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Breaking down the Washington Capitals’ 2019 draft class  

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Breaking down the Washington Capitals’ 2019 draft class  

Thanks to a pair of trades, the Capitals finished their work early on Day 2 of the NHL Draft in Vancouver on Saturday. 

Washington made just three picks to go with Friday’s choice of Connor McMichael at No. 26 overall. They made a second-round choice and followed it with a trade to get into the third round and then another trade to move into the fifth round. Here’s a breakdown of McMichael’s game, and then a look at the players they went with on Saturday:

Brett Leason

Position: Right wing

Age: 20 (April 30, 1999)

Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 198 pounds

Nationality: Canadian

Team: Prince Albert (Western Hockey League)

Pick: Second round, No. 56 overall

Outlook: A fascinating story. The Tri-City Americans took Leason with a third-round selection in the Western Hockey League draft in 2016. He had talent. But at age 17 he had just eight goals and 10 assists. No NHL team drafted him. At age 18 he had one goal in his first 12 games with Tri-City and the team traded him to Prince Albert. He showed promise with 15 goals and 17 assists in 32 games there. Still, no NHL team drafted him.

With one last chance, Leason put it all together at age 19 in the Western Hockey League. He scored a point in 30 straight games to start this past season with Prince Albert, he made Canada’s stacked World Juniors roster and scored three goals in that prestigious tournament. In the end he scored 36 goals and had 53 assists (89 points) for Prince Albert, which went 54-10-2-2 and won the WHL title. Leason added 10 goals and 15 assists in 22 playoff games.  

“I think he’s going to be the steal of this draft whenever he’s picked,” NHL Network analyst Sam Cosentino said during the draft telecast. “You’re talking about a guy with size. North-south skating is fine. He needs to work on his edges. Raw in terms of his potential. Everyone gets scared away because of his age being a 20-year-old player now. That doesn’t scare me one bit.” 

Indeed, Leason would be an over-ager (20) if he returned to juniors. Teams are allowed only three of those and he doesn’t seem like he has a lot left to prove at that level. So he will move faster even than McMichael, the first-round pick who is just 18 and probably has two seasons of junior hockey left. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told reporters in Vancouver that Leason will play for AHL Hershey next season.   

Cosentino wasn’t finished. The reaction after Leason went from an unknown to World Juniors? “All of the sudden you’re like “Who IS this dude.’ Well - he’s a guy that a lot of people expected to be that guy when Tri-Cities took him in the third round.   And now he’s a guy who is, to me, unstoppable. Dominant at certain points this year. Being a right shot guy, he’s really good at disrupting the breakout, he strips pucks. There is a bit of a Mark Stone comparison when it comes to Brett Leason.”

That’s about as strong a compliment as you can give to a two-way player given that Stone just finished second in the voting for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Leason takes pride in that area – even if he has a long way to go to get there. He named rugged Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn as a player he patterns himself after. 

“I’m a good overall forward in general. Just good 200-foot game and strong offensively,” Leason said. “I think I’ve got good vision and good hockey IQ out there and with a good shot.  My defensive game speaks for itself. I think I’m fairly good there, too.” 

Leason’s story is so good that he was presented the annual E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence on Saturday. It goes to “a candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.”  The award is named in honor of a longtime NHL coach and scout who joined the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau in 2002 and assumed day-to-day responsibility for the department in 2005. McGuire passed away from cancer in 2011. 

Aliaksei Protas

Position: Center

Age: 18 (Jan. 6, 2001)

Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 190 pounds

Nationality: Belarusian

Team: Prince Albert (Western Hockey League)

Pick: Third round, No. 91 overall

Outlook: Leason’s linemate with Prince Albert. Another big body, he had 11 goals and 29 assists in 60 games and exploded in the WHL playoffs for another 12 goals and 10 assists in 23 games. He was the first WHL player since 1996 to have back-to-back hat tricks in the playoffs. Nicknamed “Viper” for reasons he wouldn’t disclose to reporters in Vancouver, but is fantastic nonetheless. 

