When the Capitals traded up to select Hendrix Lapierre in the first round of the draft on Tuesday, we didn't know it at the time, but this would be the theme of the team's entire draft: taking gambles in order to find the highest value.
Hendrix's injury history scared several teams so much so that a player with top-10 potential dropped into the 20s. General manager Brian MacLellan didn't wait to see how much further he would fall and instead chose to trade up two spots to snag him at No. 22.
That was one of the big stories of Day 1, but that theme continued on Day 2.
In the fifth round, the team selected Bear Hughes who was largely an unknown among hockey scouts prior to this year, a rarity for a draft pick.
"He came on the radar early this year," assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. "Interesting story. He really didn't play a high level of hockey until this year."
There is a traditional route most Canadian prospects take. They play at a high level of hockey for several years in order to get noticed by the scouts. Hughes, however, really didn't play high-level amateur hockey at all until the 2018-19 season playing in the KIJHL and eventually moving to the WHL in 2019-20.
By taking Hughes, it was a chance to get in on a player before he could really be fully discovered or his potential fully tapped.
"We feel that he really has a lot of growth ahead of him just because of the path that he's taken," Mahoney said. "I think his potential is pretty untapped right now. We expect him to take a big leap next year as far as his progress."
Taking Hughes was a gamble for several reasons, one of which was because the team was not able to go through its typical scouting process with him. Mahoney explained that the Caps scout a lot of underage players in order to chart their trajectory and make sure players are improving and not simply leveling off in their draft years.
"Bear was an exception to it because he was pretty well an unknown to us because of where he was playing," Mahoney said.
In the sixth round, Washington selected goalie Garin Bjorklund. What was significant about this pick was that Bjorklund was a backup for his junior team in the WHL and played only a limited number of games.
But one of the team's scouts was convinced Bjorklund was worth the risk.
"Our western Canada scout, Darrell Baumgartner, is also kind of our goaltending expert among the scouts, was really, really happy to get him, has spoken highly of him the last couple of years," Mahoney said.
Taking a goalie who is a backup at the junior level based on a limited number of games is a risk, but it also could mean getting his rights before other teams get a chance to see what Baumgartner does. At 17, Bjorklund was the backup behind an older goalie but looks poised to take a starting role going forward. At that point, more teams could gain an interest in him if he performs well.
Bjorklund was supposed to be Washington's last pick of the day, but MacLellan offered one more surprise as he traded the Pittsburgh Penguins for a seventh-round draft pick which the team then used to select winger Oskar Magnusson.
Mahoney was asked if the deal was made specifically for Magnusson.
"Yes it was," Mahoney said. "We really thought we needed to get that extra pick in order to get him and we had him rated higher than where we took him."
The point of these moves was to gamble on players who the scouts thought could have higher potential than was widely believed. While several teams passed on Lapierre, the Caps traded up for what they hope will be a steal. While some teams worry about taking players out of Russia, the Caps took Bogdan Trineyev in the fourth round. While some teams would not have taken a player with so little experience at a high level, the Caps took a chance on Hughes. While some teams would not be interested in a backup junior goalie, the Caps are hoping Bjotklund continues his upward trajectory as a starter in the WHL. While some teams would not have traded with a rival to get one final pick in the last round of the draft, the Caps saw a player in Magnusson who was worth trading away a pick to get.
In the NHL draft, very few players actually go on to become full-time NHLers. Finding success outside of the first round is about finding hidden gems. The Caps went after several of those and MacLellan was willing to give up assets to do it.