J.J. Regan

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Capitals get a second-round steal in Brett Leason

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Capitals get a second-round steal in Brett Leason

Forward Brett Leason was passed over in the draft the past two years. Finally, in 2019, he heard his name get called. The Capitals selected Leason in the second round of the NHL Draft on Saturday with the 56th overall pick making him the second forward the team has taken thus far.

Leason is one of the more unique stories of the draft. He was passed over in the 2017 and 2018 drafts and so is older at 20 than most of the other draft picks. He has decent offensive skills, but an emphasis on improving his skating is what turned him into an NHL prospect. That improvement was reflected in his point totals.

Prior to 2018-19, Leason had 51 points in 135 WHL games. In 2018-19 playing with the Prince Albert Raiders, Leason had 89 points in 55 games. He also scored 25 points in 22 playoff games, helping Prince Albert win the WHL championship. Leason also played his way onto Canada’s junior team and scored three goals and two assists in five games in the World Junior Championships.

Being a late-bloomer may have scared off some other teams which could explain why he fell all the way to 56th. Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked Leason as the 34th best prospect in the draft.

“[Leason’s] not a highlight reel player by any means, but he has decent puck skills and can create offense with very good vision,” Pronman wrote. “He’s aware of his surroundings and can put pucks into seams.”

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Leason has great size and can protect the puck well, even if he does not play an overly physical game. At 20, he will be eligible to play in the AHL next season and will enter the organization much closer to being NHL ready than most of the other 17, 18-year-olds taken in the draft.

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Capitals select Connor McMichael in 2019 NHL Draft

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Capitals select Connor McMichael in 2019 NHL Draft

Forward was the obvious need for the Capitals heading into the draft and Washington moved to address that need selecting center Connor McMichael with the 25th pick in the NHL draft on Friday. McMichael is now the first forward the team has taken in the first round of the draft since Jakub Vrana in 2014.

For a team in need of offense, the draft went about as well as possible for the Caps. Despite being seen as an offensive-heavy draft, nine defensemen were selected before Washington’s 25th pick ensuring there would be several forwards with high-upside available.

McMichael, 18, is a bit undersized at just under 6-foot, 182 pounds, but it is understood at the 25th pick there will be some downside to a player. He recorded 36 goals and 36 assists in 67 games with the London Knights in the OHL this season, an improvement of 56 points from the previous year.

There is no part of McMichael’s skillset that will wow you, but he is very good at multiple areas of the game. His shot was described by London associate general manager Rob Simpson as “tricky.”

“There’s not a lot of backward swing in it,” Simpson said. “It’s hard for goalies to read the roll of the puck off his blade. It’s something with the way he holds the stick or releases it from the ice. By the time the goalie picks up if the puck is going high or low, it’s already by him.”

Mike Morreale of NHL.com wrote of McMichael, “The left-handed shot is one of the smartest players in the draft. He has a solid two-way game with a skill set that’s still developing.”

The Caps put a premium on players with a high hockey IQ which explains why they valued him so highly.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the initial reaction to this pick is that it was a reach by Washington. With more defensemen than expected selected early, there were some unexpected players who were seen as having a higher upside available to the Caps such as Arthur Kaliyev and Ryan Suzuki. Instead, Washington went with McMichael who Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked has ranked as the 52nd best prospect of the draft.

There are some red flags with a player like Kaliyev which is why he slid down the draft and McMichael seems like the safer pick, but he also may have been someone the Caps could have traded back a few spots and still have been able to select.

The NHL draft will continue on Saturday with Rounds 2 through 7. Washington currently holds a pick in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds.

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2019 NHL Draft: Six players the Capitals could take at No. 25

2019 NHL Draft: Six players the Capitals could take at No. 25

The Capitals have the 25th pick in the first-round of the NHL Draft on Friday. While there has been much speculation that Washington could move up or down in the draft, they also must prepare for the possibility of keeping the pick and finding the best available player at that point. If they do keep the pick, here are six players who could fall to them.

F Philip Tomasino (Niagara, OHL)

Most draft projections have Tomasino going long before he reaches the Caps, but the unexpected can happen in the draft and sometimes players fall. If there is mid-round forward who drops, Tomasino would likely be the guy and the Caps would be smart to pounce on him.

Tomasino could drop because of his size as he is just 6-foot, 183 pounds. Washington has not been shy in the past about drafting an undersized player and it is also important to keep in mind that Tomasino is one of youngest draft-eligible forwards and does not turn 18 until July 28. He can easily bulk up with age.

Tomasino racked up 72 points in 67 games in the OHL this past season, representing a 48-point improvement from the previous year. His skating and speed are exceptional which are highly coveted attributes by the Caps.

F Bobby Brink (Sioux City, USHL)

The biggest need in the draft for Washington is high-end offensive talent and Brink certainly fits the bill. He is not the best skater, but late in the first-round, you expect there to be negatives to a player’s skillset. What he lacks in skating he makes up for in hockey IQ, vision and pure offensive ability.

Brink scored 35 goals and 33 assists in 43 games in the USHL this past season. With 1.58 points per game, he averaged the most among any player with at least 25 games. He will play for the University of Denver in the fall.

F Connor McMichael (London, OHL)

McMichael is another undersized forward at just under 6-foot, 182 pounds. If he were a couple of inches taller and 10-15 pounds heavier, his skill would make him a top-10 pick.

With the London Knights, McMichael became the go-to player on offense with 36 goals and 36 assists in 67 games. His shot is deceptive, but his greatest attribute is his hockey IQ. He understands and sees the game very well. You can help a player bulk up, but it is hard to develop the same kind of vision he possesses.

F Samuel Poulin (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)

At 18, Poulin is already 6-foot-1, 212 pounds. He is not just a bruiser, however, as he still put up 29 goals and 47 assists in the QMJHL last season. He is also the son for former NHLer Patrick Poulin.

A hard-working, big-bodied forward with high offensive upside? Yeah, that sounds like a good fit for the Caps.

F Brett Leason (Prince Albert, WHL)

Leason will be one of the older players in the draft at 20. He was passed over in the past two drafts and appears to be a bit of a late-bloomer. His skating has improved tremendously over the past year which helped his overall game. With 36 goals and 53 points last season, Leason improved his point total by a whopping 57 points from the year before.

The route that he took the NHL by going from undrafted for two years to first-round talent will likely scare off some teams and 25 may ultimately be a bit high for Leason. The Caps, however, like taking players from the WHL and Leason’s extra maturity and size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) could help him reach the NHL sooner than many of the other 17, 18-year-olds in the draft. That would appeal to the Caps who are in desperate need of depth offense but don’t have the cap room to add much in free agency.

D Thomas Harley (Mississauga, OHL)

The obvious need for the Caps is at forward and if they reach the 25th pick and the best players on the board are all defensemen, the most likely scenario is that they would trade back. They may make an exception depending on which defenseman falls to them, however. If Harley is still on the board at 25, I would not be surprised to see MacLellan go for it.

Harley played in all situation for Mississauga and has an uncanny ability to find shooting and passing lanes in the offensive zone which means he could quarterback the power play some day. He is also very dependable in his own zone and has the size, skill and mobility to be an NHL defenseman despite the fact that he does not turn 18 until August.

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