Monday, August 29, 2022

The 2021-2022 Washington Capitals Rookie Class -- Then and When: Part 2 -- "O My Goodness"

We began our look back at the rookie class of 2021-2022 for the Washington Capitals in Part 1 in overall terms. Now, it is time to delve a bit deeper and look at the individual rookies, the variety of contributions they made in a somewhat unusual season for rookies in the recent history of the Caps, and what might lie in store for them as they continue their development.  We start with a look at the pair of rookies who showed that they might be significant offensive contributors in years to come.

Hendrix Lapierre, Forward

Drafted: Washington, 2020, first round, 22nd overall, amateur team in draft year: Chicoutimi Saguenéens (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)

The 2020 Elite Prospects Draft Guide had this to say about Hendrix Lapierre before the 2020 Entry Draft:

“His pucks skills, and the ability to wield them with the same effectiveness at speed as he does at a standstill, make him a dazzling puck-carrier. Lapierre can effortlessly weave his way through an entire team on a moment's notice…”

It was that talent that allowed him to post 23 goals and 80 points in 88 games with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens over three seasons in Canadian juniors before getting his opportunity with the Caps.  Not that there weren’t bumps in the road along the way.  He missed a month of play when he suffered a concussion in February 2019.  It was thought he sustained two more concussions in short order October and November of 2019, after which he was shelved for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.  Those “concussions” were judged to be misdiagnosed, the incidences being head/neck injuries.  Serious in their own right, but perhaps without the lingering, cumulative effects concussions can have.  It was his injury history that might have pushed him down the draft board in 2020, the Caps taking him with the 22nd overall pick after being ranked 13th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. 

Lapierre spent most of the 2021-2022 season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL, where he went 21-30-51, plus-15, in 40 games with the Titan.  But he did get a cup of coffee with the Caps, dressing for six games in October and November.  He was in the lineup on opening night against the New York Rangers, scoring his first NHL goal on his second NHL shot.

It would be the only point he recorded in six games, but he did display glimpses of his stick-handling skills and speed in limited ice time (9:35 per game).  He also showed a measure of responsibility in his 200-foot game, on ice for only one even strength goal against in 51:48 of even strength ice time and charged with only one giveaway in 57:32 of total ice time.  While he did not record a power play point, he did average 57 seconds of power play ice time over his six games, second highest among all 11 rookie skaters (Aliaksei Protas averaged 59 seconds per game).

If there are concerns, they are not unusual for players at the start of their careers.  Most notably, despite leading all Caps rookie skaters in on-ice offensive zone start percentage (80.0 percent; source:, his personal 41.11 percent on-ice Corsi-for percentage was worst among rookies.  On the other hand, the Caps did earn points in five of the six games in which Lapierre skated, his shortcomings having little consequence with respect to team success.

Lapierre has the offensive skill to make a run at a roster spot in training camp, but given his lack of pro experience and the personnel moves the Caps made among the forward spots in the off-season to date, it would seem more likely that he would benefit from more seasoning without the bright lights of an NHL roster spot.  His being left off the roster of the 2022-23 IIHF World Junior Championship roster for Team Canada suggest he could use some additional seasoning as well.  It would also give him a chance to demonstrate that his injury woes are behind him and give him a chance to develop a more rounded game.

What’s Next?  It is not inconceivable that Lapierre could play his way onto the roster out of training camp, but with the roster as crowded as it is heading to training camp, it would not be the way to bet.  He will be skating under the first year of his three-year entry level contract in 2022-2023.  He could stand to add some weight, and he might need some experience in managing a long schedule, both of which he will have the opportunity to undertake in Hershey with the Bears this season.  However, as a waiver-exempt player, it would seem likely that he would be among the early call-ups from the AHL in the event injuries require filling in from the farm.  Down the road, perhaps in 2023-2024, he will earn a permanent place on the roster as a middle-six center.

