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Evaluating Capitals' first-round pick: Goalie Ilya Samsonov


Evaluating Capitals' first-round pick: Goalie Ilya Samsonov

If the price was right, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was prepared to make a big splash at the NHL draft on Friday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Instead, MacLellan and the Caps only made a ripple, selecting Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick of the first round.

Samsonov, 18, becomes the first goaltender taken by the Capitals in the first round since Semyon Varlamov was taken 23rd overall in 2006.

He joins a crop of goaltenders that includes Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek, who was taken by the Caps with the 39th overall selection of last year’s draft. 

At 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, Samsonov was rated the No. 1 goalie out of Europe by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.

Playing under former NHL coach Mike Keenan with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Samsonov impressed scouts with an 11-4-1 record with a 2.66 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.


There was some speculation the Caps would draft a defenseman in the first round for the first time since taking John Carlson 27th overall in 2008. But MacLellan said the Caps would stand firm on their philosophy of taking the best player available and they were the first NHL team to select a goalie. 

MacLellan went into the draft hoping to land a top-line right wing, but cautioned he would not overpay for one. With four more picks on Saturday – one each in Rounds 3, 4, 5 and 6 – MacLellan may look to add a pick or two when the draft resumes at 10 a.m. 

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins stole the show in Sunrise, unloading burly winger and Stanley Cup champion Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings and promising defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames.

In exchange the Bruins received Calgary’s 15th, 45th and 52nd picks and Los Angeles’ 15th pick.

“Those two calls today were very difficult to make,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said, referring to the trade calls to Lucic, who had one year and $6 million remaining on his contract, and Hamilton, a 22-year-old restricted free agent. “Both players are tremendous players and will have tremendous careers in Calgary and L.A. I think the world of them as people.”

The Capitals could have an interest in a handful of veteran right wings who could play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That group could include Patrick Sharp, Radim Vrbata, T.J. Oshie or Justin Williams.

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?


With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.


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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.


Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.


Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.