Capitals general manager George McPhee met with members of the media on Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss, among other things, Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, the ability to expand NHL rosters immediately after the deadline, and the development of prospects Filip Forsberg, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov and when fans might see them in the NHL.
In Part 4 of the interview, McPhee discusses the development of the Capitals’ top three forward prospects:
On right wing Filip Forsberg, 18, who has 15 goals and 18 assists in 38 games for Leksand of Sweden’s Tier 2 HockeyAllsvenskan League, which concludes its season on Friday, April 5:
We’ve had some discussions with Forsberg and let them know that we’d like to have him in Hershey when the season’s over, take a look at him.
On Forsberg finishing this season in the AHL as opposed to with the Capitals, where any more than five games would burn up the first year of his three-year NHL entry level contract:
Yes, it’s always the safe way to go. To bring a kid right to the NHL – maybe he’s ready for the NHL, but I’d rather have him start in Hershey, take a look and see how it goes. If he’s good enough to play here we’ll make a change. It helps everyone to spend a little time in the minors. It’s a good education for them.
On Forsberg’s development in Sweden’s ‘B League”:
That’s why it’s probably best to put him in the American League, take a look and see where he is because [the NHL] would be a big step up for him.
On right wing Tom Wilson, who turned 19 on Friday and racked up a career-high 23 goals and 35 assists, along with 104 penalty minutes, in 48 games with the OHL Plymouth Whalers, along with two goals and six assists in four playoff games:
I watched him last Saturday, I was in Plymouth. He’s a real handful to play against.
On whether he’s ready for the NHL:
Not necessarily. As I’ve often said, they make the decisions for us. If somebody’s ready we’ll play them. I’m careful about that stuff because it never hurts them to have them play a little bit longer at the amateur level or the American League level. It can hurt them if you play them too early at this level. As I said, I’m a little circumspect about that. But if a player’s ready we’ll play them. Nicky Backstrom was ready after a year, Marcus Johansson was ready after a year, [Alex] Ovechkin was ready after a year. Johnny Carlson came along quick – for a defenseman, really quick. If [Wilson] is ready, certainly he’ll play. He’s going to be a fun player to watch. He’s a real competitive kid, real physical, he’s really improved. He’s done a lot of penalty killing this year, he’s on the power play and what’s going to make him a real good player is the way he works. He really works hard all night long as a responsible player, a committed player. He wants to be a player, not unlike Brooks Laich, who’s really turned himself into a valuable player because he’s so committed.
On whether Forsberg and Wilson could be in the Caps lineup for the stretch run:
“I don’t rule those things out. It’s all based on how they play at the pro level. Some kids start turning pro and look a lot better and some kids look a lot worse. It’s always up to them. They show us.”
On Evgeny Kuznetsov, 20, who finished with 19 goals and 25 assists in 51 games for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL and has 4 goals and 3 assists in 14 playoff games. [Kuznetsov has another season remaining on his KHL contract]:
There have been some discussions there and he really wants to play in the NHL. That’s the next challenge for him. … We know he wants to come when his obligations are fulfilled over there.
On whether he can get out of his KHL contract and come to the Caps next season:
There’s a buyout in his contract, but we’re not allowed to contribute to that. It’s a cap circumvention.
On whether he projects Kuznetsov as a center or right wing:
He was a terrific center as a junior and if a guy can show you that he plays center, you try him at center. It looks like he’ll be a pretty dynamic, playmaking center.
On if Kuznetsov playing center impacts the Capitals’ decision with Mike Ribeiro, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has been the subject of trade rumors:
Not necessarily. Two different players. It’s OK to have centers who you can move to the wing if necessary. It’s nice to have that situation. We’ve got it with Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson. You can always move people to the wing. You can’t move them from wing to center if they don’t know how to play center.
On the angst of possibly losing a defenseman [there are 10 on the roster] through waivers before Wednesday’s trade deadline:
Their angst or mine? I don’t see it as an issue. We’ll get to the deadline and we’re not going to lose anybody. That’s always a challenge in a year like this, when you’ve had so many injuries. That’s not an issue right now but it was during the season a few times. We’ve got a lot of bodies and we’re trying to figure out if we bring this guy in then we’ve got a roster issue if these two guys get healthy. There were some gymnastics going on there for a little bit.
On the prospect of signing college free agents the way they did last spring with defenseman Cameron Schilling:
We’re doing what everybody is doing, talking to these kids and trying to identify a few that we think can play. Most of them have gone through the drafts and everything else but you’ve got to go through the exercise and identify guys that you think have a chance to play and make your pitch and see if it works.