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Capitals preparing for entry draft looking for diamonds in the rough

Capitals preparing for entry draft looking for diamonds in the rough

Although the Caps don’t own a pick in the first three rounds of this week’s NHL entry draft, assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said the team’s scouting staff is preparing as though they’ve got a full complement of selections—just in case.

“We approach it like we have a pick in every round because you never know what’s going to happen between now and when the draft starts,” Mahoney said on a conference call with reporters. “We made sure during the year that we had enough coverage on [prospects] in case something does happen and we do acquire a first, a second or a third.”

As things stand now, Washington owns picks in the 4th (120th), 5th (151st), 6th (182nd) and 7th rounds (213rd).

RELATED: Worried about losing Schmidt? McPhee willing to negotiate

The Caps dealt away their first three picks in the trades that landed Kevin Shattenkirk, Lars Eller and Mike Weber, respectively.  

“If it happens, it happens,” Mahoney said. “We’ve moved a few picks lately because we have a very good team and we’ve been making a run to try and win the Stanley Cup. If something comes up, and it makes sense to us, we could acquire those picks. If not we’ll go in with our picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.”

Asked whether he subscribes to the belief that this year’s draft isn’t a strong one, Mahoney emphasized that good players can be found in every round.

“We’ve had some players come out of all those rounds,” he said. “Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby, we took them both in the fourth round. We’ve had players like Connor Carrick, who have played some games in the NHL; we took [him] in the fifth. We’ve had the Mathieu Perreault’s in the sixth and the Johnny Oduya’s in the seventh. So there’s players there every year.”

“It’s up to us as a scouting staff as an amateur staff,” he continued, “to make sure that we get a couple of those players, and hopefully they play for the Capitals someday.”

MORE CAPITALS: Former Caps coach to be inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

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NHL Power Rankings: Caps at 20, in search for gold out west

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NHL Power Rankings: Caps at 20, in search for gold out west

The Caps are a .500 team through their first nine games of the 2017-18 season and that's unfamiliar territory for this team. A 4-4-1 start is Washington's worst start to a season since 2013-14 when the team 4-5-0 in what would be Adam Oates' final year as head coach.

We knew this year was not going to be a Presidents' Trophy year for the Caps after their roster turnover in the offseason led to a few holes on the team. Those holes have been evident in the season's first month of play.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

A shaky defense has been made worse by an injury to Matt Niskanen that will keep him out at least until the beginning of November. That leaves the team with a top-six that includes two rookies, depends on John Carlson playing huge minutes and a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik taking on a more significant role than last season.

Depth scoring has also been an issue. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 19 of the teams' 27 goals. Washington needs more production from its bottom two lines and even the blue line where Christian Djoos is the only defenseman on the team to score.

It's still early in the season so there's no reason to panic.The good news is that they still have time to work on all of these issues. A 4-4-1 record is not an insurmountable hole for the team to climb out of. The bad news is that the clock is ticking.

Statistically speaking, teams that are in playoff position at Thanksgiving tend to stay there. That gives Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan four weeks to determine the strength of the team they have and makes some tough decisions going forward regarding lines, trades and future contracts.

One thing's for sure, they will have to play better than they have thus far. See where the Caps have fallen here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

Rookie players make rookie mistakes. It happens. When it does, you hope it doesn’t cost the team too much, you learn from it and then you move on.

When you have two rookie defensemen in your lineup, however, those rookie mistakes can turn very, very costly. That was evident in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Less than two minutes into the game, Christian Djoos chased after a puck behind his own net while under pressure from two Florida forecheckers. He attempted a backhanded pass that hit off the back of the net and was collected by Jarred McCann who set up Connor Brickley for the easy goal.

“Not the best start, obviously,” Djoos said after the game. “Not a good play.”

RELATED: THE CAPS ARE TAKING TOO MANY PENALTIES AND THEY KNOW IT

It looks like Djoos tried to chip the puck past the forecheckers into the middle, probably to Lars Eller who was trailing the play. That puck needs to be along the boards. When you try to clear up the middle while under pressure, you risk giving up the puck in a very dangerous area of the ice which is exactly what happened.

With two players on his tail, Djoos should have fired that puck along the boards, preferably with his forehand which is much stronger than the backhand. He may not have had enough time to go to the forehand given the pressure, but that puck still needs to go along the boards with as much power behind it as possible. If it’s a turnover, fine, at least it is in the corner or along the perimeter rather than directly behind the net. If it’s icing, fine. Icing is better than a goal.

But Djoos wasn’t the only player guilty of having a rookie moment. Madison Bowey's inexperience was on display late in the first period as he tried to defend Florida forward Vincent Trochek.

Trocheck skated the puck into the Caps’ defensive zone. Bowey forced him to the outside which is the right way to play it, but he couldn’t rub him out along the boards. Instead, Trocheck was able to shake Bowey off and turn the corner on him to get in alone on Philipp Grubauer prompting the desperation hook from Bowey.

When Bowey is able to force him to the boards, he needs to finish off Trocheck and snuff out the rush.

Florida would score on the resulting power play to take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first, a deficit the Capitals were not able to overcome.

The good news is that both Djoos and Bowery are going to continue to get better with every passing game. They are both young players at 23 and 22 respectively and mistakes are expected for players in their first NHL season. They will develop and improve which we already saw through Saturday's game.

Djoos scored the Capitals’ lone goal on the night and Bowey played strong defensively the rest of the way. The coaches seemed to reward their play as well with more minutes. Djoos played 3:02 in the first, 3:16 in the second and 6:06 in the third while Bowey played 4:04, 6:09 and 6:18.

“The young guys have been fine,” Barry Trotz told reporters. “They're going to make mistakes. They make the same mistakes some of the older guys are making.”

MORE CAPITALS: ONE PLAYER STOOD OUT FOR THE CAPS IN SATURDAY'S LOSS

The question is do the Caps have enough time to wait for them to continue to develop this season or do they need to improve the defense now?

There’s no question having two rookies in the team's top six is not an ideal scenario. It is hard for the coaches to shelter them as they normally would like. It is also having a strain on the other veteran defensemen who are taking on a heavier workload as a result. The 37-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik played 16:56 through two periods and John Carlson finished the game with a season-high 29:48 on Saturday.

You can’t win a Stanley Cup in October and November, but you can lose it if you get buried too far in the standings. The Caps are 4-4-1 through nine games and have six games between now and when Matt Niskanen is eligible to return from LTIR, assuming he is ready at that point.

Can the defense as it’s currently constructed keep the Caps afloat until Niskanen’s return? Is it good enough with Niskanen in the lineup? Those are questions Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan are going to have to answer quickly.