Saturday, August 18, 2012

One To Watch: Washington Capitals

More NHL success has meant a draining of the prospect pool for the Caps as their youth has graduated to the big club. When I was writing for Hockey's Future half a decade ago, it seemed like the Caps were always near the top of the prospect rankings and it was for good reason. 

Guys like Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Michal Neuvirth and a host of others have all made that transition over the last few years. 

In the system now are newer names like Tom Wilson, Filip Forsberg, Stanislav Galiev and Patrick Wey. Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov looks like a star in the making but fans are having to be super patient waiting for him to come over from Russia.    

My first choice for this series was Norweigian goalie Steffen Soberg who bailed on the Swift Current Broncos during training camp last year and went back to his homeland. I'm pretty sure he played pro in Norway so I get why he went back but judging by his numbers you have to wonder if it was the right choice; He only played 17 games and was pumped in net to the tune of a 3.86 GAA.

I finally decided that although I'd written a lot about him in the past, there was one guy I could ignore from the Capitals stable of prospects because it should be a huge year for him.


Braden Holtby (G)

Hershey Bears
6'2, 203 lbs
Drafted 93rd Overall in 2008

Anyone who listens regularly to The Pipeline Show or stops by this blog will already be aware that I've like Braden Holtby since he was an 17-year-old in the WHL.

The first guy who really pointed him out to me was Red Deer Rebels play-by-play voice Cam Moon, a former WHL goalie himself. It was during our first season on the air in 2006 when I asked "Mooner" who the next big goalie out of the WHL would be. After some time to think, because the list at that time wasn't all that impressive, Cam threw out Holtby's name. 

Photo: Saskatoon Blades
Holtby was a 9th round pick by Saskatoon in 2004 and in the 2006-07 season he played 51 of the Blades 72 games. It wasn't a great year, the Blades finished dead last in their conference, but Holtby saw a lot of shots and that gave him ample opportunity to improve. 

A year later and Saskatoon was out of the basement but missed the playoffs and Holtby's numbers were reflected by the improvement. In 2008-09 Holtby won 40 games, 2nd most in the league that year, and was named to the WHL 1st Team All-Star. Holtby had finally convinced many others that he was one to watch moving forward. 

He never got a sniff from Hockey Canada as a junior but that never seemed to affect him. As he went up a level and began his pro career, he just kept getting better. Holtby's AHL debut included 37 games of which he won 24 holding a .917 SV% and 2.32 GAA - better than any year in the WHL. 

Surely it was an anomaly and that he'd come back down to Earth the next year, right? Wrong. His save percentage improved to .920.

Injuries opened the door for Holtby in Washington and he made the most of them. In 14 NHL games in 2010-11 with the Caps he won 10 and posted a ridiculous 1.79 GAA and an incredible .934 sv%.

Photo: Pro Hockey News
When Semyon Varlamov was dealt to Colorado last summer it appeared as though Braden Holtby would be headed to the NHL on a full time basis. The celebration was short lived though when veteran Tomas Vokoun suddenly signed with the team bumping Holtby back to the AHL. The Lloydminster native spoke openly with us about that development just days after it happened. 

It wasn't a banner year in the minors for the Hershey Bears but Holtby still held good numbers through 40 games with the AHL club. Then, like the year before, injuries pulled him back up to D.C. and this time there was no going back. 

Photo: Patrick McDermott
Holtby was one of the big stories of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs right up until the Caps were eliminated by the New York Rangers in an epic 7-game series. The 22-year-old goalie played 14 playoff games and somehow came away with a 1.95 GAA and .935 SV%. 

Vokoun has since been traded to Pittsburgh clearing the way for Holtby this coming season. The question now is whether he will back up Michal Neuvirth, if they'll split games or if Holtby can win the starting job outright over the course of the year. 

There are a lot of reasons to like Holtby; he's a first class individual away from the game and there is a bit of a late bloomer / underdog feel to his story as well. It's a compelling story and one that makes Braden Holtby "One to Watch" for me in 2012-13. 

1 comment:

Price per Head said...

Holby is a player with great potential. He has been able to show that deserves to be there and hopefully he do a good job