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Lapierre Poised for Pro Leap in Hershey

Much of the Hershey Bears roster is in shape for the 2022-23 season, particularly with some prospects from the Washington Capitals making the leap to the professional ranks

Lapierre Poised for Pro Leap in Hershey

HERSHEY, Pa. – Much of the roster shaping for the Hershey Bears for the 2022-23 season is coming from within the organization, particularly with some prospects from the Washington Capitals making the leap to the professional ranks. None of the prospects are bigger or more intriguing than 2020 first-round pick Hendrix Lapierre, who joins the organization full-time this season after four seasons in the QMJHL. After Washington’s moves to acquire talent in free agency, Lapierre seems set to hone his craft in Hershey this season as the NHL roster looks pretty stocked. Obviously, he will try to break into the conversation at the NHL level during training camp, but if he plays in Hershey his presence will be relied upon in a major way.

Lapierre skated in six NHL games for the Capitals a season ago before he was assigned back to the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Due to his age being below AHL eligibility, his options were to play in the NHL or be sent back to junior, and the Capitals decided on the latter in order to retain all three years of his entry-level contract (which would kick in if he stayed on the NHL roster too long). Now, the 20-year-old will turn pro full-time after scoring his first NHL goal with the Capitals in memorable fashion a year ago. Lapierre tallied 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 40 games as well as 11 points in eight playoff games as his season was impacted a bit by a lower-body injury.

Lapierre recently participated in Washington’s prospect development camp this summer and looked head-and-shoulders above the rest of the participants. That’s partially due to his age, but it’s also a huge indicator of his progress and status within the organization. Lapierre scored a nifty goal in which he outwaited the goaltender and made a slick move to tuck the puck over the goal line. It’s easy to see why the Capitals selected him in the first round, and he’d be one of a handful of first-round forward picks to make their debuts in Hershey on the heels of the likes of Connor McMichael and Jakub Vrana. The Bears were vastly better when those two players were in the lineup, with Vrana’s 14 playoff points in 2015-16 as a reason the team went to the Calder Cup Finals and McMichael put up 27 points in 33 games during the 2020-21 season without a chance to compete for the Calder Cup.

The Bears are not exempt from building up a strong team around Lapierre, and should things go well, his AHL debut will be a highlight for fans of the Chocolate and White in 2022-23. Health will be a big factor in Lapierre’s first professional season, as he dealt with spinal issues that held him out for much of the 2019-20 season and quarantine issues plaguing his games played the following year. Last season, a lower-body injury forced him to miss the last two months, but he returned in time for the playoffs where he performed admirably with 11 points in eight games. Hopefully, health issues will be a thing of the past as Lapierre has moved past each issue over his career.

Lapierre will most likely join the Bears after Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan sought talent in free agency to fill Washington’s lineup with the likes of Nick Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Carl Hagelin on the shelf for lengthy spells. The Capitals landed Dylan Strome, Connor Brown, and retained Marcus Johansson during free agency, with two of those players having center experience in addition to McMichael, Lars Eller, Nic Dowd, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Those signings pushed players like Lapierre, Brett Leason, and Aliaksei Protas more towards likely starts in Hershey rather than potentially in Washington as was once anticipated earlier this summer. Lapierre and Henrik Borgstrom, another free agent signing, will both supply strong center depth to Hershey in addition to Mike Sgarbossa, Garrett Pilon, and Mike Vecchione, an enviable lineup down the middle.

With Lapierre joining Washington’s top pick from the 2021 draft in Vincent Iorio (the two have already formed a nice bond since being selected) as likely Hershey players this season, it’ll be a couple of seasons until the Bears see any more top picks of the Capitals make their professional debuts. The duo are Washington’s top selections in both 2020 and 2021, and while there are more players joining the Bears from the draft like Benton Maass and Bear Hughes, this caliber of additions will be perhaps better than a big summer of signings. It will be up to the Bears to prepare these players for the NHL ranks, and hopefully, achieve some success in the meantime.

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