The NHL Entry Draft is the most cost-efficient method for teams to acquire talent. The best teams are able to cultivate talent from each draft, re-stocking prospect pipelines — and even NHL-ready players. Teams that draft effectively are able to supplement their NHL ranks with entry-level contracts, keeping their competitive window open for much longer.
When you look at the NHL roster for the past season, 14 players were drafted by the Capitals. The core group were all Capitals draft picks: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby. Tom Wilson could arguably be in the mix as a core member of the team in the next season or two.
When you look around the league at the better teams, most cores are made up of homegrown talent. In order to understand the Caps’ present and future, we need to look back at the last decade of drafts.
2009 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 24 – Marcus Johansson (Center/Wing)
Round 2, Pick 55 – Dmitry Orlov (Defenseman)
Round 3, Pick 85 – Cody Eakin (Center)
Round 4, Pick 115 – Patrick Wey (Defenseman)
Round 5, Pick 145 – Brett Flemming (Defenseman)
Round 6, Pick 175 – Garrett Mitchell (Right Wing)
Round 7, Pick 205 – Benjamin Casavant (Left Wing)
Looking back at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, George McPhee and the Capitals had solid first picks. Marcus Johansson (currently playing for Boston) had a solid seven year career in Washington, racking up 102 goals, 188 assists, 290 points in 501 games played. Johansson really hit his stride in his age 24 season in 2014-15, achieving his first 20 goal season. Injuries have gotten the best of him in his post-Caps career, but when healthy, he’s a solid top nine forward.
In retrospect, Dmitry Orlov likely is a first round talent in his draft class. He’s shown signs of elite puck-moving skills, and was tremendous in the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run. His current career stat line includes 33 goals, 120 assists, and 153 points in 447 games played, with a solid 51.1% Corsi For% (a metric measuring shot attempts for and against – above 50% means your team controlled play when you were on the ice). With four more years left on his current deal, we can expect Orlov to continue to contribute in the Caps’ top two defensive pairings.
Cody Eakin, currently playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, is mostly known to Caps fans as the main asset to land Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. The move was an attempt to solidify the second-line center position the Caps had failed to fill after Sergei Federov left, and before Evgeny Kuznetsov arrived. Eakin is a solid bottom six player, who’s accumulated 98 goals, 124 assists, and 222 points in 537 games. Look for Eakin to be on the move this off-season due to Vegas’ cap issues after acquiring/extending forwards Mark Stone and Max Paccioretty.
The last four picks by the Capitals were largely misses, but that’s fair since the later rounds are essentially rolling the dice. Patrick Wey and Garrett Mitchell both saw some limited NHL action (nine games, and one game respectively). Wey and Mitchell both contributed in Hershey in the AHL, but never contributed at the NHL level consistently.
2010 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 26 – Evgeny Kuznetsov (Center)
Round 3, Pick 86 – Stanislav Galiev (Right Wing)
Round 4, Pick 112 – Philipp Grubauer (Goaltender)
Round 5, Pick 142 – Caleb Herbert (Center)
Round 6, Pick 176 – Samuel Carrier (Defenseman)
Well, the Caps batted .400 in this draft class. Evgeny Kuznetsov fell to the Caps at pick 26 due to concerns about Kuznetsov leaving Russia for the NHL, and George McPhee was smart enough not to pass on the talented Russian pivot. If there was a re-draft of the 2010 draft, Kuznetsov would likely be a top ten pick, accumulating 101 goals, 236 assists, and 337 points in 416 games played. Kuznetsov was a key contributor in the 2018 Stanley Cup run, amassing 12 goals, 20 assists, and a playoff high 32 points in 24 games played. Although he had six points in seven games in the 2019 playoffs, the Caps were unable to advance without the 2018 playoffs version of Kuznetsov.
Stanislav Galiev was a once promising scoring prospect in the Caps prospect pool. He scored 20 goals twice in the AHL, including 21 goals in 56 games in 2016-17, and 25 goals in 67 games in 2014-15. That scoring talent never led to consistent NHL minutes, and resulted in him leaving the NHL for the Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL.
Philipp Grubauer was a very solid mid-round pick for the Capitals. After the 2018 Stanley Cup run, and a solid regular season after taking the reins as starting goaltender from Braden Holtby, Grubauer was a hot commodity on the trade market. This resulted in Grubauer and Brooks Orpik being traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a second round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Grubauer had a solid playoff performance for the Avs, posting a 7-5 record, .925 save percentage, and 2.30 goals allowed average in two series.