Washington didn’t have a third-round pick. That went to Los Angeles in the Carl Hagelin trade in February. So the Capitals packaged the No. 118 pick (fourth round) and No. 129 pick (fifth round) to the New Jersey Devils to move up and grab Protas, who played hockey in the United States as a 14-year-old in Colorado before returning to Belarus.

Think Dainius Zubrus if looking for a comparison, a former Caps center who was also a big man who could pass a little bit. Protas has years of development to get to that level. Zubrus was an early linemate of Alex Ovechkin during his first two years in the NHL and became the first Lithuanian to play in over 1,000 NHL games.  

From Cosentino: “He’s a big guy. Good puck protection skills and a really good shot. His skating needs some work….But you can see he’s a big rig. And I think the thing about this guy is he’s more of a raw guy who you think is going to  work on his skating down the line, but you do like the fact that he can play that cycle game down low with his puck protection skills and if he gets an opportunity down low below the dots he’s got good accuracy to his shot, he’s got good depth to his shot and he shoots the puck with a heaviness to it.”

Martin Has

Position: Defenseman

Age: 18 (Feb. 2, 2001)

Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 187 pounds

Nationality: Czech

Team: Tappara (Liiga - Under-20)

Pick: Fifth round, No. 153 overall

A Czech native who played juniors in Finland to get tougher competition. He’s a big body with a good skillset and told reporters he’s a two-way defenseman who likes to join the rush and has a good shot. He slides into a Washington prospect group heavy on defensemen now after taking one in the first round in 2016 (Lucas Johansan) and 2018 (Alex Alexeyev) and in the second round (Martin Fehervary) in 2018. Has was the only defenseman taken by the organization in this year’s draft.   

Washington thought enough of Has to trade back into the fifth round. They gave up this year’s seventh-round pick (No. 211) and next year’s seventh-rounder to the San Jose Sharks to do so. According to Capitals reporter Mike Vogel, Has grew up playing at the same rink in Prague as Washington winger Jakub Vrana, who brought the Stanley Cup there on his day with it last summer. Has is expected to stay in Finland next season and hopefully make the jump to Tappara’s senior Liiga team soon. He is very much a developmental prospect as a right defenseman. 

“[Has is] a very intelligent player. Very good positionally,” Capitals assistant GM Ross Mahoney told reporters in Vancouver. “Projects probably to be a really good two-way defenseman, more of a [penalty kill], good defender, he’s got the long reach. And he’s always been a leader on the Czech under-18, under-17 teams. We just think he’s got a really solid all-around game.” 
 

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    Caps invite fans to submit original art for new Capit-Ale design

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    Caps invite fans to submit original art for new Capit-Ale design

    A freshly brewed beer is making its way to Capital One Arena. 

    In partnership with Devils Backbone Brewing Company, the Caps announced on Monday that starting in September, Capit-Ale India Pale Ale will be available for purchase at Capital One Arena. 

    Capit-Ale will be available in two can designs. The first design features the Caps mural installation at L'Enfant Plaza, designed by the Washington, D.C., based artists BroCoLoco.

    In efforts to spark excitement for the 2019-20 season, fans are invited to submit original art for a chance to be featured on the second can design.

    Designs can be submitted from July 22-Oct.18 and will be selected in January 2020 by Devils Backbone Brewing Company and the Caps.

    The winner will receive tickets to a Capitals game, a framed version of their art autographed by Caps players and have their art hung up in the Capital One  Arena Devils Backbone bar. 

    The new 16 oz. hoppy brew will also be available on draft at select retail locations in the DMV area. 

    This is not the first time Devils Backbone Brewing Company has partnered with a D.C. team. In 2018, they partnered with the Redskins to launch the #ATTR Ale at FedEx Field. 

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    20 Burning Capitals Questions: How will the contract situation affect Backstrom and Holtby?

