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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 finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

    Caps finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

    The Capitals needed a goal from T.J. Oshie with less than a minute remaining to force overtime on Saturday where they would go on to defeat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout.

    It looked like Jaroslav Halak would once again pull off a miraculous win as he turned aside 42 shots, but the Caps kept up the pressure late to tie the game and get back in the win column.

    Saturday's win is now Washington's 15th in the last 16 contests against the Bruins.

    Here is how the Caps won.

    Boyd makes the most of his opportunity

    On Friday, Travis Boyd was a Hershey Bear. With Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin both injured but without enough money under the cap for Boyd, the Caps recalled Tyler Lewington on Friday and skated seven defensemen and only 11 forwards against the Montreal Canadiens. On Saturday, the team sent Lewington and Ilya Samsonov to Hershey and recalled Vitek Vanecek and Boyd. The extra cap space the team gained from Vanecek taking Samsonov's spot allowed them to recall Boyd and skate four full forward lines. The impact of Boyd's addition was felt in the first period when Boyd scored a deflection to beat Halak and get the Caps on the board.

    In seven games with the Caps this season, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

    Caps get their power play setup on 6-on-5

    For much of the night, the Caps just could not figure out Halak. They poured on the shots, but he was there each time and looked like he would be able to lead his team to the narrow victory. Late in regulation, the Caps pulled Braden Holtby for the extra attacker and the Caps gave Boston a power play look.

    Washington had its top power play unit on the ice plus Tom Wilson. The goal looked like one right out of the power play's playbook with Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the goal line feeding Oshie in the slot. Oshie is great at getting those quick shots away from in close and he finally beat Halak with 59 seconds remaining.

    Oshie was instrumental in setting up the goal as well as he blocked a clearing attempt from Zdeno Chara with his glove to keep the puck in the offensive zone just seconds before Kuznetsov set him up for the goal.

    Backstrom and Vrana deliver in the shootout

    Washington scored only twice on the shootout, but that would be all they needed.

    The normally automatic Oshie was stopped on his shootout attempt putting Washington behind early on.I n a score-or-go-home situation for Nicklas Backstrom, he managed to sneak a shot in between the glove and the pad of Halak to force extra rounds of the shootout. Then Jakub Vrana pulled off one of the nices shootout goals you will ever see.

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    Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

    Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

    The Capitals are back in the win column after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win, but they almost didn't get there because of that pesky Jaroslav Halak. It took a last minute goal from T.J. Oshie and some shootout magic by Jakub Vrana. Having four full forward lines certainly helped, too.

    Check out the recap of Saturday's game here.

    Observations from the win

    Boyd or Stephenson? Boyd is making his case

    Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd are both out with injury. Both are considered day-to-day and one or both should be returning to the lineup sooner rather than later. When that happens, the Caps are going to have to send someone back to Hershey and, with a goal against Boston, Travis Boyd is doing his best to make sure it isn't him.

    In all likelihood, the decision will come down to Boyd or Chandler Stephenson again. Boyd has lost that competition earlier this season, but after Boyd's goal on Saturday I think whether to keep him in Washington or not at least warrants a discussion.

    The Caps are so close to the salary cap that when both Dowd and Hagelin were out injured, the team recalled Tyler Lewington, a defenseman, because it could not afford Boyd under the cap ceiling. With things so tight, the Caps need to find a way to bank more cap space and keeping Boyd ($800,000 cap hit) over Stephenson ($1.05 million cap hit) would certainly help.

    It's not just about money. Stephenson responded to Todd Reirden's preseason challenge and justified his spot in the lineup to start. He is a very fast player which is an important attirbute in today's NHL and also plays on the penalty kill which Boyd does not.

    Five-on-five play matters too, however, and Boyd has far exceeded Stephenson's play in that area including his production. In 18 games and an average of 11:22 of ice time, Stephenson has 2 goals and one assist. In just seven games and 9:09 of ice time, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

    Boyd produces with less playing time in fewer games and has a lower cap hit. Is the fact that Stephenson can play on the penalty kill enough to send Boyd back to Hershey? I'm not so sure.

    The value of dirty goals

    Don't get me wrong, Jaroslav Halak was great in this game. He made 42 saves and did a great job tracking the puck and getting in front of it to make the first save. Having said that, he was shaky with the puck all night. He could make that first save, but everything after was an adventure. He struggled to control his rebounds or the puck and that was an area the Caps needed to take advantage of, but couldn't.

    Washington has one of the top offenses in the NHL and they are doing it largely with an offense that shoots off the pass. There's nothing wrong with that. Clearly it works. Making a goalie move back and forth and not allowing him to get set makes life difficult. Having said that, on nights like this where Halak is getting to everything he can see, you need dirty goals and that is one area in which the Caps are lacking.

    What are dirty goals? The deflections (like Boyd's), the rebounds, the screens, the loose pucks in front. Those were the goals the Caps needed and, apart from Boyd's first-period tally, they couldn't get them. Ultiamtely the result was a win so it does not matter, but it seemed like the offense was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. There were goals to be had and opportunities in front of Halak. That is a tool the Caps need to add to their arsenal and use more often than they do.

    Time to see more of Hathaway and Gudas

    We are seeing more and more of Tom Wilson mixing things up lately and that's fine. It's what he does and he's very good at getting under opponents' skin. Right now it seems like we are seeing a lot of Wilson doing it and not enough of it from Garnet Hathaway or Radko Gudas. In a physical game like this one, I would like to see more of them mixing things up and less of it fall on Wilson who is a top-six, often top-line forward.

    Turning point

    Washington had 44 shots on goal in this game, 11 of which came in the third period. It looked like it was just not going to be the Caps' night thanks to Halak (again). Oshie, however, delivered with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation.

    Play of the game

    I am not a big fan of the shootout. The 3-on-3 overtime format is amazing and it seems like such a letdown when games go to the shootout. Having said that, this Jakub Vrana shootout goal was filthy.

    This, however, is a close 2nd to the play of the game.

    Evidently Marchand is only tough when it comes to Lars Eller.

    Stat of the game

    Braden Holtby has put the early season struggles behind him.

    Quote of the game

    Boyd on Vrana's shootout goal:

    "Man, nasty. Unbelievable. I'm sure it will be all over the highlights tonight. Not only to go ahead in the shootout and put us ahead there and give us a chance to win with a [Holtby] stop, but to do it in that fashion, that's pretty cool."

    Fan predictions

    You guys may have overshot this one...just a bit.

    Patrice Bergeron was out injured. Even so, David Pastrnak still got a goal.

    Boyd didn't get two points, but he did get a goal.

    Keep trying. You'll get there.

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