2011 NHL Entry Draft
Round 4, Pick 117 – Steffen Soberg (Goaltender)
Round 5, Pick 147 – Patrick Koudys (Defenseman)
Round 6, Pick 177 – Travis Boyd (Center)
Round 7, Pick 207 – Garrett Haar (Defenseman)
This was a very light draft class, mostly due in part to the Capitals trading their first three picks. The Caps moved their 2011 1st round pick to Chicago for Troy Brouwer, their second rounder for defenseman Joe Corvo at the 2010 trade deadline, and their third rounder for defenseman Dennis Wideman at the 2011 trade deadline. These were costs to supplement teams that were attempting to make deep runs in the playoffs, but ultimately did not pan out.
The only player with any significant contributions at the NHL level is Travis Boyd. Boyd, a semi-regular contributor on the Caps’ fourth line this year, played sparingly in the 2018 Playoffs. He’s notched 5 goals, 16 assists, and 21 points in 61 games played for the Capitals.
2012 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 11 – Filip Forsberg (Center)
Round 1, Pick 16 – Tom Wilson (Right Wing)
Round 3, Pick 77 – Chandler Stephenson (Center/Left Wing)
Round 4, Pick 100 – Thomas Di Pauli (Center)
Round 4, Pick 107 – Austin Wuthrich (Right Wing)
Round 5, Pick 137 – Connor Carrick (Defenseman)
Round 6, Pick 167 – Riley Barber (Right Wing)
Round 7, Pick 195 – Christian Djoos (Defenseman)
Round 7, Pick 197 – Jaynen Rissling (Defenseman)
Round 7, Pick 203 – Sergey Kostenko (Goaltender)
This draft still hurts many Caps fans. After falling to the Capitals at pick 11, Filip Forsberg was one of the best value picks of that draft class, only to be traded at the 2013 trade deadline to the Nashville Predators for left wing Martin Erat and center Michael Latta. This trade did not turn out the way the Capitals wanted – resulting in one of the worst trades in NHL history, as Forsberg has put together 145 goals, 160 assists, and 305 points in 395 games for the Nashville Predators. The consolation is that the Caps also drafted imposing power forward (and Stanley Cup champion) Tom Wilson five picks later.
Overall, the 2012 NHL Draft was pretty solid. Of the ten overall selections, half of them ended up playing regularly in the NHL (Forsberg, Wilson, Stephenson, Carrick, and Djoos). Riley Barber, the Hershey Bears’ leading goalscorer in the 2018-19 season, will likely be leaving the Capitals’ system in hopes of regular NHL minutes.
This was also a real “diamond in the rough” draft, as the Caps drafted eventual third pairing defenseman Christian Djoos in the seventh round. Djoos made the unlikely trip from seventh round pick to Stanley Cup champion, as the Caps seemed to get better after he was inserted into the lineup.
2013 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 23 – Andre Burakovsky (Left Wing)
Round 2, Pick 53 – Madison Bowey (Defenseman)
Round 2, Pick 61 – Zachary Sanford (Left Wing)
Round 5, Pick 144 – Blake Heinrich (Defenseman)
Round 6, Pick 174 – Brian Pinho (Center)
Round 7, Pick 204 – Tyler Lewington (Defenseman)
The top end of this draft had a lot of promise at the time of the 2013 draft. Burakovsky was immediately one of the top forward prospects in Washington’s system, and made his NHL debut in 2014-15, scoring in his first game. He ended up netting 9 goals, 13 assists, and 22 points in his 53-game rookie season. After promising seasons in 2015-16, and 2016-17, multiple hand and wrist injuries caused a drop in production and trade rumors this past season. Burakovsky still has a clutch streak in him, scoring two huge goals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals en route to the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup.
Madison Bowey was a prospect with a fair bit of hype surrounding him, as he was coming up through the ranks. After a few seasons in Hershey, Bowey made his NHL debut in the 2017-18 season. He was then replaced in the lineup after GM Brian MacLellan acquired Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline that season. After some semi-regular time in the NHL this past season, the Caps moved Bowey and a 2019 second round pick for defenseman Nick Jensen from Detroit.
Zachary Sanford made his NHL debut for the Capitals in 2016-17, netting two goals and an assist in 26 games with the Capitals. Then, in a splash move at the deadline to acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues, Sanford was moved. It seems it worked out for Sanford, as he played a role in the Blues hoisting their franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Sanford has 12 goals, 16 assists, and 28 points in 99 career games.
