The Capitals decided to call up their top defensive prospect late last week, Martin Fehervary.
Fehervary is a 20-year-old Capitals prospect drafted in the 2nd round, 46th overall. He is getting his third regular season game with the Washington Capitals, and with three games under his belt, it’s a good time to take a look at how he’s played to this point with a big enough sample size to see some consistencies in his game.
I’ve reviewed each one of his three games shift by shift. I have keyed in on a few things at different points in the games, pointing out both good and bad plays he’s been involved in. Before getting into a synopsis of all three of his games, lets breakdown each game period by period to create a picture of what type of player he seems to be at this level of play.
Starting with the LA Kings game on 2/4, Fehervary played 19:55 minutes, ending with a +2 rating and a shot on goal. Being trusted to get almost 20 minutes in your first game of NHL action, is impressive. The Capitals decided to pair him up with Gudas for his 1st start. Slotting him into the third pairing was probably the safest way to get him acclimated, keeping many of his minutes against the Kings third and fourth lines.
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One of his most evident plays occurred on his 1st shift at 17:32. Fehervary makes a very aggressive gap up play to a Kings forward on the wall. Fehervary closes the gap essentially immediately, leaving the Kings player no real time and space to find a play. Fehervary leads all the way on this step up with his stick to the puck, and then finished the step up with strong enough contact to separate the Kings player from the puck. Right off the bat, he makes an aggressive step up play that finishes with a check and then turns the puck over.
As I watched more and more of his shifts, this is the sort of play that he seems very adept at. This play was an immediate glimpse of what Fehervary brings to the table. He is a good backwards skater, great at pivoting forwards from backwards, unreal with his forward skating, great at setting angles of attack, stays on the angle closing the gap very quickly, with good stick positioning constantly, and then finishes these plays with the body, and wins the physical battle more often than not.
My favorite shift of the game came at 8:20 in the 2nd period. Kings have possession in the Capitals defensive zone, and it leads to the Capitals running around a bit. In this sequence, Fehervary has his stick knocked out of his hand. Without panicking, he quickly grabs his stick, then finds his man in the high slot. A shot comes immediately as he gets to his guy, and instead of chasing the wide shot down, he stays with his guy. Fehervary does a great job here of sticking with his responsibility instead of trying to get to the puck. In this moment, he knows that he should have support to the loose puck, and that it is his job is to just stay with his man. One of the first things I noticed in the 1st was how aggressive Fehervary is, this is a great illustration of how patient and in tune with the defensive structure he is. It’s a smart, patient play.
Another smart play occurs a few minutes later. Gudas turns the puck over behind the net as the Kings forecheck gets to him. They have two guys instantly on the loose puck, with Fehervary joining shortly after. What happened next is another case of his understanding of the Capitals man to man defensive zone structure. The puck gets by all 4 of these players with the Kings player getting to it first. All of this happened with the play shifting to Fehervarys’ side of the ice.
In a ZONE (not MAN on MAN) coverage, with the play moving to his side, Fehervary would be responsible for switching from the guy he was covering, to now the puck carrier moving into his corner. The Capitals however, run a man on man coverage. In this play, it was Gudas’ guy, not Fehervarys’, who gets to the loose puck first. Instead of feeling like he needs to get to the player under possession, he lets Gudas race to the puck carrier as it was his initial man that got to the puck first; and then they switch defensive sides. This sort of play is keeping within the structure the Capitals have implemented since the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup winning season. Again, this was a smart, quick, mature decision that is a great example of his understanding of the Capitals structure in their own end. He ends the period with a shift in the last 2 minutes, of a close game, evident of the confidence they had in him going through this game.
The 3rd period was a little bit quieter for Fehervary, which is almost exactly what you want out of your defenseman. Much of what he was doing well in the first two periods, continued in the 3rd. But there were two plays that stuck out. At 16:28, the play moved to the front of the net where Fehervary is all covering his man, winning the position battle in front. The puck is cleared to the corner and Fehervary races to it with the forecheck right behind. The smart play here is to just try to clear the puck out of the zone, as he will not have time to pick out a play for the breakout. That is exactly what he does. He went from a strong play in front, to a simple play in the corner.
