Andre Burakovsky‘s junior team, the Erie Otters, kicked off the OHL Western conference finals against Guelph Storm on Thursday.

The series features the league’s two best regular-season teams and could become the best match-up of the playoffs, featuring three NHL first-round draft selections (Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce, and Jason Dickinson) as well as three shoo-ins to be picked in the first round of either 2014 or 2015 (Robby Fabbri, Connor McDavid, and Dylan Strome).

Game One more than lived up to the hype: the teams combined for nine goals on 53 shots, trading the lead all game long. Guelph won 5-4 at home and retained home-ice advantage. Burakovsky, playing on the Otters second line with Strome and Michael Curtis, was the catalyst of Erie’s attacks, earning third star of the game honors.

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On Wednesday, Washington Capitals third-round pick Chandler Stephenson played in his first game as a Hershey Bear. His team battled the Norfolk Admirals, with whom they were tied in points for eighth and final postseason spot but held the tiebreaker, on the road.

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John Carlson, drafted in 2008, is the most recent Caps defenseman selected in the first round. (Photo: Andre Ringuette/Getty)

Reading the comments in Ian’s post covering the draft lottery, most fans seem convinced that the Capitals must select Haydn Fleury with their 13th pick, if he’s available. It’s easy to see why: Fleury, who plays for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, is a responsible defenseman in a draft dominated by forwards. It is likely that 13 out of the 15 top picks will be forwards. And the Caps blue line struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year long. Defense hasn’t been Washington’s forte for the better part of the Ovechkin era, and those defensive shortcomings have often been pegged as the key to the Caps’ early playoff exits (or, this year, pre-playoff exits).

Despite all of this, I’ll disagree with the notion that the Caps should select Fleury, or any other defenseman, with their first-round pick.

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Capitals Sign Prospect Chandler Stephenson

Photo credit: Keith Hershmiller/Regina Pats

The Capitals have signed forward Chandler Stephenson to an entry-level contract. According to a report by the Regina Leader-Post, the three-year contract is worth $925,000 per season, the maximum an NHL rookie can get.

Stephenson was originally considered a left winger, but he impressed at center for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and for the Caps during last preseason. After missing time due to injury in the 2012-13 season, Stephenson had a huge breakout this year with 30 goals and 59 assists in 69 games, leading his team and finishing 14th in the league in points (89). He played in all situations for the Pats, logging a lot of ice time especially late in games.

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Photo: Brynas IF

The 2013-14 season was a breakout year for Capitals prospect Christian Djoos. His ice time with Brynas of SHL went up from 15:35 in the previous regular season to 17:16 this year. He scored more too, getting 13 points (a goal and 12 assists) in 47 games after just eight a year ago. Also importantly, Djoos cut down on time spent in the penalty box– four minutes as opposed to 48 last season.

Djoos took over the leading role on his team’s blue line in the postseason, logging 23:26 in the playoffs as a teenager in one of the best leagues in the world. He also had a notable performance at home World Juniors, scoring a goal and getting an assist in Sweden’s disappointing goal medal game loss.

Djoos’ increased role in the postseason could be attributed to an injury to Ryan Gunderson, a University of Vermont graduate and a Brynas’ leader on the blueline for the last three seasons. Next season, Gunderson won’t be with Brynas as he’s signed with KHL newcomer Jokerit Helsinki. That gives Djoos a chance to establish himself as an elite SHL defenseman.

The Washington Capitals have until June 1st to sign Djoos, whom they selected in the seventh round of 2012 Draft. There’s been little information on whether the Caps are interested in bringing him into the organization. It’s clear that he’s not leaving Brynas, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be on loan from a NHL club or unattached.

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Burakovsky celebrates his goal.

Just one day after snapping a three-game pointless streak, Capitals prospect Andre Burakovsky added two more points, a goal and an assist, to his playoff stat line. In doing so, Burakovsky helped the Erie Otters to a series win over the Greyhounds. Continue Reading

 

Photo: Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Capitals first-round pick Andre Burakovsky has had an excellent run in his first season in North America. After scoring 41 goals in 57 games during the regular season, Burakovsky kicked off the OHL playoffs with six goals in four games before hitting a mini-slump of three scoreless contests (all of which were won by his Erie Otters).

That slump lasted through a tight, low-scoring game 3 of the series between Erie and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. With less than two minutes left game and up 1-0, Burakovsky– who doesn’t play with Erie’s stars of Dane Fox, Connor Brown, Brendan Gaunce and Connor McDavid– ensured the win.

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Photo: Kyle Mace

Newly-signed Capitals prospect Caleb Herbert had a fantastic debut with the Hershey Bears last Wednesday, picking up two points in a 3-2 win over the Portland Pirates. The 22-year-old forward recently finished his junior season at University of Minnesota-Duluth before opting to turn pro this spring.

“It was an exciting day when I found out I was going to be in the lineup,” Herbert told Patriot-News’ Tim Leone. “It was kind of a shock. Not really a shock, but my head was kind of spinning all day. I was thinking about the game all day. It was kind of tough to settle down.”

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Photo: Marissa Baecker/Getty Images North America

The Washington Capitals have announced the signing of Madison Bowey, the 18-year-old defenseman selected 53rd overall in the 2013 Draft, to an entry-level contract beginning in the 2014-15 season.

He seems excited about it.

For the past three years, Bowey has played for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. This season, serving as team captain, he scored 21 goals and 60 points, breaking the club records for goals by a defenseman earlier held by the Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie and recording the third-best season in points by a blueliner. What makes Bowey’s achievement more impressive is the list of the Rockets defensemen he has surpassed (in single season goals and points): Tyler Myers, Alex Edler, Shea Weber, and Duncan Keith, among others.

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Oleg Znarok Named Coach of Team Russia

Znarok and Gagarin Cup (Photo: Championat.com)

According to SovSport, Dynamo Moscow head coach Oleg Znarok has been named the new head coach of Team Russia. The news comes as no surprise; Znarok was pretty much the only candidate discussed in recent months. Ex-coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov failed to medal in Sochi, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored just one goal in the tournament, examplifying an overall disappointing performance by Team Russia’s stars.

Znarok has been a household name in Russian hockey since 2010, when his HC MVD Balashikha went on a Cinderella run to win the Western Conference only to lose in the finals to Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s Ak Bars Kazan. After a successful season by the Moscow suburb team, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is related to both clubs, merged Dynamo Moscow and HC MVD into UHC Dynamo Moscow (where “U” stands for “United”). HC MVD’s coaching staff and top players moved to the storied Russian franchise. Success followed soon thereafter: Dynamo won the 2012 Gagarin Cup, and then another one, in 2013, holding off Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Traktor.

Despite being a native of Ust-Katav (Chelyabinsk Region, Russia) and an ethnic Russian, Znarok’s dual Latvian-German citizenship makes him the de jure first-ever foreign coach in Team Russia history. His assistant, Harijs Vitolins, who will also step in as head coach for Dynamo, is an ethnic Latvian.

I think the Znarok hire is a big mistake.

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