Both Pinho, center, and Tyler Lewington, defensemen, have been solid in Hershey. Lewington had some NHL minutes this season, and netted his first career goal against the Ottawa Senators. Lewington is probably closer to NHL action than Pinho at this moment, but play on the same pairing together.
2014 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 13 – Jakub Vrana (Left Wing)
Round 2, Pick 39 – Vitek Vanecek (Goaltender)
Round 3, Pick 89 – Nathan Walker (Left Wing)
Round 5, Pick 134 – Shane Gersich (Center/Left Wing)
Round 6, Pick 159 – Steven Spinner (Right Wing)
Round 7, Pick 194 – Kevin Elgestal (Right Wing)
The first four picks in this draft seemed to have panned out so far for the Capitals. Jakub Vrana has solidified his place in the Capitals top six forward group after a career year in scoring (24 goals, 23 assists, 47 points in 82 games played). Vrana’s so-called coming out party was in the 2018 playoffs, scoring huge goals in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run. Vrana’s entry-level deal expired this season, and re-signing Vrana will likely be at the top of GM Brian MacLellan’s priority list.
Vitek Vanecek has been a reasonably solid goaltender in Hershey. He’ll likely be splitting the starting load with Ilya Samsonov this season, with Samsonov developing for his NHL debut – which is likely to occur next season after Holtby’s contract has expired. Vanecek has some NHL backup level potential, and will likely be a cost effective backup option in a few years when Pheonix Copley’s contract expires in three seasons.
Nathan Walker and Shane Gersich each saw some time in the NHL playoffs last season, due in part to injuries and suspensions the Caps suffered in the Pittsburgh series. Walker is the first Australian player in the NHL, and is pending unrestricted group 6 free agent, meaning he hasn’t met the required amount of accrued games at the age of 25 or older. Shane Gersich re-upped with the Caps at a 700k average annual value, and has clauses in his contract for guaranteed money that would require him to have some NHL time to meet.
Steven Spinner played 4 seasons at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, amassing 25 goals and 31 assists in 136 games played. He has yet to sign an entry level contract, but did play in a game in the 2019 AHL playoffs with Hershey on an AHL contract. He did not score in the single game in which he appeared.
Elgestal is in the same boat as Spinner, having never signed an NHL contract. He’s currently in the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan playing for HC Vita Hasten.
2015 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 22 – Ilya Samsonov (Goaltender)
Round 2, Pick 57 – Jonas Siegenthaler (Defenseman)
Round 5, Pick 143 – Connor Hobbs (Defenseman)
Round 5, Pick 173 – Colby Williams (Defenseman)
This was another light draft in terms of the overall number of selections for the Capitals. The Caps had traded their 2015 third and fourth round selections to the New York Rangers for their second round pick, which was used to select defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. The Capitals had also moved second and third round picks in the 2015 draft for Curtis Glencross at the 2015 trade deadline – which didn’t quite pan out for the Capitals. On top of that, they moved their fourth round pick and Jack Hillen to the Carolina Hurricanes for Tim Gleason at the deadline as well.
At the top of this draft class is the top prospect in the minors for the Caps in Ilya Samsonov. By all indications, he’s the heir apparent to Braden Holtby after Holtby’s contract expires after next season. Before coming over to North America to play for the Hershey Bears, Samsonov had an average career save percentage of .928 and a goals against average of 2.20 playing for the KHL’s Magnitogorsk Mettalurg. After a shaky start in Hershey, he ended up with a .898 save percentage and a 2.70 goals against average.
Jonas Siegenthaler made his NHL debut for the Capitals this past season, playing in 26 games and notching four assists, seeing more regular time after Michal Kempny was injured against Tampa Bay late in the regular season. Siegenthaler also played in four games in the playoffs after being inserted for the struggling Christian Djoos against Carolina. He’ll be competing with Djoos for the 3rd pairing left defenseman position after the Capitals acquired Radko Gudas from Philadelphia for Matt Niskanen.
Connor Hobbs has been playing a solid game in the AHL with Hershey, amassing 6 goals and 28 assists in 103 career games. Hobbs may not see real NHL action this season with John Carlson, Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas, and Tyler Lewington above him in the depth chart, but it’s nice to have depth in the pipeline at this position in case of injury.
Colby Williams is another right-handed defenseman drafted in the 2015 entry draft. He’s seen some more regular action in the AHL with Hershey, playing in 165 games and contributing 43 points. He’s in the same boat on the depth chart as Connor Hobbs.
