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: naturalstattrick.com), 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).