Nicklas Backstrom -- Backstrom signed a three-year contract this spring after three strong seasons with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. Backstrom had 12 goals and 28 assists in 45 Brynas' games this season to lead his team in scoring for the second-straight season. Backstrom was the SEL's rookie of the year in 2005-06 and an All-Star. He has represented Sweden in two World Championships and two World Junior Championships.
"We felt that he was capable of playing in the NHL this (past) year," GM George McPhee said. "He felt he wanted another year to develop and get stronger. He played in the World Junior tournament, gained more experience, and then played in the World Championship. We felt that wouldn't hurt him. He continued to develop at a nice pace and will be more prepared when he comes to us. He's an average skater, but he has terrific hockey sense and hands. He has excellent playmaking ability."
Chris Bourque --Ray Bourque's son is writing his own story with a 22-point improvement over his rookie AHL season. Bourque has gotten much heavier and quite a bit stronger. He's a powerful skater and an excellent puckhandler and finished plus-16 in the regular season.
"Chris is really playing well right now. I was watching him during the playoffs," McPhee said. "He's doing a lot of good things and he's been very productive offensively. He runs the point on the power play. His confidence has never been better. We're looking at this year as his first year of professional hockey. He was young last year and it didn't hurt him. For a 20-year-old in the American Hockey League, that was pretty darn good. We expect next year will be the year he starts getting games in the NHL. How many is up to him."
David Steckel -- Steckel played four years at Ohio State and a year with the Kings' AHL team in Manchester. He signed with the Capitals two years ago and since then led the Hershey Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup and the 2007 Calder Cup finals. He was second on the Bears with a plus-28 rating.
"David could be a very good penalty killer for us next year," McPhee said. "He had another strong season in Hershey. David has a real knack for killing penalties, and he scored 30 goals this year. If you use a rookie for killing penalties, he must be a pretty smart player. I say if he's capable and doing it right now, throw him out there. It's not that big a step. He's been doing it for a couple of years in the AHL and will be well prepared."
Francois Bouchard, who the Capitals drafted in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, led his junior team in scoring last season.
Francois Bouchard -- Bouchard combined his shooting prowess with 10-plus pounds of muscle and a focused work ethic for Baie Comeau in the Quebec League. A good showing at training camp last year infused Bouchard with a strong commitment. He was named to the Second All-Star team. Bouchard was plus-21 and had 15 power-play goals.
"Francois had a good interview last year and he just had a great year on the ice, leading his junior team in scoring," McPhee said. "He wasn't in our camp long last year, but he was really good. He'll get a longer look this year. We think we made a good pick. At this point, he's an average skater with terrific hockey sense. He has great awareness and protects the puck. He anticipates well because he is a smart player. He needs to work on his defense."
Andrew Gordon -- Gordon has had his eye on the NHL for a long time and passed up his senior year, and the alternate captaincy, at St. Cloud State to sign with the Capitals this spring. He led the Huskies in goals the past two seasons. Gordon ranked second overall in team scoring this year and was named to the All-WCHA First All-Star team.
"Andrew is a young man to keep an eye on," McPhee said. "He's a top scorer out of college who left school although he has a year left. He turned professional at the end of his junior year and we sent him to Hershey to be with the team during the Calder Cup playoffs. He has a really good chance to play with us next season. Andrew is a smart player who with good hands and he's really strong on the puck."
Joe Finley -- Finley is 6-foot-7 and he can skate. He's a very powerful man with a long reach and good positioning. Opponents are intimidated when they see Finley waiting for them at the blue line and often prefer to dump the puck in behind him. Finley played an important role, defensive defenseman, in helping the Fighting Sioux to the NCAA championship.
"Joe made a lot of progress this season. He got more minutes and played in more situations," McPhee said. "He skates very well for a big man and he seems to be gaining in confidence. The increased ice time indicates that he's more trusted by the coaching staff. He's also learning to step up and have a tighter gap between the defense and the forwards. He's got some way to go, but he's improving the way we want to see."
Patrick McNeill -- McNeill's idol is Scott Niedermayer. He had former Chicago Blackhawks star Pat Stapleton for a youth-hockey coach and was coached in juniors by Doug Lidster, so it's no surprise that McNeill is a good skating, fine puck-handling defenseman with good on-ice awareness.
"We signed him in May and brought him up to Hershey for the playoffs," McPhee said. "He's a mobile defenseman that brings options designed for the new game. We have a lot of younger players, with different kinds of skills, and Patrick has had success as an offensive defenseman. He could be a power-play quarterback of the future."
Michal Neuvirth -- Neuvirth, the former Sparta Praha junior goaltender, had an outstanding rookie OHL season, leading his team to the OHL championship and into the Memorial Cup. He went 14-3-1 with a .932 save percentage in the OHL playoffs. Neuvirth led the OHL in goals-against average and save percentage and was named to the OHL's All-Star Second Team. Neuvirth was OHL Goaltender of the Month in January and puckstopper of the week in April. A butterfly goalie with quick reflexes and a good glove, Neuvirth is credited with an even disposition and an ability to handle pressure.
"Neuvirth is one of those guys who know how to play. He had a terrific year," McPhee said. "Michal is very quick and it's tough to beat him low. A lot of teams found out how to beat him high so that's something he has to work on."
Semen Varlamov -- Taken with the 23rd overall pick in the 2006 draft, Semen Varlamov was a standout at the World Junior Championship, going 5-1 with a loss to Canada in the gold medal game. That's pretty heady work for a goalie also eligible for Russia's Under-18 team. Varlamov was also named the MVP at the Under-18 Four Nations Tournament in Mytische, Russia.
"He's done very well. We're really happy with both goaltenders, Neuvirth too," McPhee said. "Both had very good years. Varlamov is very athletic, very quick, but he has an unstructured game, like most young goalies. He played against men this year and it was a very good experience for him.