2016 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 28 – Lucas Johansen (Defenseman)
Round 3, Pick 87 – Garrett Pilon (Center)
Round 4, Pick 117 – Damien Riat (Left Wing)
Round 5, Pick 145 – Beck Malenstyn (Left Wing)
Round 5, Pick 147 – Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (Left Wing)
Round 6, Pick 177 – Chase Priskie (Defenseman)
Round 7, Pick 207 – Dmitriy Zaitsev (Defenseman)
Starting at the top, Lucas Johansen was highly ranked by the Capitals and scouts alike, putting him at the top of the Capitals’ defensive prospect depth chart. After a pretty solid rookie season in the AHL, potting 6 goals and 21 assists in 74 games, it looked like the Capitals were going to have another contributor on the left side of their defensive corps soon. But, Johansen suffered a slow start to his sophomore season, and missed two months due to injury. His play was up and down all season, but he is going to find issues getting NHL playing time with Washington with so many players in front of him on the depth chart.
Garrett Pilon played his first full season in Hershey this past season, putting up 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games. Pilon looks to be more of a playmaking center at this point, but the Bears and the Caps should be looking for him to contribute more offensively in such an offensive-minded AHL. With such a light forward prospect pool, Pilon should be able to make some impressions on the Caps’ brass with a solid season next year.
Damien Riat has yet to suit up in North America, and is playing in the Swiss-A league for Biel HC currently. He put up 25 points in 48 games played. We won’t know much about his game’s translation to North American ice until he makes his way over, but unfortunately, he has not been signed to an entry level contract yet. The clock is ticking on that front.
Another player from this draft making his Hershey debut this past season was Beck Malenstyn. He put up 16 points in 74 games played in his rookie campaign. He’ll be in Hershey next season.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby shot his way up the Capitals’ forward prospect ranks after a tremendous performance in the 2018 Swedish Elite League playoffs scoring 6 goals and 2 assists in 11 games played. He was with the Caps in the pre-season this past season and was ultimately sent down to Hershey, where he put up 3 points in 16 games played. Jonsson-Fjallby elected to return to the SHL, and ended up contributing 10 points in 36 games played for Djurgardens IF.
Chase Priskie had a very solid year at Quinnipiac University, contributing 17 goals, 22 assists, and 39 points in 36 games played. Unfortunately for the Capitals, his draft rights are expiring this season, and he notified MacLellan and the Capitals that he wouldn’t be signing with the team and will be entering free agency. The Hobey Baker finalist will likely get offers from teams thin on the blue line, especially since he’ll be a commodity as a right-handed defenseman with a scoring touch.
2017 NHL Entry Draft
Round 4, Pick 120 – Tobias Geisser (Defenseman)
Round 5, Pick 151 – Sebastian Walfridsson (Defenseman)
Round 6, Pick 182 – Benton Maass (Defenseman)
Round 7, Pick 213 – Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (Left Wing)
Here’s another light draft in terms of overall picks by the Capitals. The Caps moved their 2017 1st round selection to the St. Louis Blues in a package to acquire Kevin Shattenkirk and Pheonix Copley. The Caps then moved their 2017 and 2018 second round selections to Montreal for Lars Eller, and their third round selection to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Mike Weber. No blame to Brian MacLellan here, as this was the first of two years that he had described as the “two year window” to win the Stanley Cup.
So far, the only promising selection out of this draft class is Tobias Geisser. He’s still pretty young, at 20 years old — and played most of his career at forward before transitioning to defense. He’s a large body at 6’4” and 206 pounds. He’ll have his work cut out for him on the depth chart, but with more development, he can work his way to the NHL.
This was another defense-heavy draft class for the Capitals. They’re starting to feel that thinness in Hershey, as they were outclassed by the Charlotte Checkers in the second round of the AHL playoffs.
