The Capitals hold the 24th pick in the NHL Draft and the first round is set to take place on Tuesday starting at 7 p.m. Crazy things can happen at the draft with teams trading up or down or out of the first round completely, but who could general manager Brian MacLellan target if the team decides to stay at 24?
Let's take a look at a few possible targets.
First, here's what you won't see. The Caps' strategy coming into the draft is to pick the best available player, according to assistant general manager Ross Mahoney. If the Caps stick to that philosophy, they are not going to take a goalie in the first round. There is only one prospect goalie, Yaroslav Askarov, who is considered to be a first-round prospect and he will be long gone by the time the team picks at 24. The second position you won't see on this list is left defense. Two of the team's top three prospects, Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev, are left defensemen. With the Caps needing young talent at almost every position within the system, I have a hard time believing they will just go back to the one position in which they already have two highly-valued prospects. I know the team is going "best available" as well it should, but if their turn comes and the best players on the board are all left defensemen, perhaps MacLellan would be better off trading down and getting more value for the pick.
On to the prospects.
LW Rodion Amirov, KHL
Amirov has high-end offensive skill with quick hands he uses to maintain possession. He's hard to get the puck away from once he has it on his stick. He is as much a playmaker as he is a goal-scorer. By skill alone, Amirov should be a mid-round draft pick and I doubt he will be available when the Caps pick at 24. I include him on this list, however, because he is small at 6-foot, 168 pounds. Plus, some teams seem hesitant to draft players out of the KHL, but the Caps never are.
Amirov would have been more realistic for Washington had the draft taken place in June. With the late draft, however, it has given Amirov time to showcase his development in the new KHL season. Last year, he had two assists in 21 games at the KHL level. This year, he already has three goals and two assists in just 10 games. It seems doubtful now that he would fall to the Caps, but if he does he is someone the team has to take.
RD Justin Barron, QMJHL
A blood clot issue limited Barron to just 34 games in the QMJHL last season and, as a result, opinions on him are mixed. What we know is that he has NHL size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, is a good skater and great at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and leading the rush. After that, there's no real consensus on him. He is billed as a skilled, puck-moving defenseman with size that he uses effectively at both ends of the ice to defend and shed defenders on the rush. But I have also seen some people who question his offensive skills and physical play. The question is how do the Caps evaluate him?
Despite picking primarily in the mid to late round for the last several years, the Caps have largely done a good job finding high-end talent with their first-round picks. Barron was highly regarded before last season and perhaps he could be another example of a guy other teams back away from allowing MacLellan to step in and take a chance on him. I would not be surprised to see Barron go 24th or perhaps even earlier and I would also not be surprised to see him fall out of the first round completely.
C Mavrik Bourque, OHL
Bourque is a play-making, pass-first center with an exceptional hockey IQ. He is a fantastic passer aided in part by his ability to slow the game down and find the best passing options. His hockey acumen is such that he can also play on the penalty kill.
So why would he fall to late in the draft? Because he lacks the physical tools of the early-round prospects. He is only 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds and his skating is average. He is not afraid of the physical play despite his size, which is encouraging, but when part of his skill is being able to slow the play down, he will have much less time at the NHL level to do that leading some to question whether he can be as effective. He is a project who will have to learn to adjust to the speed of the AHL and, eventually, the NHL game.
Bourque is the kind of player you take expecting him to be a third-line two-way center, but hoping he can develop into a top-six playmaker.
C Brendan Brisson, USHL
The profile on Brisson is a bit similar to Bourque. He is an exceptionally skilled player whose physical attributes in terms of his size and speed drop him to the late first round. While Bourque is more of a two-way player, Brisson is more offensive and has a good one-timer he can utilize on the power play.
C Ridly Greig, WHL
Any list of draft targets for the Capitals has to include at least one player from the WHL considering the team's proclivity at selecting players from that specific junior league.
It is typically a red flag when a player is only 5-foot-11, 163 pounds, but Greig plays with more tenacity and grit than you may expect from a player of that size. It is that size that will make him a possible option for the Caps late in the draft. Besides his size, Greig has good speed, and great offensive skills. He has the hands to be creative with the puck and is a player who can be utilized in any situation.
RW Noel Gunler, SHL
Gunler is a dynamic offensive player with good vision and a good shot. With the puck on his stick or in the offensive zone, there's a lot to like. Gunler has to learn how to play without the puck, however, especially defensively. That is an area that has been lacking severely leading some to question his compete level.
This is the type of player for whom the interview would probably matter a lot. He has the offensive skill you want, it's just a question of whether the team thinks he is willing to learn and work at all the other aspects of his game that need to be developed.
RW Jaccob Perreault, OHL
Perreault's major asset is his shot. He has arguably the best in the draft and if you draft him, it's to be a goal-scorer. His offensive skill is without question, but he does not have the foot-speed to match. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he is thick enough to win battles in the NHL, but will he be able to find enough separation at the NHL level to make his shot as effective as it can be?