- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2011

It’s almost a shame for the Washington Capitals that only one goaltender can be in net at a time. They’re lucky in practice to be able to get work for two of them.

That’s because the Caps are among the most adept teams in the league at drafting and developing goalies. It’s why general manager George McPhee was able to trade Semyon Varlamov to Colorado on July 1 and not flinch.

Naturally, the signing of veteran Tomas Vokoun helps, but the depth of prospects in the organization makes for a solid situation in the crease. In Hershey, they have Braden Holtby. Lower in the ranks are Philipp Grubauer, Brandon Anderson and recent draft pick Steffen Soberg - all of whom are at Kettler Capitals Iceplex this week for the annual development camp.

“I don’t think it’s ever been any deeper,” associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig said. “It says a lot about the state of goaltending; it says a lot about the organization’s eye for goaltending. You can never be too deep at that position - the most important position in the game.”

As McPhee pointed out Monday, having so many goaltending options is not a coincidence. Even with Michal Neuvirth panning out, the Caps haven’t stopped trying to mine talent through the draft.

In three of the past four years, Washington has taken a goaltender in the fourth round - Holtby in 2008, Grubauer last year and Soberg last month.

“You know you’re not going to have 100 percent success where every draft is going to turn out and you produce one. If we do, that’d be great, but it’s unlikely,” goaltending coach Dave Prior said. “There’s no real master plan on it.”

But there has been a lot of success from it. Neuvirth and Varlamov - both early picks in 2006 - turned into NHL goalies capable of playing well when healthy. Holtby is “ahead of schedule” according to Prior and is considered the next big talent in the organization.

That leaves Grubauer, Anderson and Soberg as the next wave - and the young netminders like having to battle each other.

“They obviously have a lot of good young goalies, and they’re all talented and can play at a high level,” Anderson said. “It pushes [me] to be better every day and work harder every day. I think it’s good for me and good for my development.”

Added Grubauer: “I like it because it’s a better competition for me. Every day it’s a hard practice, and that’s good.”

Prior insists it’s not a competition. Yes, only two goalies can reasonably be at the NHL level at the same time, but the organizational philosophy is intended to make them elevate their play to a high standard - not just be better than a certain competitor.

“You’re not competing with other guys in our organization; you’re competing to be good enough to be a Capitals NHL goalie,” Prior said. “If we don’t think you are, you might have an opportunity in another organization. But if you’re better than the guy who’s a year older than you or two years older than you or a year younger, it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not good enough.”

Analyst Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild ranked the Caps in his top five organizations in the league as far as depth. Having Prior along with Kolzig, a veteran of 719 NHL games, can only help that standing.

Said coach Bruce Boudreau: “Dave is such a meticulous worker and has done such great work with our goalies in the past I think both Hershey and us and South Carolina [ECHL], they’re all in good hands as far as the amount that the goalie coaches are going to be able to see them and teach and help make them better.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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