Devante Smith-Pelly: Stanley Cup Memories And Now

Devante Smith-Pelly (DSP) was a key component of the Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup win. It has not always been an easy journey for DSP in the NHL. He made his first appearance with the Washington Capitals in late-summer of 2016 after the NJ Devils bought out his contract. He would play two seasons with the Capitals before they sent him down to the AHL Hershey Bears. Although he joined the Caps for the 2019 playoffs, his future again hangs in the balance as the Caps general manager looks at the big picture for the coming few seasons. With the pool of talent in Hershey from which they can draw and other signings they need to consider, it is highly unlikely that he will suit up in a Caps sweater again. Continue reading “Devante Smith-Pelly: Stanley Cup Memories And Now”

Back to Hershey for Lewington

The Capitals announced that they are sending Tyler Lewington back to the AHL Hershey Bears. They called him up after the Michal Kempny injury and while the team was struggling through some illness issues.

ARLINGTON, Va.

Does this mean Kempny is on the way back? We have no clue but sure hope so. Mostly we think it means the bug has passed…so-to-speak.

Meanwhile the Bears are gearing up for a playoff run for the Calder Cup and Tyler will be a great help with that effort.

Hershey Bears And Fans Warming up for New Season

Our newest contributor Sue Snavely- bringing highlights from the Hershey Bears!! Here are her first preseason impressions.

As I anticipate seeing the Hershey Bears play their second preseason game later today, I can’t help but be proud of this organization. Last season may not have had the outcome they wanted but their parent club won the Stanley Cup. Hershey is a minor league team, their job is developing young hockey player. There were 11 Caps players that started their career in Hershey; I would say the Hershey Bears did their job. 

In my seat at the place I call my home away from home, I look at the list of players and recognize 13 of the 30 players.  This will be a team of young prospects in Hershey this season. 

Ten minutes into this game and I have one statement: “fast fast fast.” Axel Jonsson-Fjallby is everywhere, Max Kammerer is a hitter and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, well he needs to stay in his net.

This will be an exciting year to see how the Bears recover from last season with a new coach – Spencer Carberry at the helm.

Capitals Stanley Cup DVD: A Great Trip Down Memory Lane

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Like many of you, I’ve spent my summer binge-watching Capitals playoff and Stanley Cup Finals games from this past spring, reliving and soaking in every single moment. However, I was waiting for the Capitals and the NHL to release a DVD commemorating the entire run. On July 31, that DVD came out.

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Continue reading “Capitals Stanley Cup DVD: A Great Trip Down Memory Lane”

Hershey Bears Finalize Coaching Staff with New Assistant Coach

The Hershey Bears announced on Monday the hiring of Mike Eastwood as their new assistant coach. He joins new head coach Spencer Carbery, assistant coach Patrick Wellar, and Alex Westlund to round out the coaching team.

Eastwood was with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons and became their assistant coach in the 2014/15 season. In the announcement, the Bears touted his ability to develop players in Ottawa, something that Hershey has a great reputation for doing with Capitals players. He should prove to be a good addition to the team.

Bryan Helmer, vice president of hockey operations in the press release said: “We’re excited to welcome Mike Eastwood to Hershey, as we finalize our new coaching staff, Mike provides an element that we feel will be a great asset to our young players. He did a great job in his coaching stint in the Ontario Hockey League, and he can draw from his vast playing experience in the NHL to help grow and develop our team as we chase a championship”

Here is the remainder of the press release:

Eastwood, 51, spent three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, serving as an assistant coach in 2014-15 before being promoted to associate coach. In each of Eastwood’s three years in Ottawa, the club qualified for the playoffs. With the 67’s, Eastwood played a pivotal role in developing prospects, including current Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny, and Kody Clark, a 2018 second round draft selection of Washington.

The Ottawa, Ontario native played 13 seasons in the NHL from 1991-2004, scoring 236 points (87 goals, 149 assists) in 783 career games with Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, the New York Rangers, St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. He also skated in 97 career playoff games, scoring 19 points.