    20 Burning Capitals Questions: How will the contract situation affect Backstrom and Holtby?

    The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

    But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

    With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

    The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today, we look at Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby who are entering the final year of their contracts.

    Will the contract situations hang over their heads all season and affect their play?

    Professional athletes face pressure all the time. They have pressure to perform, pressure to make the playoffs, pressure to make a deep run and to win championships. Sometimes the greatest pressure a player can feel, however, comes when they are playing for a contract.

    When you watch some of the greatest athletes in the world perform superhuman feats on the ice, it can be easy to forget that these players are also human. These are people with families. While contract numbers can be fun to play with on CapFriendly, we are also talking about people whose given career field has a limited window. They are quite literally playing for the future security of their families.

    This brings us to Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, two players entering the final year of their contracts who also happen to be two of the best players on the team. Backstrom will be 32 by the end of next season and Holtby will be 30. Given their age, the next contract will likely be the last big one of their careers.

    With no new update on their respective contracts and the calendar nearing August, it seems very likely, if not probably, that both players will begin the season without a new contract in hand.

    One bad season or one bad injury could cause both players potentially millions of dollars. That is also tricky for the team because if the pressure of playing for their next contract messes with their heads, those are two of the team’s best players suffering rough seasons.

    If Backstrom and Holtby struggle under the pressure of knowing every night they are playing for their next deals, they certainly would not be the first or last to do so. But let’s not forget who we are talking about here.

    If you had to choose the two most unflappable players on the roster, Backstrom and Holtby would both be pretty high on that list. The mentally calm way in which they approach the game suggests both are well-suited to the pressures of a contract year.

    While we have grouped both players into a single question as to how they will perform, both of their situations actually look very different.

    Backstrom elected to go with security over money in his last contract for 10 years and $67 million. That deal has proven to be an extremely team-friendly contract. According to CapFriendly, Backstrom’s $6.7 million cap hit is only the 65th highest in the league. That’s a bargain for a future Hall-of-Famer in the prime of his career.

    While he is certainly entitled to a raise, he also does not strike me as the type of player to hold the team hostage with an outrageous salary ask.

    “This is all I know,” Backstrom said at the team’s breakdown day. “It’s crazy, but at the same time it’s a great feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything better from the fans and from the city of Washington.”

    It is hard to imagine Backstrom and the team not being able to come to an agreement to keep him in Washington. He is still playing at a high level and, because he has never been an overly fast or overly physical player, he is likely to live up to new contract even in his mid-thirties. For him, there should be less pressure knowing he is likely to be back.

    The same cannot be said for Holtby whose future in Washington is far more uncertain.

    Much has been written on this topic of late and if you want a real deep-dive into why Holtby is doubtful to return to Washington, you can read my article here. To summarize, the high cost it will take to re-sign Holtby in both money and term as well as the looming Seattle expansion draft and the fact that the team’s top prospect is a goalie make it unlikely the Caps will be able to keep him. That puts even more pressure on Holtby as he faces the possibility of having to move on.

    If there is one goalie who you should not worry about mentally, however, it is Holtby.

    Holtby set a franchise record in April with his seventh postseason shutout. When asked what that did for his confidence he said, “Nothing. It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

    When Washington was eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in a Game 7 double-overtime loss, Holtby said afterward, “Obviously it's disappointing. It's not where we expected to be. It's a hard-fought series and they just ended up making more plays than we did.”

    Regardless of whether he is ecstatic or distraught, happy or sad, you can always expect a calm, monotone response from Holtby in the locker room. This does not strike me as a player who will spend the season sweating over a contract.

    To say neither player will even think of their contract situations this season would be unrealistic. They are only human. But it seems unlikely that their future contracts will have any major impact on their play because of the personality of both players plus their respective situations. Backstrom in all likelihood will remain with the Caps while Holtby, even though it appears his future will be elsewhere, probably feels a lot better about his situation after seeing Sergei Bobrovsky sign a massive $70 million deal in the offseason.

    Both players are level-headed and in good spots even if they do not have contracts beyond 2020.

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