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Capitals draft class stands to have major AHL impact

Capitals draft class stands to have major AHL impact

MONTREAL, QC. – The Washington Capitals had a busy 2022 NHL Entry Draft, making one major trade and selecting seven players that all have the potential to make a splash at the AHL level.

The biggest news of the day was the trade that sent former Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey in a swap of draft picks that ultimately moved the team forward in the draft and allowed them to select Ryan Chesley at pick 37. The trade also gave Washington an extra third-round pick in this year’s draft, and two interesting picks in the later stages of the draft may have implications for the Hershey Bears as soon as the fall. Washington capped off the day by signing Bears defender Lucas Johansen to a two-year extension for a former first-round pick back in 2016.

Washington entered the first day with their only pick in the first round, 20th overall, and selected winger Ivan Miroshnichenko from Russia. The 6’1, 185-pound winger was deemed a steal at the position as Miroshnichenko, 18, was originally ranked higher on the scouting list before being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma early in 2022. He previously captained the 2021 Gold Medal-winning Hlinka-Gretzky Cup team with 16 points in 31 games. The setback dropped his positioning perfectly for the Capitals to pick him with the 20th selection.

“The last few months have been great,” Miroshnichenko said via a translator. “Obviously before then was some challenging times, but before then but when I was in Russia, it was super. The plan is for me to stay here [in Washington], obviously, I have the Development Camp coming up here, but then the plan is for me to rejoin my team in Omskie.”

As he mentioned in the interview, Miroshnichenko’s first exposure to the Capitals’ organization will come next week when the team’s Development Camp kicks off in Washington. Fans will see him in action during Washington’s prospect scrimmage on the last day of camp on July 15. Miroshnichenko’s highlights speak to his skill set, with a lethal shot reminiscent of Alex Ovechkin and some great skating ability and mentioned getting back to skating regularly. It will be a couple of seasons before he’s ready to join the Bears when he hits AHL eligibility at age 20, but he will be an intriguing prospect to watch on his way to the NHL.

The Vanecek trade saw the rights to the restricted free agent as well as Washington’s 46th pick sent to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for their 37th overall pick and 70th overall pick. The Capitals moved up to select defenseman Ryan Chesley, a Minnesota native defenseman who skated in a variety of USA Hockey programs leading up to his selection most notably 59 games with the US U18 National Team where he finished with 12 goals, 17 assists and a plus-44 mark. Standing at 6’1 and weighing at over 200 pounds, Chesley is a force to be reckoned with at the blue line physically but has a high hockey IQ, making some great plays and finding ways to put the puck in the net.

The Capitals then went on to select a pair of Swedish forwards in the third round with their additional selection from the Vanecek trade, picking Alexander Suzdalev 70th overall and then Ludwig Persson 85th overall. Suzdalev, standing at 6’2 and 172 pounds, skated for a variety of Swedish junior teams with HV71, most recently their J20 national team where he tallied 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points in 45 games played as well as four points in five postseason games. His highlight reel includes an impressive lacrosse-style goal that was shared on Twitter, making him an intriguing prospect to watch as he works towards AHL eligibility.

Persson similarly skated with the junior ranks in Sweden, tallying 25 goals and 36 assists for 61 points in 41 games played for the Frolunda HC J20 team. The 6’0, 178 pound forward has smooth hands and a nose for the net and had three goals in three playoff games. He’s strong on the transition and has a good shot and will continue to hone his game as he works towards AHL eligibility in a few years.

Washington had a lengthy break after that selection, not picking in the fourth round and waiting until the fifth to select Jake Karabela 149th overall. The 5’10, 172-pound center skated his first season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm in his hometown, tallying 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points in 68 games played. He also tallied four points in five playoff games and has a very deceptively good shot, tallying a number of goals close to the net and picking corners well. Stocking some forwards and particularly a center is important for the organization, and it will be interesting to watch him progress.

The two final selections in the draft hold extra intrigue as the Capitals selected Ryan Hofer with their sixth-round selection, 181st overall, from the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. Everett is a hot spot of talent, with Hershey forwards Beck Malenstyn and Garrett Pilon also spending time there prior to turning professional. Hofer had his best season at the WHL level, tallying 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in 67 games played as well as ten playoff points in six games. Hofer is an intriguing prospect at 6’3, 185 pounds and 20 years old, making him AHL-eligible for the coming season in a similar vein to Brett Leason as an over-ager. He has a big body and a lot of strength as exhibited in the below video, and his increased production makes it worth seeing how he would translate to the AHL level as a notoriously tough step.

Finally, the Caps selected David Gucciardi in the seventh round, 213th overall. The 6’1, 185-pound defender skated for two seasons at the USHL level before joining Michigan State University in the NCAA ranks, where he posted five goals and six assists for 11 points in 36 games while tracking a minus-15 mark. Like Hofer, Gucciardi will turn 20 years of age on October 9 and is AHL-eligible as a result, but it remains to be seen if he’ll join the AHL ranks or spend a few more years honing his game at the NCAA level. He has a big body and a strong shot with some offensive upside.

The Capitals capped off the day by signing Johansen to a new contract, a two-way deal in 2022-23 and a one-way contract in 2023-24. With perhaps the largest roster turnover in recent memory for the Capitals plus a desire to fill many roles internally, jobs are up for grabs with the big club and it appears Johansen is set to be one of the top contending players to step up into a role in the nation’s capital. Johansen had a breakout year in 2021-22, leading the Bears in plus/minus and proving himself to be one of the team’s most valuable players.

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