Joe Snively, Forward

Drafted: undrafted, signed as free agent March 18, 2019; amateur team in signing year: Yale University

Joe Snively is a feel-good story in a “local boy makes good” sort of way.  Born in Herndon, Virginia; a graduate of the Washington Little Capitals program, undrafted as an amateur but signed as a free agent by the team he grew up with after four years at Yale University.  He played parts of four seasons with the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Hershey before he was called up to the big club in December 2021.  He recorded a point in his first NHL game, an assist on a Connor McMichael goal in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, but it would be more than a month before he dressed for his second NHL game, posting another assist in a 5-0 win over the Dallas Stars in late January. 

The goal scoring did not express itself in Snively’s early exposure to the NHL, posting no goals on five shots in his first five games with the Caps.  That changed.  He potted four goals on 11 shots in his next four games with Washington, a stretch that included his first career multi-point game, going 2-1-3, plus-3, in a 5-2 win over Montreal in February.  He would go without a point in his last three games with the team, but it was not lack of production that cut his season short.  After skating just 8:23 in a 5-3 loss to Toronto on the last day of February, his season ended when he underwent surgery on his left wrist in March, an injury coach Peter Laviolette described at the time as a “lingering” issue, one that perhaps accounted for his drop in production over his last three games.

The injury aside, Snively showed promise as an opportunistic and efficient goal scorer.  Consider the Elite Prospects scouting report on him:

“Prominent offensive presence whenever he is on the ice. Exhibits a hunger for loose pucks and can carry it himself into the slot. Not the biggest body, but doesn't shy away from bigger bodies to create opportunities. Very accurate shot which jumps off his stick. Excellent passer and proficient puck skills. Very determined and works hard for the time and space he finds. Needs to recognize transition chances starting in his own end and the neutral zone quicker, and always be a factor in defensive as well as offensive play.”

Of the eight Caps rookie skaters dressing for more than two games, Snively led the group in goals per 60 minutes (1.35) and led all NHL rookie skaters in goals per 60 among the 140 rookies dressing for at least ten games.  He was fifth among all rookie skaters in the league in shooting percentage (19.1) among the 97 rookies recording at least 20 shots on goal.

It is possible to be a bit ambivalent with respect to Snively.  On the one hand, he did have four goals in 12 games, a 27-goal pace, albeit in a small population of games played.  On the other hand, and this will bear watching when he returns, is whether he is, like many goal scorers, a bit streaky.  Those four goals came in a four-game stretch, before which he was 0-2-2 in five games and 0-0-0 in three games after (although his injury might account for the lack of production).

What’s next?  Snively was an intriguing player in his brief stint with the Caps last season with his four goals in 12 games. But that production was largely limited to a four-game stretch in the middle of his stay.  The injury might have had something to do with his drop-off in production, but he still has to prove he can be a consistent contributor.  And, time is not on his side.  Snively will turn 27 years old on New Year’s Day, and there is a greater sense of urgency with respect to his establishing himself as a regular NHLer.  He faces the same obstacles as Lapierre in terms of the Caps roster being a bit crowded at forward, not to mention uncertain with respect to the timing of the returns of Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.  He could get his chances this season in a call-up role, but he’s going to have to hit the road running (or the ice skating).

The 2021-2022 Washington Capitals Rookie Class -- Then and When: Part 1 -- "Put Me In Coach"

With the 2022-2023 NHL regular season fast approaching, we are making the transition from the old to the new, looking forward to training camp and the start of the 2022-2023 season that will dominate our attention over the next several weeks.  But there is one aspect of the 2021-2022 season for the Washington Capitals that deserves one last look for its unusual nature and as a baseline for the upcoming season.  That would be the role rookies played with the Caps last season.  We will be taking a look at “The Year of the Rookie” in several parts, starting with an overview of the season last year’s rookie class for the Capitals had as a baseline.  For instance…

-- The Caps dressed 11 rookies last season, all skaters.  No Eastern Conference playoff team dressed as many (Florida was next in the East with seven), and the Los Angeles Kings were the only other playoff team to dress as many as 11 rookie skaters.

