade deadline on Wednesday.

Barber spoke with the blog Russian Machine Never Breaks about what is was like to achieve his dream and finally make it to the NHL. You can read it here.

Although Barber’s ultimate goal is to earn a spot on the NHL roster rather than just play in three games as a callup, the fact that he has made it this far as a sixth-round draft pick is a remarkable success.

One player who seemed likely to earn a call-up this season was Nathan Walker. A late-season hand injury, however, has put that on hold.

Walker is currently considered week-to-week. As the season goes on, the goal for these Hershey call-ups becomes less about giving players experience and more about getting ready for the playoffs so the clock may be ticking for Walker to make his debut this season.

Fox Sports wrote a feature on the young Aussie with some glowing words from head coach Barry Trotz who believes Walker will get called up either this year or next.

Another part of the Shattenkirk trade that affects the Bears directly is Pheonix Copley. Washington also acquired the goalie and former Bear as part of the deal. Washington needed to grab a third goalie not just for their sake, but for Hershey’s.

Joe Canata was signed to be Washington’s No. 3 this season and to play in tandem in the AHL with Vitek Vanecek. That plan has not worked and the goaltending has been an issue for the Bears. Vanecek is as much to blame for that as Canata. After a hot start, Vanecek has struggled and has a 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage for the season.

The addition of Copley is not a sign that the team has given up on Vanecek by any means. After all, the team elected to keep him and trade away Canta. But at only 21 years old, Vanecek remains very much a work in progress.

Stanislav Galiev stayed hot with two goals Friday against Hartford. He now has 17 goals and 28 points in 36 games for the Bears this season. Many have wondered why he has not been recalled at some point this season, but with several up and coming prospects within the organization, it certainly appears as if the team is ready to move on. That point was further emphasized prior to the trade deadline as Isabelle Khurshudyan reported the Capitals were shopping him.

General manager Brian MacLellan stated after the trade for Shattenkirk that the St. Louis Blues “insisted” on Sanford being part of the deal. I have to wonder if one of Washington’s first proposals included Galiev instead.

As well as Galiev has played of late, no one had a better week than defenseman Christian Djoos who recorded five points in Hershey’s three games. He is now riding a five-game point streak for the third time this season and is now tied for fourth among AHL defensemen with 38 points.

Travis Boyd reached a milestone with the Bears over the weekend. Boyd’s goal Friday was his 100th career AHL point. He is currently second on the team in points with 45.

In other Bears news, the Capitals signed defenseman Colby Williams to a two-year entry-level contract on Thursday. The team also signed free agent forward Mason Mitchell to a two-year, entry-level contract. He will join the Bears on a tryout agreement.

Washington’s 2016 first round pick, Lucas Johansen, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract as well. He is currently playing with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, but is expected to play for Hershey next season.

You can see more details on the signings here.

RELATED: Trotz wants Caps to make sure they're in playoff mode

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov’s KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, won its first round series against Kunlun Red Star 4-1 with a dominant 8-2 win on Thursday. After starting Game 1, Samsonov appeared in only one other game when he came on in relief in Game 4, stopping all 11 shots in faced in his team’s only loss of the series.

Two Caps prospects squared off over the weekend as Shane Gersich and North Dakota took on Steven Spinner’s Nebraska-Omaha team. The teams split the two games with one win apiece, but Spinner won the head-to-head matchup with two goals in Friday’s game, both scored within two minutes apart.

It was a rare down week for Gersich as he was held off the scoresheet completely in both of North Dakota’s games. That, however, should not take away from the monster season he is having.

“Shane Gersich came into our program two years ago as a first-year freshman and had a pretty good impact in the national championship game scoring a goal on the fourth line,” said head coach Brad Berry. “He came in this year and wanted more. He got stronger, he’s very fast, his skating ability is one of his best assets as far as skating, and he’s on that top line with Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser, and he’s been the guy that consistently does things over and over again. He’s been consistent in his work habits, and he’s been consistently showing up on the score sheet. It’s no coincidence the success he’s had.”

Gersich leads North Dakota in points with 34 (19 goals, 15 assists).

Brian Pinho and Chase Priskie also lead their respective teams in points. Pinho is currently on a point-per-game pace with 34 points in 34 games for Providence. At Quinnipiac, Priskie finished the regular season tied for the team lead in points with 25, despite the fact that he is a defenseman.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk's Twitter handle is one big poop joke

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Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

CHICAGO—The Capitals tried to move up a couple of times on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, but those deals did not materialize.

Instead, GM Brian MacLellan and his staff used the four picks they began the day with...and continued a trend the organization has established in recent drafts: selecting defensemen.

In fact, three of the players the Caps drafted Saturday at United Center were blue liners—Switzerland’s Tobias Geisser in the fourth round, Sweden’s Sebastian Walfridsson in the fifth and Minnesota high schooler Benton Maass in the sixth. (Winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen was the team’s seventh round pick.) Going back to last year's draft, Maass' selection marked five straight defensemen drafted by the Caps.

“It’s not a conscious effort,” MacLellan said of using three of the team’s four picks on defenseman. “The philosophy has been to take the best player available and our amateur staff liked these guys here today.”

Assistant General Manager Ross Mahoney added: “It comes down to taking the best player that was available to us, and there happened to be defensemen that we liked that were still on the board, so we took them.”

Conscious or not, the trend is tough to ignore.

Dating to the 2015 draft, the Capitals have chosen defensemen with nine of their 15 picks during that span. Among them are highly regarded prospects Lucas Johansen (first round in 2016), Jonas Siegenthaler (second round in 2015) and Connor Hobbs (fifth round in 2015). 

Mahoney acknowledged that have a surplus of blue liners in the pipeline can be a good problem to have.

“It is for sure,” he said. “Teams are always looking for defensemen. There’s no problem having extra defensemen in the farm system.”

Mahoney also said that as the game gets faster, finding and developing smart, puck-moving rearguards will become even more critical.

“You want your defensemen to be able to skate and have good sense and be able to make quick decisions because the game is so fast now,” he said. “The forwards get on the defense really quickly, so you want to make sure you get guys that can skate and move the puck well.”

None of the Caps’ draftees were in attendance. It was unclear as of Saturday afternoon if any of them will attend next week’s development camp at Arlington.

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Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup. 

“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. 

“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”

RELATED: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but to keep Schmidt

Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.

“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”

The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.

“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan: Caps likely done signing own UFAs