Who's No. 1 In Washington?

If the Washington Capitals’ signing of 22-year old goaltender Michal Neuvirth signifies anything, it’s that the future is now in Caps’ crease.  The Capitals are in the enviable position of boasting two top goaltending prospects on their roster as we head into the 2010-11 season.  Even if Jonathan Bernier lands a job in Los Angeles backing up Jonathan Quick, there may not be a better young goaltending tandem in hockey right now than what we see in Washington.

Semyon Varlamov has been hailed as the goaltender of the future in D.C. for the past couple of years, taking over the number one duties from Jose Theodore during the 2008-09 postseason and again in the 2009-10 playoffs.  Varlamov was busy getting a taste of NHL playoff action while Neuvirth was leading the Hershey Bears to back-to-back Calder Cups in the AHL, an experience that has helped the 34th overall pick in 2006 prepare to challenge the 23rd overall pick from 2006, Varlamov, for the Capitals starting goaltender job this fall.

Both goaltenders have been impressive in limited NHL action over the past two seasons.  Varlamov appeared primed to swipe the number one gig from Theodore in 2009-10, but a sports hernia and a knee injury ultimately derailed his opportunity to do so.  Varlamov’s injuries opened the door for the less heralded Neuvirth to pick up some extra NHL experience, he appeared in 17 games and posted a 9-4 record to go along with a .914 SV%.  It has been Neuvirth’s play in the AHL with Hershey that has attracted the most attention to the young netminder thus far, though.  Much like Bernier in L.A., Neuvirth has little left to prove at the minor-pro level. Whether it is as Varlamov’s backup, or in a 1A-1B situation, Michal Neuvirth will play in Washington this season.

George McPhee’s decision to award Neuvirth with a 2-year $2.3-million extension may be a precursor to a similar deal in the works for Varlamov, who has one year left on a deal that was identical to that of Neuvirth’s (all digits via CapGeek).  If that is the case, the Capitals will be in a great position with two  young goaltenders earning less than $3-million annually, combined.  Yes, the powerhouse Washington Capitals will be paying two goaltenders less than what Steve Mason and Carey Price will be making, for the foreseeable future.

Varlamov’s edge in NHL experience and playoff appearances make him the early favourite to claim the number one job, but it would be remiss not to consider Neuvirth’s stellar AHL play as an indicator of how good he can be.  Whaddaya say, is Semyon Varlamov the De facto number one in Washington?  If so, can he hold up with the increased workload, and how much action does Michal Neuvirth see in 2010-11?