The responsible, two-way center was known for his craft on faceoffs, and enjoyed his best season in 1999-2000 with St. Louis, a year in which he helped the Blues win the President’s Trophy as the team that finished with the most regular season points in the NHL. That season, Eastwood collected a career-high 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games, on a Blues team that also featured both Helmer, as well as Todd Reirden, the new head coach of the Capitals, on the blue line.

A star player at Western Michigan University, Eastwood was originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 5th round in 1987. He spent two seasons with Toronto’s American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, including the 1992-93 campaign that saw Eastwood finish with 59 points.

Photo from the Ottawa Citizen.

Elite Prospects On Ilya Samsanov Future

Russian goaltender Ilya Samsanov will be joining the Hershey Bears for the 2018/19 season. He will receive an introduction to the NHL/AHL style of play as the franchise grooms him for an eventual back-up or number spot on the Capitals roster.

In February 2018, Alessandro Seren Rossi Elite Prospects wrote an article on the grueling process Russian goalies take to stardom in the NHL. Give it a good read.

Goalies usually peak later than other players and, hence, drafting them can be a tougher task. One of the top goalies in the world, Sergei Bobrovski, was never drafted into the NHL but this didn’t stop him from winning two Vezina Trophies and getting several other accolades. Other goalies, though, are thought so highly of that they are chosen in the first round, like Andrei Vasilevsky of the Tampa Bay Lightning for example. Another one is Ilya Samsonov, who was picked by the Washington Capitals 22nd overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Bobrovski was a bit of a late-bloomer as he didn’t play with the Russian national team until the 2008 WJC in the Czech Republic, where he backstopped Team Russia to a bronze medal. Samsonov, pretty much like Vasilevsky, got his feet wet with the national teams very early and therefore he had much more exposure. While Samsonov didn’t leapfrog stages at the same rate as Vasilevsky, he definitely had a strong showing in his junior career, representing his country at one U18 and two U20 WJCs, winning best goalie honors at the 2015 U18 WJC in Lucern, Switzerland, despite Russia’s sensational loss to the home team, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.

Samsonov debuted in the KHL during the 2014-15 season, even before getting drafted into the NHL. He played only one short portion of a game that year, spending most of the season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s junior team in the MHL. He was then promoted to the senior team, backing up Vasili Koshechkin, one of the top goalies in the KHL and fresh winner of an Olympic gold medal.

“Competition is too strong of a word,” Samsonov replied to Daria Tuboltseva of championat.com before the start of the season when asked about the competition between him and Koshechkin. “We have more of a collaboration, we are always supporting one another and don’t fight over who will play. It’s up to the coaching staff. There is no war between us.”

Certainly practicing and playing with such an experienced goalie like Kosheckin, who has won multiple medals at the IIHF WC including a gold medal in 2009, has helped Samsonov. Something he confirms himself.

“Vasili’s already shown everyone how good he is, and he has a ton of experience. He plays more games, but that for me is even better because this gives me even more motivation. I watch the way he plays in this or that situation and I definitely gathered a lot of experience playing alongside with Koshechkin.”

Of course, Samsonov can’t yet match the experience of a player with 15 years of pro hockey experience, but at 21 years of age, he has already played more than 70 games in the KHL, other than the experience with the Russian national team at the junior and the Euro Hockey Tour level.

Samsonov is a very athletic goalie, and at 6’3”/205 lbs. he has the size required to a modern-day netminder. As Director of European Scouting for the NHL, Göran Stubb, sums it up:
“He has good size and covers the net well. He plays at the top of the crease and effectively squares to the shooter. He shows good instincts, is well balanced and can make acrobatic saves.”

The young goalie’s contract runs out in April and chances are good that he will move overseas as soon as this summer. He is represented by former superstar Igor Larionov.
“His agent proposed us unacceptable conditions,” Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s GM Gennadi Velichkin told championat.com in late December. “We’ll play by the rulebook: his contract is running out and we’ll give him a qualifying offer, that’s for sure. But if he has an option of signing in the NHL then, for God’s sake, we’re honoring it. We’re all proud of Ilya.”

