The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.
But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?
NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2016
26th overall pick (first round): Traded
The St. Louis Blues elected to trade up in the draft sending Washington a first and giving back their third-round pick which the Blues acquired as part of the package for T.J. Oshie. St. Louis used the pick for forward Tage Thompson who ended up playing 41 games for the Blues in the 2017-18 season. St. Louis ultimately traded him away to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the package that got them the now Conn Smythe-winning Ryan O’Reilly.
28th overall pick (first round): Lucas Johansen D
This Caps moved only two spots back in the trade with St. Louis and selected Johansen, a talented but undersized defenseman. Johansen has spent the last two seasons in Hershey. He has added some size, but that no longer is the biggest concern with his play. Despite being a talented puck-mover, Johansen seems uncomfortable with the puck on his stick, almost jumpy. Getting a quick first pass off is an important skill to start breakouts, but it does not appear like he makes quick, smart decisions up the ice, he is just trying to get the puck off his stick quickly whenever it gets close which leads to some bad decisions. Some of this could be due to the upper-body injury that forced him to miss significant time this past season. Either way, he desperately needs to learn to be more comfortable with the puck.
If you take away the puck-moving skills, then you just have an undersized defenseman. He needs to get the puck skills back if he hopes to make it to the NHL.
57th overall pick (second round): Traded
Washington traded this pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2016 as part of the package to get Brooks Laich’s contract off the books. The Leafs used the pick on forward Carl Grundstrom who Toronto sent to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the package to land defenseman Jake Muzzin.
Grundstrom ended up playing in 15 games with the Kings with five goals and an assist so he is definitely a player to watch heading into next season.
87th overall pick (third round): Garret Pilon F
This was the pick attached to the first-round pick St. Louis swapped with the Caps to move up. Washington used it to select Pilon, son of former NHLer Rich Pilon.
Pilon had a strong WHL career with Kamloops and Everett and was impressive in his first season in Hershey with 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games. He has potential as a third-line NHLer, maybe second line but that would be a real reach. He has a great hockey IQ. You can see the plays he is trying to make on the ice, he just can’t always finish the job whether it is getting a cross-ice pass over to an open teammate after drawing the defense to himself or getting enough power behind a shot from a high-danger area. Another year in the AHL to hone his skills and he should have a real shot of making the jump to the NHL.
117th overall pick (fourth round): Damien Riat F
Riat has yet to make the jump from Europe to North America, but Swiss Hockey News reports that he will participate in development camp and training camp for the Caps this year.
145th overall pick (fifth round): Beck Malenstyn F
When the Caps packaged Laich with Connor Carrick and a second-round pick, they did not just receive cap relief. They also got Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick. Washington turned that pick into Malenstyn.
Malenstyn has a solid mix of skill and physical play that led Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery to declare, “he’s our Tom Wilson.”
Now let’s temper expectations here. While Malenstyn may play a similar role for the Bears as Wilson does for the Caps, do not take that to mean Malenstyn is a top-six NHL forward. He’s not. He scored seven goals and nine assists in his first professional season, but the way he was able to have an impact on the ice is certainly impressive. There is some potential here for him to be an NHL fourth-liner.
147th overall pick (fifth round): Axel Jonsson-Fjallby F
Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and is a similar type of player as Carl Hagelin. He is not going to light up the scoresheet, but his speed always makes him a threat and he can be a strong, bottom-six player and penalty killer at the NHL level.
I thought there was a legitimate chance he could compete for the Caps this year if Hagelin left. Hagelin, however, is back for another four years. That’s not to say it is time to move on from him, just that there was room for Jonsson-Fjallby to be a Hagelin replacement and now he can go back to Hershey and work on his game and adjusting to the North American style of play. That’s good news for Washington since Jonsson-Fjallby chose to go back to Sweden early last season and has only 16 games of North American experience.
177th overall pick (sixth round): Chase Priskie D
Priskie just wrapped up a fantastic college career at Quinnipiac where he won a national title, was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and scored 17 goals and 22 assists in his senior season…as a defenseman.
Unfortunately for Washington, since Priskie just wrapped up his fourth season in college he is eligible to become a free agent in August if he does not sign with the Caps before then. Priskie informed management in April that he would not sign with the team and that he intended to become a free agent. Priskie is a right-shot, puck-moving, offensive defenseman who would be a high-end third pair defenseman, but could also develop into a second-pair guy. His decision not to sign with Washington is a definite blow to the Caps and the pipeline.
207th overall pick (seventh round): Dmitriy Zaitsev D
After two seasons in the WHL, the Capitals chose not to sign Zaitsev to an entry-level contract prior to the 2018-19 season thus forfeiting his rights. He elected to return to his native Russia and split time over the season in the KHL, MHL, and VHL.
First the good news. The Caps found a lot of value in this draft. Past the second or third round, you are basically drafting lottery tickets and hoping your number gets called. I am not quite sure what to make of Riat, but besides him, Pilon, Jonsson-Fjallby, and Priskie all have NHL potential. Malenstyn could as well but may be a reach. Sure, these would all be depth guys, but that’s a lot of NHL potential in one draft.
Now on to the bad news. First, the defenseman with the highest upside is probably not their first-round pick, but Priskie and the Caps know they are going to lose him as a free agent. That is his right as written into the CBA so you cannot fault him for taking advantage. Having said that, it really stinks for the Caps who snagged him in the sixth round of the draft just to see him walk after showing off his potential.
Second, the Caps may have found a lot of potential NHLers in this draft, but if they miss on Johansen, was this draft a bust for them? That is not to say Johansen is a bust or that he will never live up to expectations as a top-four defenseman. But if he does not learn to be more comfortable with the puck and learn the difference between quick thinking and panicked reaction, he is not going to make it to the NHL. At this point, it looks like he will need another year in Hershey and if he does not improve, then it is time to wonder whether he has a future at all.
How do you evaluate this draft if you find value in the later rounds—which is extremely hard to do—and miss on your first-round pick? It’s a tough question to answer.
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