The Capitals, barring a major trade, won’t be making a selection in the first round of Friday’s NHL Draft. And, as of now, they’ve got just five selections in the entire draft.
Naturally, that’s a product of being aggressive in pursuit of a Stanley Cup. But this year, they’re hopeful that the lack of hockey in the last 15 months will open up a few opportunities for finding value in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft on Saturday. “I think that’s a really fair statement,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said this week. “We’ve talked about it as a group that we might be able to get a player later in the draft that maybe should go higher, just because of not having the normal viewings for all the teams. I think that’s a pretty fair statement to make and we’re hoping that does happen.”
Right now, the Capitals are slotted to select 55th, 75th, 119th, 151st and 183rd. Should they make a trade or two, which they’ll need to do to become cap compliant, that number can grow.
It will be a unique draft, as the Ontario Hockey League did not have a 2020 season. The last time players hit the ice was in March 2020. The Western Hockey League had a condensed schedule and only played small regional tournaments. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League also had a condensed schedule, though they crowned a champion.
Those lack of games has led to uncertainty about just what a team is getting when selecting a particular player. The depth of knowledge for each team, simply, isn’t what it normally would be in any other year.
“Some of the kids didn’t get to play a full season, some did like in the USHL,” Mahoney said. “They had a normal season, some of the European leagues were pretty strong. The Ontario league didn’t have a season, but they had a showcase in Erie where our scouts were able to attend and watch. Western League was a condensed 24 games that they played. Different in that aspect where normally you get early, midseason and late-season views.”
All draft interviews were conducted over Zoom, but the Capitals’ scouting staff is confident it has a good feel on the strengths and weaknesses of the draft.
“[We're] still trying to take the best player that’s available to us,” Mahoney said. “This year it seems to be kind of spread out as far as, I wouldn’t say it’s a draft as far as stronger defensemen, or stronger right-wingers. It seems to be in this year’s draft that it’s pretty equal in terms of having pretty good players at all the positions and a couple pretty good goalies that are probably going to be first-round picks.”
And for a team like the Capitals, every option is on the table this offseason. With salary to shed, they’ve got to make at least one or two moves to fit under the salary cap. In that scenario, it’s likely they’ll pick a few more times than five this weekend.
“We had years where we had three first-round picks, years where we had two first-round picks,” Mahoney said. “We may not have as many picks but we’re trying to make a run at winning another Stanley Cup and it’s hard to take players out of your lineup. Where we’re at now, maybe not as many picks as some other years when we were doing the rebuild, but we try to treat it the same every year.”