Samsonov will end up on a team where there is an uncontested number one goalie in Braden Holtby. But Samsonov seems to be ready. When asked by Daria Tuboltseva about his chances to move overseas next summer, he replied in a very positive manner, as translated by the popular Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks: “Seemingly so (laughing). I don’t even know. We talked to the Capitals management, it was a positive conversation. There is a chance, but I need to work harder. This is the best league in the world after all. There are another five prospects competing for the same spot as me.”

In the same interview, Samsonov seemed very cool with the option of playing in the AHL. Considering that it took Andrei Vasilevsky two years to become the number one goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it can be forecasted that a couple of seasons in the minors will certainly not hurt Samsonov’s development, even more so if he will get to play a few games at the NHL level at some point. In any case, Caps’ fans should be satisfied: they have a young goalie with great potential who definitely wants to play in the NHL.

Hershey Bears Spotlight: Aaron Ness

Aaron Ness recently signed a brand new one-year two-way contract with the Caps/Bears worth $425,000 in the AHL and $625,000 should he be brought up to the Caps.

Aaron started his hockey career playing at USHS-MN system from 2005 through 2008. He joined the US National U18 team in 2008, alongside Cam Fowler, Nick Leddy, and Ryan Bourque. Aaron was also drafted in 2008 by the New York Islanders in the second round #40.

After being drafted, Aaron Ness went on to play for the University of Minnesota for three seasons.  His teammates in his final season included the likes of Nate Schmidt and Erik Haula (both who have now signed with the new kids on the block, the Vegas Golden Knights).

Once Ness completed his seasons in the NCAA league it came time to visit the AHL; the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he donned both the “A” and the “C” for a time. During his five seasons with the Sound Tigers his cumulative 23 goals were that of a beginning defenseman. Bears 2016 ness peters Ellis goalie

As a free agent, Ness signed with the Hershey Bears in 2015. Since joining the Bears his numbers have remained on the same level as in previous seasons. We have not seen a huge improvement in his scoring but he has been a consistent player for the Bears. We see Ness as a good backup when needed for the Caps but he lacks that extra skill that the John Carlsons of the world posses. We need to see more fiNESSe in his offensive play and the ability to put it in the back of the net.

Read our Hershey Bear reports to meet the players.

Djoos

Bourque

Barber

Johansen

Boyd

Hobbs

Vrana

Copley

O’Brien

Hershey Goes Back to Wellar for New Assistant Coach

The Hershey Bears announced on Tuesday that former Bears’ defenseman Patrick Wellar will return to them as the new assistant coach. The Bears relieved Ryan Murphy, along with head coach Troy Mann, of his duties in late April. And it looks as if defense coach Reid Cashman is moving up to the Capitals, although there has been no formal announcement from the organizations.

Wellar, some of you may remember, played in Hershey from 2008 to 2024. He was part of the team that won the Calder Cup in 2010. Since leaving The Bears he has been the assistant cos h of the ECHL Utah Grizzlies, the Alaska Aces, and Cincinnati Cyclones. Most recently he was assistant coach for the Reading Royals, helping them make it to the playoffs (which the Bears did not) and secure third place in the Ortho Division.

Social media response has been mostly positive and hopeful for next season with this addition. The organization hired ECHL coach Spencer Carbery as their new head coach in late June. The Caps are keeping it in the family with all their moves in Hershey and DC.

Vice president of hockey operations had this to say of Wellar’s return to Hershey:

We are elated to welcome Patrick Wellar back to Hershey as an assistant coach. Patrick has a wealth of knowledge and a championship pedigree that will be a valuable asset to our young players as they grow and develop in the American Hockey League. From his lengthy tenure here, Patrick knows how special it is to wear the Chocolate and White. We are looking forward to Patrick bringing the passion he provided as a player in Hershey to his work behind the bench on Spencer Carbery’s staff.