Then, at 7:30 in the period, the puck is moved up to his point for a breakout play to the Kings player on the wall. The Capitals ask their defenseman to step up on these plays as much as possible, and that is what Fehervary does. Moments later, Fehervary is forced to shift to the right side as Gudas slides to the left to support Fehervarys’ step up. The Kings make a good cross ice play to the right, and now Fehervary is playing a one on one rush down the right side. He played it perfectly all the way and eventually forces a turnover. From aggressive offensively on the left side, a switch to the right, to a perfect one on one down the right, this play incapsulates his game. He is a good enough skater to get to almost anywhere on the ice when he needs to, instinctual enough to switch responsibilities ahead of plays, and strong enough to out play his one on one coverages.
Moving onto the Flyers game on 2/8. To start, here is his individual stat line for the game. He had 18:13 minutes in all situations, 1 assist, 1 shot, 1 giveaway and 1 takeaway, 3 hits, with 2 taken and a -1. Nothing too flashy besides the assist. Instead of being paired with Gudas, Fehervary is slated with Orlov, a move up to the top 4 D rotation. His best shift in my opinion occurs about 10 minutes into the period. He starts the shift with a great step up to hold the red line, a very difficult play, and forces a dump in. He’s then the first one back to the puck. He retrieved the puck and led the play back out of the zone by skating it himself. He starts with the great step up, gets back, and then quarterbacks the rush back out. He finishes this shift with a dangerous shot on goal. A little bit of a broken record here, but aggressive first play, and then showcased his skating with a retrieval and then a carry back out, and ended the shift in the offensive zone, this time with a shot on net.
The next thing I noticed was a play 5 minutes later. At 4:26, a puck gets loose in the neutral zone and is heading towards the Capitals defensive end. The Flyers player wins the race and got to the puck first, which then developed into a 2 on 1. As defensemen we are taught to play the pass on a 2 on 1, shifting more towards the player available for the pass. But not on this type of play. Because it’s close to a 50/50 race, it is better to try to get there in time and not let them settle into a full bore 2 on 1 rush. Fehervary realizes this, gets to the player in time and separated the puck before the 2 on 1 can get set up. A great read, with a great step up to take away a scoring chance. It is his skating ability along with his instincts that allowed him to make this aggressive play and cancel out a scoring opportunity.
The 2nd period against the Flyers started much like his 1st period against the Kings. He’s found in another situation where he needs to gap up on a player on the wall. He gets there in time, stick to puck the whole way, finishes with the body and created a turnover. This all occurred against Ivan Provorov, who is maybe the Flyers top defenseman. This play is another example of his skating and angling skills, with a strong body up play to finish the step up. I guess it’s important to mention, but he was on the ice for a Flyers deflection goal in front. It was Orlovs’ man who got inside and then to the net for the touch and really, Fehervary had nothing to do with this play.
His 3rd period starts a penalty kill shift with John Carlson, his 1st penalty kill situation in a regular season NHL game. First game he’s in the bottom D pairing, being kept from the top lines. Next game he starts with the top 4 and is given 5 v 5 time against the top lines. And now to start the 3rd he’s given penalty kill time. This movement into tougher and tougher situations was evident of how the Capitals were feeling about his play. Minutes later, he has the best possession play out of his corner of either game. Against a hard forecheck into the corner, he executed a beautiful breakout play right up the middle; looking calm and composed the whole way. His skating is what stands out in this play, but his handling of the pressure to make a great outlet play is what was singularly special about this particular play.
Then his first real learning experience occurred, and it is a play that led to a Flyers goal. A fire drill in the defensive zone led to Fehervary retreating to the front of our net. With the puck being battled for in Orlovs’ corner, Fehervarys’ man shifts far into Fehervarys’ corner on the opposite side of the zone. In this instance, the most aware players will shift off the back post and slide more towards their player in that far corner, he doesn’t. The puck goes right to this player.
Now Fehervary had to close this gap all the way from the front of the net, to his corner. With that player now under control of the puck and facing Fehervary, the puck is fed right back to the front as Fehervary left it. If you give these forwards time to read your chess move, they’ve got one right back for you. Here, a goal is scored because the player moved the puck into the space Fehervary left. Because the Flyers player had time to read Fehervarys’ step up, he’s able put the puck right into the space Fehervary vacated; and without support behind him in front, the Flyers player gets a touch and the goal is scored.
