This just in: Alex Ovechkin is good at hockey.
Right? Crazy huh? Did I just drop some knowledge or what? Anyway, besides that Ovechkin guy ... this will be the first of 30 team reports leading up to the NHL's Opening Day, Oct. 7. I decided to box dudes up into different categories, which you will find below:
Alexander Ovechkin, LW
Yeah. He's the man. He's the most electrifying player in the league and the first overall pick in all formats. Not much else needs to be said.
Semyon Varlamov, G
Michal Neuvirth, G
By far the most intriguing showdown of the Capitals preseason. In 2006 Washington used a first round pick on Varlamov and a second rounder on Neuvirth. In 2010 the Caps are set to enter the season with both kids between the pipes. How the starts will shake out is a guessing game right now, but Varlamov clearly has the inside track. In 08-09, at age 20, he got 27 starts with the Caps' AHL affiliate in Hershey, posting a respectable .916 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average. He earned six starts with the big club, posting a very impressive (albeit small sample sized) .918 save percentage and 2.37 GAA. Last season he split time with Jose Theodore on the big club, and had a .909 save percentage and 2.55 goals against in 29 games. For a 21-year-old NHL goaltender that's not too shabby. Neuvirth, by comparison, split time between the ECHL (13 games, .918 save %, 2.28 goals against) and AHL (17 games, .913, 2.70) in 08-09. Last season, he played in the AHL (22 games, .919, 2.24) and NHL (17 games, .914, 2.75).
Here's what HockeysFuture.com has to say about both. First, the incumbent:
Varlamov has a fairly unique, hybrid style and changes that style depending on the situation. Primarily a butterfly goalie, he will use his quick reflexes and fast reaction time to stop shots. He is quick to re-establish his stance after acrobatic saves and plays with a lot of composure. He has a quick glove hand but is not always active with his stick. Varlamov rarely leaves the net to play the puck, but is good at preventing one-timers by intercepting cross-crease passes with his stick. He plays a sound positional game and doesn’t lose the net. He maintains his poise and shows a lot of composure for such a young goalie. Conversely, he sometimes lets in bad goals due to a lack of focus, particularly when playing with a big lead. Varlamov has the size, raw skill and reflexes to make him into a strong NHL goalie. He continues to develop the maturity, mobility and stick handling capabilities that will allow him to become an elite goalie.
Neuvirth is a butterfly goaltender and is technically sound while maintaining his positioning in classic, textbook style. He stays square to shooters and comes out to the top of his crease when appropriate to cut down the angle. His most remarkable on-ice trait is his incredible composure. Neuvirth almost never appears rattled or caught up in a moment of excitement. Whether the puck is in the zone or elsewhere on the ice, Neuvirth is extremely economical with his movement. Has been vulnerable early in games at times and has battled nagging leg injuries but is among the elite young goaltending prospects.
So. Slight edge to Varlamov, but not as much as some people would have you believe. What happens in camp will matter. Like, a ton. Right now Varlamov is the man, but that could easily change. Given that Varlamov is a hot sleeper right now, Neuvirth makes great buy low candidate. It worked for Niemi owners last year. And if you get Varlamov you must must must must must must MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST also acquire Neuvirth. You gotta. Get it? Got it? Did I make myself clear?
Nicklas Backstrom, C
Alexander Semin, LW
Mike Green, D
Backstrom, Semin and Green will be among the first to go at their respective positions. It's going to take first or second round picks to acquire these guys, and they're all worth it. Backstrom and Green have firmly established themselves among the NHL's elite (Green's defensive woes aside, which don't really matter for fantasy pucks). I'm a bit wary of Semin, who had his first 40-goal, 80-point season last year at 25. He's a fantastic sniper surrounded by incredible offensive talent, but does he have 100-point potential? The fact that he plays wing puts him in that elite class and makes him a top option.
Overshadowed and Undervalued
Mike Knuble, RW
All the guy does is grind and score. Over the past seven NHL seasons he's averaged 27.7 goals. He's an ultra-dependable option who won't be sexy enough to be a chic pick this fall. And that = value value value.
Brooks Laich, C
With 53 and 59 point capaigns Laich has firmly established himself as a solid, back-end fantasy center option. You could do worse, and it'll cost almost nothing to get him. Like Knuble, he's ultra-safe.
Tomas Fleischmann, C
See above, but with more upside. Depending on how the Caps decide to set up Ovechkin and Semin (together? not together?) that second line center slot could have considerable value. If it's Fleischmann (and it should be) he could put up 60-70 points.
Youngsters to Watch
John Carlson, D
Karl Alzner, D
With rental Joe Corvo back in Carolina, there will likely be some top 4 minutes to dole out. Carlson's the better bet offensively and makes a fine sleeper selection in preseason drafts. Alzner has less offensive upside, but bears monitoring as well. It wouldn't shock to see either of these guys manning the second power play unit.
Jeff Schultz, D
Schultz had an absurd +50 last season. I think +/- is fairly subjective, though, and drafting guys to specifically target +/- is just too dicey. With just 20-25 point upside, he doesn't have a ton of value.
Tom Poti, D
See above, but with less help in +/-. Plus he went to BU and I hate them.
Nearly Ready Prospects
Mathieu Perreault, C
Marcus Johansson, C
With a team as strong as Washington, cracking the top 9 or even top 12 can be a tall order. If either of these guys start generating buzz, however, they bear watching. There's talent here, it's just not quite ready to contribute on the regular.