Let’s hope he is what the Bears need to get back to winning all the way to the final round!

The Capitals, Hershey Bears, and Developing Players

There has been some spicy talk on social media recently about the role of the American Hockey League (AHL) in relation to that of the National Hockey League (NHL). The AHL is made up of 31 teams- all with affiliations to NHL teams. A new team was brought forward this summer from the ECHL because the creation of the expansion team Las Vegas Golden Knights . (More on the ECHL later.) The AHL’s primary function as a farm team is to develop rookie players into skilled NHL players.

Stephen Whyno reported that Caps coach Barry Trotz sent a text to then Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann congratulating him for his role in developing players for the wining team. “Thanks Manner for having all those rookie Caps ready, They all played well — you own a piece of this win last night.” There is little doubt about the importance an AHL coach had in the formation of an NHL player. (Unfortunately, the Caps/Bears did not renew their contract with Mann and have since hired Spencer Carbery from their ECHL affiliate.)

The other side of the story is that many AHL teams are just as much a part of their local communities as are NHL teams. And those communities get behind their players as they fight to win games that will lead them to the playoffs and the ultimate prize–the Calder Cup. The Bears have their own fan club, the Hershey Bears Booster Club, that arranges opportunities for fans to travel to away games, even Caps games, as well as other trips for the community. Like the Capitals Fan Club, they also raise funds for local charities.

But let’s get back to how the AHL and the NHL work together. We start with the affiliation. To keep it easy, we will use the Hershey Bears and the Washington Capitals as our example. The Bears renewed their affiliation agreement in October 2016. It expires after the 2019/20 season. Prior to that, they had been affiliated for 11 seasons, among the longest in the AHL.

The problem many AHL teams face is the structure of contracts in the NHL and the control the parent team has over up to 50 contracts for both NHL and AHL players. The NHL can only carry 23 active players on their roster. The AHL, on the other hand, can sign additional players and have as many as they can afford on their roster. There are more rules about numbers that can dress for a game and types of players eligible to play at any given time.

Contracts

There are any number of contracts available for AHL players. These three are signed:

Standard players’ contract (SPC) or the full AHL contract, is signed only with the AHL affiliate. The player must sign a new contract to play for the NHL. These players will most likely not ever play in the NHL.

Professional try-out contract (PTO) used to allow the NHL team to look at a player. At times, that player could be a veteran NHL player who is hoping to land a new NHL contract. For the AHL, that player may be on the team for no more then 25 games without a new standard contract. Think Alex Chiasion who signed a one-year bridge contract after training camp in 2026.

Amateur try-out contracts (ATO) are for amateurs to get a taste of playing with the AHL but they maintain their amateur status for the following season.

Then there are the contacts players actually signed with the parent organization (the Capitals); however, they are playing with the AHL (Bears) and not on the NHL roster.

Two-way contracts give the parent team (Caps) the option to send a player down to the AHL (Bears) and recall him to play in the NHL again. The salary rate changes depending on which league they play. As players run up and down between Hershey and Washington DC, their salary fluctuates and the salary cap changes as well. So moving players around for the good of the Caps is no easy job. This past season we saw that with several Bears roster players.

Players under 25 on September 15 sign entry-level contracts. These are two-way contracts and only used for a player’s first NHL contract. These guys can go back and forth between the Caps and the Bears without waivers. Jakub Vrana is one of those players on a ELC who played 73 regular season games with the Capitals. Read more about him and his contract and performance here.

A Standard NHL one-way contract means the player receives an NHL salary regardless which league he happens to play a game. For the Caps to send one-way player to the Bears, they have to put the player on waivers. That’s a whole different set of rules which we discuss here.

Developing Players

When it comes to developing players for the national league, the Bears do one heck of a good job. Among the players who have moved into the NHL after even a brief time in the AHL are: Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Eric Fehr, Stanislav Galiev, Mike Green, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Michael Neuvirth, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, Liam O’Brien, Steven Oleksy, Justin Peters, Nate Schmidt, and Tom Wilson.