He had a few plays after this that redeemed the mistake but getting his first NHL point probably took the cake. With a great skating breakout up the left wall, he fed Oshie streaking down the right wall with a great cross ice pass. He threaded a pass all the way across the neutral zone perfectly in stride for Oshie, this well executed pass allowed Oshie to continue at full speed into the offensive zone. Seconds later Kuznetsov is putting it in the net. Nice way to get your first apple. Too little too late for the Capitals, as they had a horrible game, but Fehervary may have been the only Capitals defensemen to have a good game.
The Islanders game on wasn’t as pretty, unfortunately. He had 14:15 minutes of play, least of any defenseman. He had 1 shot, 2 PIM’s, ended as a -3 rating, and a bunch of 0’s everywhere else in his individual stats. There were some good things that happened in the 1st period, but the bad plays were bad. The Islanders scored at 13:44 and it was a direct result of a bad decision and turnover but Fehervary.
I brought up a play in the 3rd period of the Kings game where Fehervary made a good play in front forcing the puck to the corner, he then beat the forecheck to that corner, and then he made a simple high and hard chip play off the glass to clear it. In this instance where the goal was scored, he was faced with a very similar situation and a similar decision to the instance above, would have been the smart play. Instead he decided to make a more difficult play to the middle to the center swing on support and it bites him. For a moment, the pass was open, but the second Islanders player was reading and waiting to jump this swing. Fehervary played right into this trap it led to a goal. It was a great play by the Islanders forward but going up the middle when you are not sure, is a dangerous game to play in the NHL.
I don’t like to be too critical of any of these players because they are the best of the best, but at 2:49 left, Fehervary made his worst decision of any of these games. The play moved to Fehervary at the point. Komarov is skating up to him, in the shooting lane. It is something we learn pretty damn young as defenseman, and that is “DO NOT shoot the puck into the shin pads of the forward coming to block your shot”. That is precisely what happened here. Komorav is now off to the races with a breakaway, Fehervary does showcase how good he is at skating as he does kind of catch Komarov, no slouch himself, but it’s not enough and he is forced to take a penalty to stop a shot on net. Hockey is a game of mistakes. Few goals are scored without them. But these two examples are very preventable plays by making simpler decisions with the puck.
It didn’t get much better from there. It seemed to me like he got switched to play with John Carlson to start the 2nd period, instead of Orlov. Almost immediately in his first shift, he got forced into a 2 on 1 rush. He raced to close the gap on the puck carrier and did get there. But instead of leaving his stick just in the passing lane, he goes for a poke check. Once you are there, the better play is to just leave the stick right in the passing lane, but he made a more aggressive stick play on the puck. He missed the poke check, leaving just enough room for the puck to be passed across and then the goal was scored. From here on out, Fehervary pulled a Houdini, and disappeared from the ice. By the 3rd period, it seemed like for the most part the Capitals switched to a 5-man rotation on the back end. Fehervary did not see much time to finish the game.
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Earlier in this piece I mentioned how he has been called up ahead of his peers. As that is not entirely true, his situation is quite different than many recent Hershey defensemen to get the call. We have no injuries. We are scratching healthy, normal rotation defensemen to get him in. This was not a call up in necessity, but more of a taking stock call up. With the trade deadline coming up, and with this call up occurring now, seems to me that something is cooking up at Medstar.
This piece took a few days to get together, and he has subsequently been sent back down to Hershey. He had played very well for the most part over the past few games. He is almost ready to play now in the worlds’ top league. He is a great skater, aggressive, and smart offensively and defensively; but needs to learn how to settle into these attributes and make better decisions with his skill set. All in all, he fits very well into our system based on his instincts and abilities, it will be interesting to see how quickly they really try to get him in; or if they do at all. Maybe he gets the Sanford treatment… Time will tell.
God speed, Fehervary. Hope to see you back up in Washington sometime soon.
stats courtesy of http://naturalstattrick.com
stats courtesy of http://eliteprospects.com
stats courtesy of http://nhl.com