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The Fork in the Road: Youth

Here we are, a little over a month removed from the Capitals exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Despite not playing, the Capitals have had one of the busier Junes.  We immediately learned of Dale Hunter’s decision to not return as head coach next season, instead returning to London.  Then we had the word from Alexander Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, made it very clear that Alex would be heading to free agency.  Of course, this claim was later refuted by Semin, but who knows with them Russians.  Add in the decision to not offer contract renewals to Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble, and the Capitals have set themselves up for one of the busiest summers in recent years.

To be fair, none of the events within the past month should have come as huge surprises.  We all knew that despite being one win away from the Conference Finals, there was not a whole lot of happiness with the way this season transpired.  When teams that should be dominating falter, massive shake-ups are quite common.  We all remember what happened in Philadelphia last summer with Carter and Richards.  The issue now is whether the Capitals choose to continue to invest in their previous draft classes or they go all out in free agency.

With the way the line-ups were handled down the stretch, it is clear the Capitals do have a ton of faith in their developmental system.  We repeatedly watched as veterans like Knuble, Halpern, and Ward were benched in favor of former Hershey Bears Aucoin, Perreault, and Beagle.  With Halpern and Knuble already gone for next season, and many praying for Ward to be shipped somewhere for a bag of rocks, can we honestly expect Aucoin, Beagle, and Perreault to be full-time replacements?  Throw in a possible loss of Alexander Semin, and that leaves some mighty big skates to fill

I don’t think there needs to be much discussion about Jay Beagle.  His play down the stretch and in the playoffs was inspiring.  He may never be anything more than a penalty killing 4th liner, but he is pretty damn good at that.  Beagle should be a sure-thing to be an NHL starter at the start of next season.  I would go as far as to say that the opposite could be said for Keith Aucoin.  He is a perfect example of a guy who finds unbelievable success at the AHL level, but it just doesn’t translate at the NHL level.  He led the AHL in scoring when he was playing for Hershey, but only tallied 3 goals and 8 assists during his 27-game stint with the Caps.  Those numbers wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t for him averaging 1:10 power play time per game and registering 0 power play points.  In the playoffs he continued to see extensive power play time and recorded only 1 power play point.  At the age of 33, he doesn’t have much upside left.  He might still have value as a call-up player, but he just has not shown any reason why he deserves to be an every-night starter.  He is a free agent who made just over $500,000 last season.  If he expects more, I can’t see a reason to give it to him.

Perreault, however, remains a wild card.  Out of these 3 players, he clearly has the most offensive ability.  It wasn’t so much what he did, 16 goals and 14 assists, it was more about his timeliness.  He scored 4 game winners during the regular season, and had a monster game against the Bruins when the Caps needed it.  With all that being said, he still seems to struggle with the physicality that is found at the NHL level.  He is easily pushed off of the puck, and just cannot stand up to a hit.  There was a reason that Hunter ultimately decided to bench Perreault in the playoffs.  In hard-fought, overtly-physical games, Perreault has not shown that he can handle the rough stuff.  He and Johansson play a very similar style of game, but Johansson does it better.  The Caps have already offered Perreault a qualifying offer ($525,000), but if another team throws him something better, the Caps might need to let him go.

That leaves us with the rest.  Those players who failed to crack the NHL ranks this past season, but we all hope will be a standout in the future.  That was what we spent all season saying about Kuznetsov.  Unfortunately, he chose to sign a 2 year deal with Traktor in the KHL, which leaves us all heart broken.  That would seem to leave only Cody Eakin among the list of those who could be expecting to make the NHL a full time job.  Last season was Eakin’s first at the professional level and he definitely showed signs that he might be a full-time NHLer down the line.  Although he only put up 4 goals and 4 assists in his 30 games at the NHL level, he did not seem lost.  He managed to find more success at the AHL level, where he put up 13 goals and 14 assists over 43 games.  Although the Caps would love to have Eakin become the 2nd line center they so desperately need, Eakin’s future is almost certainly at the wing.  The sooner he makes that switch in training, the sooner he can be expected to fight for a top-6 spot.

Over the past couple of years, Caps fans have been able to tout the deep well of talent the Caps had coming up through their system.  Unfortunately, that well has just about run dry.  And it has run dry at just about the wrong time.  With all these changes that this team desperately needs, for once they have to turn outwards.  They might have a few gifted scorers through the ranks, but the real fixes they need just aren’t there.

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About F Street Faithful

Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.