And current Bears who contributed to the Capitals during the playoffs and wining the Stanley Cup are: Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey, and Christian Djoos.

The AHL has also been the developing ground for future NHL head coaches. Bruce Boudreau was once a Bears coach when the Capitals brought him up to coach in the NHL. Current Cap’s head coach Todd Reirden also coached in the AHL. And the AHL brings forward coaches from the ECHL, as the Bears have done with coach Carbery.

Although it can be destabilizing for AHL teams like the Hershey Bears to loose players around whom they have built a playing strategy. The Bears have a record of winning and their fans want more of the same. Since 2000, the Bears have won three Calder Cups. They have turned out some amazing players like goalie Michal Neuvirth who was in the net for the 2009 and 2010 Calder Cup wins–he went on to play for the Capitals and ultimately the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Caps Future

The truth is, they all want to play in the NHL. In all fairness, one can’t begrudge an AHL player from taking the opportunity the live out their dream. And as you can see from the list above, many of the Capitals’ top players were developed in the AHL. And more are likely to be on their way soon. Starting with Ilya Samanov, the Capitals goalie for the future. It is possible that one of the current Bear’s goalies, either Phoenix Copley or Vitek Vanecek could be the Caps next backup goalie.

So, go  to a Hershey Bears game. Get to know the players who you may see on the Caps or other NHL rosters in the future. Support the team – meet the players after a game, join the booster club, and cheer on their success. Check out the Caps Fan Club or the Caps Road Crew and go to a game with the Caps community. We are all one big family and we should get to know each other more.

Oh and read our daily Hershey Bear reports to meet the players. Read our other stories.

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Bourque

Barber

Johansen

Boyd

Hobbs

Hershey Spotlight: Jakub Vrana

Yeah yeah we know what you’re thinking about this spotlight “but he plays for the Caps.” Well that is true- but what is also true is that Jakub is on an entry-level contract from when he was drafted in 2014. If you do the math you would think his contract were up already, the  reason it isn’t is something called an entry-level slide.

This term refers to what happens to an ELC when a player has not played at least 10 games in the NHL in a season. The contract will then “slide” each season until this occurs. Jakub did not do that until the 2016-17 season which means his contract is good through the 2018-19 season. If the Caps do not ink a new deal before his contract expires he will become a restricted free agent and will also be ineligible for arbitration for another two seasons.

You all know how incredible Jakub Vrana is- from his play on the ice to his partying in the streets of DC. But just how good is he? And where did he come from?

Jakub was born in the Czech Republic in 1996 (22 years old) where he played for the majority of his early career prior to being drafted. He also put in a few years in the Swedish League from 2012-2014 with Linkopings HC where he earned the titles “Most Goals by a Junior” and “Most Points by a Junior” in his final season. He came to Hershey late in the 2014-15 season and played only three regular season games and 10 Calder Cup games. In those 10 games he scored two goals and four assists; impressive for a player straight off the plane from the Playoffs in Sweden. Jakub only lasted in Hershey for one full season (2015-16) before being snagged by the Capitals. In that season he made every single one of his 36 games played that season count (16 Goals, 18 Assists).

The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Jakub Vrana. We told everyone we knew from the beginning that this kid was something special and that he as going to break out… and break out he did. His AHL totals are at 88 games, 35 goals, and 40 assists. He has played 94 games in the NHL regular season and has 33 points in the regular season, but has also played 23 Stanley Cup Games and scored a total of three goals and eight assists in the quest for this years Stanley Cup… which they WON!!!! Sorry not sorry for the #ALLCAPS…

Needless to say Jakub’s game is continuously developing and his moves are as slick as they come. Jakub reminds us A LOT of a young Ovechkin and we see his speed and sneaky shots taking him far in this league. We hope Vrana has the stamina to make it many years in the NHL and we get to see him flourish with the Capitals for seasons to come.

Read our other stories too:

Djoos

Bourque

Barber

Johansen

Boyd

Hobbs