After Calder Cup run, Brian MacLellan expects multiple Hershey players to make Capitals’ roster in fall originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Capitals 2022-23 season did not go the way the franchise hoped for, as it concluded with a missed playoff berth for the first time in nine years.
Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, played deep into June, however, capturing the organization’s 12th Calder Cup after knocking off the Coachella Valley Firebirds in seven games.
Several of the Capitals’ top prospects played instrumental roles in Hershey, highlighted by 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas and Beck Malenstyn. And after a successful playoff run, all three have a strong chance to earn a roster spot with the Capitals this fall, according to general manager Brian MacLellan.
“They all had a good playoff. They’re all getting better,” MacLellan said on the trio of prospects. “They’re all going to add different elements to our lineup. I would more than likely pencil them in for next year.”
MacLellan’s comments were far from surprising, as McMichael, Protas and Malenstyn each already have NHL experience.
In 2021-22, McMichael was a regular for the Capitals. He suited up for 68 games in Washington and recorded 18 points (nine goals, nine assists). The 22-year-old began last season in Washington but was sent down to Hershey after just six appearances. The demotion was difficult for McMichael at first, but he certainly made the most of his time with the Chocolate and White.
“Coming down here at the start was a little bit tough, obviously coming from the NHL and coming down here, but I think I made the most of it,” McMichael said in early May. “I’ve been working on the little things I need to work on and obviously we got a really good team down here. So, that helps and I’ve been having a lot of fun.”
Protas spent the most time at the NHL level this past season of the three prospects MacLellan mentioned. The 22-year-old played 58 games for the Capitals last season and only rejoined Hershey once the NHL season concluded. Protas played third-line left wing in Hershey throughout the playoffs and was part of the Bears’ most productive line in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Malenstyn, 25, has played 24 career games for the Capitals, nine coming this past season. The winger appeared to be finding his groove with Washington once he was called up earlier this year but suffered a broken hand that forced him to miss multiple weeks. Once he was cleared to play, he returned to Hershey but did get one last shake with the Capitals before the NHL season concluded.
During the Calder Cup Playoffs, Malenstyn was a significant contributor on Hershey’s fourth line, as his physical play set the tone in multiple games and even series. His strong playoff run should help the 25-year-old establish himself at the NHL level starting next season.
“The biggest thing for me is trying to play the same type of hockey no matter where I am,” Malenstyn said in May. “Going back up there, it was just an opportunity to leave an impression to end a season for them. Just to continue to work on that game with some higher stakes and bring that down for playoff hockey down here.”
One other Bears player MacLellan mentioned as someone who could possibly make the Capitals’ roster next season was defenseman Lucas Johansen. A 2016 first-round pick by Washington, Johansen has spent the past five years in Hershey and has just three NHL games to his name.
But MacLellan was impressed by Johansen’s play in the Calder Cup Playoffs and emphasized there’s always a need for more defensemen, even after trading for Joel Edmundson and re-signing Martin Fehervary this offseason.
“Yes, I do,” MacLellan said when asked if Johansen could make the Capitals’ roster. “Me personally, I thought he played well.”
Considering the Capitals’ current roster and cap space, it’s difficult to imagine all four as full-time contributors with Washington next year. But, with newly-signed winger Max Pacioretty expected to miss the start of the season, perhaps all four could start the year with the NHL squad.
Of course, all four prospects MacLellan listed hoped to be with the Capitals for all of this past season. However, each of their performances in the Calder Cup Playoffs certainly helped their respective chances of being full-time NHLers next season.
“Before that, I think we thought they might [make our roster],” MacLellan said. “I think you get more assurance to see them do well at that level of play in the Finals. [and] ending up winning a championship, I think that solidifies their development.”