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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

The NHL draft is fast approaching. The first round will take place on Friday and it could be a busy night for the Capitals.

Washington currently holds the 25th pick in the draft. It will be the highest pick this team has had since taking Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall in the 2015 draft. The question, however, is will they stay there?

The more you look at the team’s situation, the more a move in either direction looks like a realistic possibility for the Caps. Here’s why.

Why the Caps could move up

In most situations, an NHL team should pick the best player available. Since most NHL prospects, including most players taken in the first round, will take years to develop before they see NHL action, it does not generally make sense to draft for an immediate need. When teams become fixated on drafting a certain position, it can lead to those teams passing on elite talent at other positions.

For Washington, however, they no longer can afford to ignore the team’s need for a difference-maker at forward.

You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time the Caps drafted a forward in the first round when they drafted Jakub Vrana. Since then, however, they have drafted a goalie, two defensemen and have traded out of the first round completely.

The dearth of forward talent among the team’s prospects is starting to catch up to it. In a year in which the Caps need forward depth but have very little money to fill it, an ideal solution would be to plug any holes on the bottom six with cheap prospects.

Without any top-end forwards in the system, however, that is not really an option.

Riley Barber (sixth-round pick) is an unrestricted free agent and said he does not see himself re-signing with Washington. Nathan Walker (third-round pick) is also a UFA and, though he sounded more open to re-signing with the Caps than Barber, there is no guarantee he does not leave in free agency. Shane Gersich (fifth-round pick) and Garrett Pilon (third-round pick) still look like they need another year in Hershey. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (fifth-round pick) has a whopping 16 games of North American experience and it is hard to know what exactly to expect from him. Kody Clark (second-round pick) and Riley Sutter (third-round pick) still need time to develop.

This team needs a high-end forward prospect, if not for this year then for the near future. It needs that guy who can infuse a bit of youth and excitement, as well as skill, back into the lineup when he gets a call-up. We are not talking about the next Connor McDavid here, just a top-six forward to add to the system because right now it does not appear Washington really has any top-six forwards besides the guys already in the NHL.

That needs to change.

There is value to be found late in the first round of the draft—Marcus Johansson was taken 24th overall in 2009, Evgeny Kuznetsov was 26th overall in 2010 and Andre Burakovsky was 23rd overall in 2013 just to name a few—but waiting for a good forward to drop into their laps this year may not be the ideal strategy knowing they need to pick a forward in the first round.

Moving up the draft will ensure they can grab one of the top forwards available. If they move up high enough, perhaps they could even snap someone who could potentially be ready to help the team in the latter half of the season, though that is a lot to ask of a young forward.

The point is Washington cannot afford to go with the usual “best available” mentality and see who falls to 25. General manager Brian MacLellan will have to get proactive and move up to ensure he gets the best available player at the position of need. We may not be talking Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but even moving up to the mid-round can dramatically affect the quality of prospects available.

Why the Caps could move down

Elliotte Friedman had an interesting note on the Caps in his latest 31 Thoughts column. He listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

When a team is in “go for It mode” and trying to win a Cup, the first-round draft pick can be useful trade bait to help bring in a significant piece and bolster the roster. Granted, Washington has very little cap room available so any trade would likely include sending salary with the pick which would, in turn, lower the value of return, but this team is just one year removed from winning the Cup. It is not as if they need to make a major addition to be a contender.

Trading away a first-round pick would be the exact opposite of addressing the team’s need for high-end prospect forward talent as written above, but it is hard to build a team for now and for the future. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Co. all in their 30s, it would be understandable why MacLellan would choose to go all-in on winning another Cup in the next few years.

Whether the Caps move up, down or stand pat, we will have all the latest analysis on NBC Sports Washington’s coverage of the draft starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

Coming off a big win on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals (23-5-5) will look to stay in the win column as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3). Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Be sure to stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for all your postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s game.

Samsonov gets the start

When you are coming off a big win over the second-best team in the NHL, it's not a surprise to see the Caps stick with the same lines at Saturday's morning skate.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

The one surprise is that Ilya Samsonov will start for Washington against a very potent Tampa Bay offense.

One thing to note, since it is the dad's trip it is traditional for every player to get into the lineup for one of the two games. It was expected that Samsonov would start Monday in Columbus, but it looks like that will now go to Braden Holtby. You should also expect to see Travis Boyd on Monday as well.

When last we met

The Caps and Lightning last met on Nov. 29 in a thrilling game that saw Washington rally from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the third period before winning in overtime. Ovechkin tied the game with a shot from the office on the power play and Dmitry Orlov would go on to record the overtime winner.

As a refresher, you can check out the recap from this game here.

These are two teams that know how to score

Tampa Bay is not obliterating the NHL like it was last year and people are scratching their heads wondering how a team this talented isn’t even currently sitting in a wildcard spot in the standings. One aspect of their game you can’t blame for their struggles this season is the offense as the Lightning rank second in the NHL with 3.57 goals per game. Washington sits just behind them at No. 3 with 3.55.

This year, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more spread out. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 33 points, tied for 15th in the NHL. That’s a far cry from the 128 points he put up lace season. Behind him there are six Lightning players with over 20 points. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point should come as no surprise. The other two, however, are Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The power play has also been hot for both teams. Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with a 29.6 power play percentage while the Caps are fifth at 24.0.

The Caps hold the advantage on defense

Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s numbers are remarkably similar this season. Holtby has a .911 save percentage and 2.80 GAA while Vasilevskiy has managed a .910 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

That’s pretty close until you move on to their records this season. Holtby boasts a 16-3-4 record in 24 starts this season. His 16 wins leads the NHL. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is 3-8-1 and that says a lot about how much better Washington is playing defensively.

The Caps defense is currently allowing 2.82 goals per game as compared to Tampa Bay’s 3.17. Likewise while there is not much that separates these two teams on the power play, Washington has the superior penalty kill. With Carl Hagelin back in the lineup, the Caps have climbed all the way to third in the NHL at 85.3-percent. The Lightning’s penalty kill is only at 79.8 percent.

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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