It’s still too early to call Walfridsson, Maass, and Roykas Marthinsen washes, but none of the three have signed entry level contracts with the Capitals. Walfridsson is currently in his homeland of Sweden playing for the Sodertalje SK, and has put up 5 points in 56 games played for the MODO Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Elite League. Maass is entering his third season at the University of New Hampshire, putting up 23 points in 66 games played. Roykas Marthinsen is currently playing for the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League in the Major Juniors in Canada. He’s put up 13 goals, 16 assists, and 29 points in 62 games played in his year 19 season.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Round 1, Pick 31 – Alexander Alexeyev (Defenseman)
Round 2, Pick 46 – Martin Fehervary (Defenseman)
Round 2, Pick 47 – Kody Clark (Right Wing)
Round 3, Pick 93 – Riley Sutter (Right Wing)
Round 4, Pick 124 – Mitchell Gibson (Goaltender)
Round 6, Pick 161 – Alex Kannok-Leipert (Defenseman)
Round 7, Pick 217 – Eric Florchuk (Center)
As we’ve gotten to the most recent completed draft, we can notice that the Caps tend to select the best player available at their draft position each round, rather than drafting for need. This is a standard strategy for competitive teams, since they can bolster depth and already strong positions, and use those assets for trades to improve the NHL roster.
Alexander Alexeyev is already a solid defenseman who should be making the jump to the AHL from the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels. He had a great career in the Major Juniors, stacking up 21 goals, 80 assists, for 101 points in 135 games played. His final season with Red Deer was already his best, racking up 10 goals, 33 assists, and 43 points in 49 games played, until he suffered a knee injury after a knee-on-knee hit, ending his season. Alexeyev is perceived to be higher on the depth chart than Lucas Johansen, meaning he’ll get his playing time in Hershey.
Martin Fehervary, another left-handed defensive prospect, had a great showing at this year’s World Championships and on the U-20 Slovakian World Junior Championship team. On the WJC team, he put up a goal and four assists in five games. He then went on and played in seven games in the World Championships, putting up an assist. Fehervary definitely improved his stock in the Capitals’ farm system, adding to the log jam at left-handed defensemen.
Kody Clark, Toronto Maple Leafs legend Wendel Clark’s son, seems to be following in his father’s footsteps as a rough-and-tumble forward. He currently plays for the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League, and put up 17 goals, 29 assists, and 46 points in 57 games played — including 98 penalty minutes, a career high. So far in his junior career, he’s put up 42 goals, 54 assists, and 96 points in 163 games played. The Capitals will likely want Clark to suit up for the Hershey Bears this upcoming season, as he’ll be eligible to play since he turns 20 by December 31st this year.
Riley Sutter, another prospect from NHL bloodlines, will also be 20 by December 31st this year, making him eligible for play in the AHL. His last four years of hockey have been spent with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips, where he’s amassed 60 goals, 76 assists, and 136 points in 204 games played. Sutter also had a very solid showing in the WHL playoffs in 2018, contributing 9 goals, 10 assists, and 19 points in 21 games played. The Bears could surely use another forward with scoring touch, especially with Hershey’s leading goal scorer in Riley Barber likely leaving in free agency.
Mitchell Gibson moved up from the North American Hockey League to the USHL this past season, and had a slight dip in performance after shifting to a more competitive league. With the Lone Star Brahmas in the NAHL, he put up a .935 save percentage and a 1.59 goals against average, leading the Caps to draft him with their fourth round selection. After moving up to the USHL, he posted an .890 save percentage and a 3.50 goals against average. The Capitals will be checking in on him, hoping for a rebound season with the Central Illinois Flying Aces.
Alex Kannok-Leipert currently plays for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. At 18 years of age, he still has another year before he is eligible for the AHL. So far in his career in Vancouver, he’s scored 11 goals, 32 assists for 43 points in 135 games played. Kannok-Leipert put up a great showing in the 2019 WHL playoffs, amassing 2 goals, 10 assists, and 12 points in 22 games played, only 7 points fewer than his regular season offensive output.
Eric Florchuk was the last overall selection in the 2018 NHL entry draft. This is being mentioned because very few last overall selections have made the jump to successful NHL players, most recently exemplified in Patric Hornqvist of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The center prospect currently plays for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, coming off of a career best season of 21 goals and 29 assists. Any value the Capitals can get out of a last overall selection is a win.
Overall, as with every team in the NHL, there’s been productive draft selections, and overall misses. The Capitals’ current core was built out of the NHL draft, with free agents and players acquired via trade supplementing the roster. For the upcoming NHL entry draft on June 21st, the Capitals will need to select forward prospects. With very little forward depth in Hershey, the Capitals would need to rely on free agency and trades to keep the team competitive. The most cost-effective way of sustaining a successful roster is to have a consistent flow of young, cheap talent to fill roles on the NHL roster.
Look for more selections from the WHL, as Regina, Saskatchewan native Assistant General Manager Ross Mahoney seems to have a strong gauge and familiarity with the talent level in that league.
By Justin Trudel