During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from behindthenet.ca ranked against other players at the same position--from today on, forward, defense, or goalie--in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night, and linemates are those listed at even strength at 10% or greater. Today, a birthday gift for the birthday boy, Braden Holtby)
Braden Holtby: age 21, 6'1", 202 pounds, catches left.
Contract: entry-level, $570k with $638k cap hit, RFA in 2013, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 raw stats:
AHL: 37 GP, 25-8-2, 2.32 GAA, .917 SV%, 2 SO
Playoffs: 3 GP, 2-1, 3.60 GAA, .857 SV%, 0 SO
ECHL: 12 GP, 7-2-1-2, 2.95 GAA, .911 SV%, 0 SO
(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)
An affiliation between a top-league and minor league sports team is meant to be mutually beneficial, and it certainly has been for the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears. Washington has a place for its players to develop before they are ready to make the NHL roster, and Hershey gets a slew of good, young talent. While there are many AHL veterans who could replace offense lost due to the Capitals' maturing prospects, in goal replacements are harder to find. Fortunately for Hershey, Washington will be putting its third prized goalie prospect to, presumably, be a starter with Hershey.
While Holtby likely isn't Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov in terms of upside or hype, he does have NHL-starting upside too. Holtby, of the three, is the fastest skater and by far the best puck handler. He's shown a good ability to play back-to-back games well and has good stamina too. His style is more hybridized than Neuvirth or Varlamov as well. He's not as technically sound as Neuvirth but not as athletic and flexible as Varlamov. He is, hopefully, a good mix of the two.
There really isn't too much to say about Holtby. He would probably be the call-up to be the NHL backup (as he was once last season) but the Capitals I think signed Dany Sabourin so the veteran could sit on the NHL bench while the 21-year old continues gaining starting experience in Hershey. In the unfortunate casethat two Caps goalies get injured, though, Holtby could find himself making his NHL debut this season itself. I don't think it will come to that. Look for Holtby to start 50-60 games in the AHL, winning around 30. I'm not sure to what degree the departures of John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and others will affect the Bears' defense, but I'm guessing the Bears will see an uptick in goals against as well as fewer goals for. A 2.30 GAA with a .915 SV% and around 3 shutouts--in other words, maintaining his 2009-2010 last numbers with a worse defense in front of him--would be solid numbers for Holtby in 2010-2011.
For sake of comparison, Varlamov and Neuvirth didn't have sparkling numbers in the AHL like, say, Jonathan Bernier and his .936 save percentage, but they both proved their potential during the playoffs. The question in my mind is whether Holtby can do the same and prove he could still make a strong push for the NHL.