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:
Position: Right wing
Age: 20 (April 30, 1999)
Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 198 pounds
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.
Age: 18 (Jan. 6, 2001)
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 190 pounds
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.”
Age: 18 (Feb. 2, 2001)
Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 187 pounds
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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