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. I owe you guys a thirty-first preview since Eric Belanger signed with Phoenix, so today, Patrick McNeill)
Patrick McNeill: age 23, 6'0", 197 pounds, shoots left.
Contract: $500k, RFA in 2011, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 raw stats:
AHL: 62 GP, 8-27-35, +20, 93 shots, 36 PIM
Playoffs: 11 GP, 3-3-6, +4, 20 shots, 2 PIM
(Photos courtesy Caps Snaps)
The 2005 draft, while deep overall, has thus far been a bust for the Washington Capitals. The team's only hope of salvaging something from that draft is defenseman Patrick McNeill. The smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenseman has improved in every season he's played since being drafted, and with the departures of John Carlson and Karl Alzner to Washington, he looks like a contender for one of Hershey's open top-pairing spots. Getting a top-pairing spot likely means McNeill would be the first-choice call-up to Washington in case of injury. Now that the Capitals only have seven defensemen with 2009-2010 NHL experience, all it takes are two injuries for McNeill to get a look and make an impression at the NHL level. There's a good chance he dons red, white, and blue in 2010-2011.
In that case, what do we look for? I personally have only seen a handful of games involving McNeill (none live), so I am not the best judge. That being said, Hockey's Future has him as an offense-first, skating defenseman who is still developing his defensive game (this strikes me as roughly the 2009-2010 Michael Del Zotto of the AHL). From what I've read on McNeill and the Bears, however, I get the sense that that analysis is selling McNeill a bit short. I gather that his defensive game has taken huge strides over the past few years--partly attributable to playing with a defensive-minded partner in Zach Miskovic, I guess--and his skating is quite solid. Hockey's Future has him as highly skilled and elusive in offensive rush situations (specifically, one-on-ones), and I think that's a bit high. I do agree with the upside McNeill was given--6.0 (a third pairing D), but I'd rate his chances of getting there as a "C" instead of "D." McNeill looks promising considering the long, as expected, growth curve for defensemen.
I think McNeill will get a "cup of coffee" it the NHL and be a top-pairing defenseman in the AHL. He may get more time if the Caps have lots of injuries on the blueline (think 2008-2009 as close to worst-case in terms of quantity) and if they don't sign or trade for another defenseman (which I think they will do at some point). I will be looking for around 3 games for McNeill, 0-0-0, in the NHL, and around 70 GP, 12-42-54, +25 in Hershey.