-- Those 11 rookies combined for 273 man games, fifth most among all teams last season and most among Eastern Conference teams reaching the playoffs.

-- The 32 goals scored by the 11 rookies ranked fifth among all teams and again led all Eastern Conference teams reaching the postseason.

-- Last year’s rookie class of skaters for the Caps combined for 65 points, 11th among all teams and second among all Eastern Conference playoff teams (Toronto: 89 points).

-- The plus-26 cumulative rating for the Caps’ rookie class ranked second in the league overall (Toronto: plus-34).

-- Caps rookies played within the rules rather well.  Their combined 59 penalty minutes were tied for 15th in the league overall, with Philadelphia, in 102 more man games than the Flyers.

-- In 47 seasons, the 11 rookie skaters the Caps employed last season are tied for seventh-most of any season in team history.  The last time the Caps had more rookie skaters dress was in 2004, when 14 rookie skaters pulled on a jersey at least once.  That was at the start of the most recent rebuild, when a number of players were moved from a poor Caps club.  Before that, you would have to go all the way back to 1991 to find more rookie skaters, when 13 dressed for the Caps.

-- No rookie skater had as many as ten goals, but all nine who appeared in more than one game had at least one.

-- Two rookies – Connor McMichael and Martin Fehervary – finished with more than 15 points.  Not since 1990-1991 have the Caps had more rookies finish with more than 15 points (Mikhail Tatarinov, Dmitri Khristich, and Peter Bondra).

-- Four Caps rookies – Connor McMichael, Martin Fehervary, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Aliaksei Protas – averaged more than 10 minutes of ice time per game while appearing in at least 20 games, matching the most in team history (2017-2018, 2010-2011, 2003-2004).

-- Five of the 11 rookie skaters had takeaway-to-giveaway ratios of greater than 1.0:1 (Connor McMichael (1.5:1), Brett Leason (2.25:1), Hendrix Lapierre (3.0:1), Joe Snively (7.0:!), and Beck Malenstyn (2.0:1)

-- Over the last 20 seasons, the 2021-2022 rookie class of skaters ranks as follows in selected statistical categories:

  • Games Played: 3rd (273); the 2017-2018 team had the most (286)
  • Goals: 2nd (32)/2005-2006 had 61
  • Assists: 7th (33)/2005-2006 had 82
  • Points: 6th (65)/2005-2006 had 143
  • Plus-Minus: T-2nd (plus-26, with 2017-2018)/2014-2015 was plus-33
  • Penalty Minutes: 11th (59)/2013-2014 had 222
  • Even Strength Goals: 2nd (30)/2005-2006 had 36
  • Even Strength Points: 4th (61)/2005-2006 had 82
  • Power Play Goals: T-7th (1)/2005-2006 had 22
  • Power Play Points: T-12th/2005-2006 had 58
  • Shorthanded Goals: T-2nd (1)/2005-2006 had 3
  • Shorthanded Points: T-2nd (2)/2005-2006 had 3
  • Game-Winning Goals: T-6th (2)/2010-2011 had 8
  • Shots on Goal: 2nd (348)/2005-2006 had 624

 -- By month, the 2022-2003 rookie class had combined scoring lines as follows:

  • October: 20 man-games, 2-3-5, plus-4
  • November: 71 man-games, 9-11-20, plus-5
  • December: 39 man-games, 4-4-8, plus-13
  • January: 42 man-games, 3-6-9, plus-7
  • February: 33 man-games, 5-5-10, minus-1
  • March: 39 man-games, 5-2-7, even
  • April: 21 man-games, 4-2-6, minus-2

We will be taking a closer look at the individual skaters in entries that follow, both their performance last season and what might lie in store for the upcoming season, but what is striking about the 2021-2022 rookie class is how much and how many in this class were called upon to fill holes and produce (almost a third of all skaters to dress last season for the Caps – 11 of 35 – were rookies), especially for a playoff contender, not a rebuilding team as was the case in 2005-2006.  Can they take the next step?  That’s the challenge.