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George McPhee 'blessed' to see son drafted

George McPhee 'blessed' to see son drafted

Former Capitals general manager George McPhee said the realization that his son, Graham, was drafted by an NHL team over the weekend sank in this morning when he walked past his bedroom.

“There’s an Edmonton Oilers jersey hanging on the door of his room,” McPhee said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s hard to believe that he’s been drafted by and is property of the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League.”

You would think that after attending more than 20 NHL drafts and calling out the names of hundreds of players, McPhee might  have felt an emotional detachment from having his son taken in the fifth round of Saturday’s NHL draft with the 159th pick overall.

And for a few hours, he did. As a special assistant to Islanders general manager Garth Snow, McPhee sat at the Islanders’ draft table at First Niagara Center on Saturday for the second and third rounds of the draft, saying he had seen more players from this draft class than in any other he had directed in 17 years as the Capitals’ GM. But as the third round quickly transitioned to the fourth, McPhee heeded the advice of Oilers executive Kevin Lowe, who five years ago saw his son, Keegan, drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes.

“He thought it was really important to be with your son at the draft,” McPhee said. “My wife also felt it was the right thing to do.

“I wanted to help the Islanders and thought I maybe should be at the table, but after a couple rounds I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to move up with my family.'”

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Last summer, Graham McPhee asked his father where he thought he might be drafted when he was eligible in 2016. McPhee told him that if he played a lot and had a good season with the U.S. National U18 team, he might go in the third round. Anything less and he might go in the fifth round. Graham McPhee, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound left wing who grew up in Rockville, saw limited ice time last season and netted 10 goals and eight assists in 58 games with the U.S. U18 team. 

As the fifth round neared its end, McPhee noticed that his former team, the Capitals, had picks at No. 145 and No. 147. He and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, roommates when they played together at Bowling Green, had not discussed the possibility of the Caps drafting Graham, but McPhee hoped they wouldn’t.

“While Graham would have probably enjoyed that, it’s best he wasn’t drafted by Washington,” McPhee said. “I did have that conversation with the Islanders, that it probably wouldn’t look right if they drafted him. Garth (Snow) said, ‘When we get there, let’s draft him anyway.’ He was next (on their draft list), evidently.”

The Capitals took left wings Beck Malenstyn and Aex Jonsson-Fjallby with their 145th and 147th picks and the Oilers took Graham McPhee at No. 149.

“I just think in the long run he’s better off being drafted by a club that’s a little more independent, one that I hadn’t worked for or currently work for, and make his own way," McPhee said. "It’s his life, it’s his day, it’s his time. And he’ll make his own strides with his own team.”

Graham McPhee began those strides more than a decade ago, when he shared his house with a Russian teenager named Alex Ovechkin, who lived with the McPhees shortly after coming to America as an NHL rookie in 2005. Ovechkin was 19 at the time and Graham was 7.

“With any kid, if you bring an NHL player into the house it’s a big deal,” George McPhee said. “But having Ovi here for a little while was great for the kids because Ovi was so great with the kids. He’d go down and play knee hockey with the kids in the basement; he’d shoot hoops out in the driveway with the kids. He wasn’t just this highly regarded player, he was an incredible guy and they liked him for him and not necessarily his status as a hockey player.”

Graham McPhee spent many afternoons skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex after Caps practices. He attended games at Verizon Center and hung out in the team’s locker room after games. That exposure, his father said, has helped prepare him for what lies ahead as a freshman at Boston College and, perhaps, in his career as a professional.

“What I’ve enjoyed about watching Graham play is that he’s a real good teammate,” McPhee said. “He genuinely wants his teammates to do well and he wants to be very coachable. Whether he’s playing a little or playing a lot he wants to win every shift and be a good player when the coach calls his name. I think those are things he picked up from being around NHL players. They work hard, they carry themselves as professionals and if you ever want to have success, it’s all about team and not about individuals. I think those are things Graham learned well from being around the fellas.”

Graham McPhee began his first day of classes at Boston College on Monday and because of NCAA rules, cannot attend the Oilers’ development camp, which begins on Friday. He will, however, begin his college playing career under the same coach, 70-year-old Jerry York, who coached George McPhee at Bowling Green from 1978-82.

“You couldn’t ask for a better coach and a better community,” McPhee said “All you want is for your kids to be hard-working and healthy and happy. Going to the draft on Saturday morning, I thought, “Holy cow, my son might be drafted today.  I don’t know. It’s the purest, simplest feeling and it’s hard to express it. You just feel lucky.”

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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