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3 bold predictions: Washington faces Coyotes team with nothing to lose

3 bold predictions: Washington faces Coyotes team with nothing to lose

The Caps need two points against the Arizona Coyotes (7 p.m., CSN Plus), but will they come ready to play against a scuffling team? Here are three bold predictions for the game.

1. Washington will not lead after the first period

Barry Trotz knows what’s at stake in this game. He also knows that “readiness” might be a problem. The Caps are coming off of what was their biggest game of the season on Thursday against Columbus. A Saturday game in late March against one of the worst teams in the NHL may be hard for the Caps to get up for. From the Coyotes’ point of view, they have a chance to prove themselves against one of the top teams in the NHL. They will put a scare in Washington for at least one period.

RELATED: In a tight Metro race, Trotz declares last 9 games 'all must-wins'

2. Braden Holtby will allow one goal or fewer

Hockey is too random to call for shutouts, but take a look at Arizona’s roster and tell me who Braden Holtby should be worried about. It will fall on Radim Vrbata, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tobias Rieder, Alex Goligoski and Max Domi to generate some goals for the NHL's 27th ranked offense that will also be without captain Shane Doan on Saturday. Look, those players aren’t scrubs, there’s some talent on this roster than can score if teams don’t take them seriously. Considering, however, that Braden Holtby was able to limit Columbus to one goal and Calgary to two earlier in the week, Arizona will need a lot of pucks to bounce their way to get two past Holtby on Saturday.

3. Both teams will combine for fewer than five power plays

Arizona has not generated more than two power plays in a game in each of their last four. Against Florida on Thursday, they didn’t get a single opportunity. In that same four-game stretch, they have only given up seven total power plays. Washington has been playing a disciplined game of late with only five penalty kills in their last four games. Arizona and Washington aren’t two teams with a lot of history and there’s no reason to think this will become a physical, chippy game. Both teams will stay disciplined and special teams won't be a major factor on Saturday.

MORE CAPITALS: Q&A: Is there there a double standard for Sidney Crosby?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

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: 2014

13th overall pick (first round): Jakub Vrana F

Vrana was the last forward the Caps have taken in the first round of the draft, and in him, they got a good one. Vrana came to North America at the end of his SHL season in 2015, playing in three games with the Hershey Bears. He reached the NHL in the 2016-17 season for 21 games, and then he was back with the Caps to stay in the 2017-18 season.

In his final season with the Bears, Vrana was benched in the playoffs, and it seemed he had mentally moved on to the NHL. Some criticism over his work ethic sprung up again this summer during his time playing for his native Czech Republic at the World Championships. From what we have seen in Washington, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Vrana is one of the hardest workers on the team and is always one of the last players off the ice every day at practice. This is not something the players have told us, this is something I have personally witnessed at Medstar Capitals Iceplex. He has the speed and skill to be a top-6 player, and his numbers back that up.

In 176 NHL games, Vrana has 40 goals and 40 assists and has cemented his spot in the top two lines in Washington.

39th overall pick (second round): Vitek Vanecek G

Washington moved up in the draft to snag Vanecek in the second round, giving up their second- and third-round picks to the Buffalo Sabres to move up five spots.

Vanecek is often overshadowed by fellow goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, and though the ceiling does not ultimately appear to be as high, he is doing his best to show he still has NHL potential. Vanecek’s North American career began in the 2015-16 season which he spent mainly in South Carolina in the ECHL. He has spent the last three seasons in Hershey and was named an AHL all-star in 2018-19.

Playing in tandem with Samsonov, Vanecek had the better season but also looks to be much closer to being developed. I would project his ceiling to be as an NHL backup.

44th overall pick (second round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. They took forward Eric Cornel who, at 23, is still trying to break into the NHL after 216 games in the AHL.

74th overall pick (third round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. The Sabres took defenseman Brycen Martin whose NHL prospects look grim at this point as he continues playing in the ECHL with only 19 games in the AHL. He did not play in the AHL at all in 2018-19.

89th pick (third round): Nathan Walker F

The Caps made Walker the first Australian taken in the draft in NHL history. Walker had already played a year in Hershey, so the team had some familiarity with him, which is why it was willing to trade up to get him. Washington traded two fourth-round picks to the New York Rangers to acquire this pick.

Since then, he has spent the last five seasons playing primarily with the Bears with seven games up in Washington.

Walker is a good AHL player and a possible fit as an NHL fourth liner.

104th overall pick (fourth round): Traded to New York Rangers

This pick was traded to New York as part of the Walker deal. The Rangers used it to select defenseman Ryan Mantha. His career is in jeopardy after a blood clot damaged his central retinal artery and affected his vision in his left eye.

115th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, traded back to the Anaheim Ducks

In 2013, Washington traded Mathieu Perreault to Anaheim for John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick. The Caps traded this pick back to Anaheim in 2014 for Dustin Penner. The pick was then traded to the Dallas Stars, who took goalie Brent Moran.

Moran played four seasons in the OHL and now currently plays for Nipissing University. He seems like a longshot to reach the NHL at this point.

118th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the New York Islanders, traded to the New York Rangers

This pick was traded to the Rangers as part of the Walker deal. The Caps originally acquired this pick from the New York Islanders for goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers took goalie Igor Shestyorkin. He has not yet played in North America, but his numbers in the KHL are outrageous. Last season playing for SKA St. Petersburg, he had a 1.11 GAA and .953 save percentage in 28 games. He is expected to play in the AHL with Hartford next season.

134th overall pick (fifth round): Shane Gersich F

After three years at the University of North Dakota, Gersich signed a professional contract near the end of the 2017-18 season and jumped right in the NHL, playing in five games for the Caps in the regular season and playoffs combined. He spent his second professional season in Hershey where he scored eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

Gersich is a fast winger who can be a bottom-six NHL forward, but still needs a bit more time to develop to get there.

159th overall pick (sixth round): Steven Spinner F

The Caps acquired this pick and goalie Edward Pasquale in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets for a sixth- and two seventh-round picks.

Spinner played four years in college but did not hold out for free agency and signed a professional contract. He played two total games with the Hershey Bears at the end of the 2018-19 season.

164th overall pick (sixth round): Traded to the Winnipeg Jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Pavel Kraskovsky who is still playing in the KHL.

192nd overall pick (seventh round): Acquired from the Nashville Predators, traded to the Winnipeg jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Matt Ustaski. He played four years in the University of Wisconsin and has played in one AHL game and 21 total ECHL games since going pro.

194th overall pick (seventh round): Kevin Elgestal F

Elgestal has spent his hockey career playing in Sweden. He played a few preseason games with the Caps but really seemed to struggle. The Caps no longer hold his NHL rights.

Takeaways

The Caps traded up to get Vanecek in the second round and Walker in the third. If you have been following along with these draft profiles, you have probably noticed by now that it is really hard to find value later in the draft. If you can find a player you like in the first three rounds and it will only take lower draft picks to get there, you do it because you probably are not losing very much.

Having said that, goalies are a bit different and typically slip down in the draft. When you trade up to take a goalie in the second round, that means you believe you have found a bonafide NHL starter. That’s probably not what they have in Vanecek, That third-round pick Washington traded away came five spots before Brayden Point was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Point flew under everyone’s radar in the draft, obviously, as he fell to the third round. Though there is no guarantee Washington would have used that pick on Point, it is maddening to think that the Caps legitimately had a chance to take Point but instead traded up to take Vanecek.

The good news for this draft is that Vrana looks like he will be a great top-6 producer, they found fifth-round value in Gersich who can be an NHL third-liner and they ultimately did not lose that much in their trades up the draft even if neither turned into a home run.

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The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.

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The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.

Carl Hagelin spent last season feeling more like an NHL employee than part of an actual team. 

Traded twice in three months, dealing with a knee injury that cost him 20 games in Los Angeles before eventually landing with the Capitals, Hagelin was a vagabond. His car was in California. His wife and daughter were in Sweden. His mind was everywhere at once. It wasn’t until March, after the trade to Washington, that things finally began to feel normal again.

“When I got traded to Washington, I didn't really know what to expect,” Hagelin said. “But those [27] games I was able to play there gave me a better understanding of how good of a team it is and how much fun it is to play for the Caps. After the season, you're left with a bitter taste, obviously, not making it as far as we wanted in the playoffs. But in my exit meetings, I told them I wanted to stay if we could find something.”

That happened on Sunday. The trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday cleared some space under the salary cap and Hagelin, 30, signed a four-year, $11 million contract. That was far from guaranteed when the season ended with a disappointing first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Capitals had another pending unrestricted free agent in Brett Connolly, and forward Jakub Vrana needs a new deal as an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for Andre Burakovsky. Niskanen was the first domino to fall with his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. That saved $3.405 million on the cap and opened some breathing room.

All Hagelin could do was wait to see if that cap space actually materialized.

He spent time recovering his belongings left behind following trades from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in November and to Washington in February. He then returned home to Sweden with his family and left it up to his agent and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan to find common ground. Things came together quickly, and Hagelin and the team each got what they wanted: Term for him (four years) and a lower annual salary-cap number ($2.75 million) for them.

Like many of his teammates, watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on with him left a sour taste in Hagelin’s mouth. This is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, a player who’s gone on deep runs – mostly at Washington’s expense – many times dating to his time with the New York Rangers. The Capitals fell short in 2019. Hagelin sees a team capable of making it back to that level. He wanted to be part of it. 

“I’ve been fortunate to be in the playoffs every year since I got in the league, and I’ve been to five conference finals and three Stanley Cup Finals," Hagelin said. "And that’s what you love -- being in those situations."

“And every time around this time of year you watch all these other teams play in the playoffs and play in the finals, and it pisses you off a little bit. So that’s what I want to get back to, and if I didn’t think the Caps had a chance to play in the finals and win the Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t have signed with them.”

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