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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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Braden Holtby — the skater — is a sight to behold

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CSNMA

Braden Holtby — the skater — is a sight to behold

Braden Holtby is an elusive guy.

The 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner might be large in stature, but keeps to himself. When you do see him, he's typically covered in layers of goalie pads or briefly chatting with the media following a game.

So imagine the surprise to see Holtby take the ice at Kettler IcePlex well before training camp begins with zero goalie pads on.

That's what took place on Monday morning. As several players hit the ice for some unofficial workout sessions, there was the 6-2 Saskatchewan native strolling onto the ice, with a regular stick, regular skates, regular gloves and Andre Burakovsky's helmet.

RELATED: 2017-18 CAPITALS SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Frankly, it was a bit odd to see Holtby skate up and down the ice.

Maybe it's because we're used to seeing him in the crouch position. or maybe it's because we actually see his entire figure, not just a pile of leather pads.

But even goalies need to work on non-goalie skills. The more familiar you are with position players, the better you will be to stop them from scoring.

But man, seeing Holtby skate like a forward sure does take some time to get used to. 

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 20 Taylor Chorney

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 20 Taylor Chorney

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.

Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles. 

Today’s player: No. 20 Taylor Chorney.

RELATED: 2017-18 CAPITALS SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

One of the more interesting storylines during training camp is going to be the battle along the blue line and where everyone, particularly a veteran like Chorney, fits into the plan as the Caps skew a bit younger.

The top pair is easy to figure out; it’ll be Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

After that, it gets a little more interesting.

John Carlson will be on the second pair, perhaps with Aaron Ness.

If that's how things shake out, it would make sense to have Brooks Orpik anchor the third pair, especially if the No. 6 spot goes to a rookie since they'd surely benefit from the steady hand of a soon-to-be 37-year-old.

But will that spot go to a youngster like Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey or someone else? 

Or will it go to Chorney, a 30-year-old who's appeared in 141 NHL games spread over eight seasons for four clubs?

The Caps anticipate that Djoos and Bowey are closer to being NHL-ready than their other defenseman prospects.

Djoos lit up the AHL last season to the tune of 58 points in 66 games and the team needs to replace some offense. Bowey, meanwhile, has the look of a promising two-way defenseman.

But here’s the drawback—and where Chorney, in my opinion, fits into the equation.

Neither Djoos nor Bowey have done it yet. And until they do, no one can be 100-percent sure they’re completely ready to handle the everyday duties that the NHL demands. 

Chorney, to that end, has a significant advantage in experience, at a position where it matters a lot. He appeared in 18 games last season and a career-high 55 games the year before, also with the Caps. 

The bottom line: I suspect Chorney, who is entering the final year of his contract, will open camp penciled in as the team’s No. 6/7.

I also expect that he'll play a decent amount this season, maybe more than last year but perhaps less than 2015-16. I could even see him in the opening night lineup. Eventually, though, the Caps will want to see Djoos, Bowey or another youngster squeeze their way past Chorney and into the lineup full-time.        

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
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley
No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly