Throughout the existence of the NHL, teams and fans have experienced their fair share of draft pick fails, when, at the time of the selection, a team believes they chose the best player available, but as time passed, it became clear players selected later in the draft would have been more ideal selections. This is a continuation of NoVa Caps’ series of examining draft regrets for the Washington Capitals in the drafts throughout the 21st century.
As a template, the player that the Caps would have been wiser to select will often be a player chosen soon after within the same round or early in the next round. Despite some missed opportunities for the Caps in the drafts of this millennium, the team was still able to build a team that has won one Stanley Cup, three Presidents’ Trophies, and numerous division winners. This installment covers the 2011-2013 drafts. A later installment will cover later drafts. Draft regrets for 2000-2010 can be found here.
2011 NHL Entry Draft
Just before the 2011 draft, then-Capitals General Manager George McPhee assessed the quality of the available draft prospects who would likely be available when it was the Caps’ turn to pick (the 26th selection) and found it lacking in a player the Caps would find useful for their organization. As a result, he figured he could help the team more by trading the pick to another team for a player who could help the team reach its goal of winning the Stanley Cup. McPhee sent the pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Troy Brouwer, a right wing who had averaged nearly 20 goals per year over the last two years and was also a Restricted Free Agent at the time. Brouwer proved to be a productive forward for the Caps and averaged just over 20 goals a season during his four seasons with the Caps until being dealt to the St. Louis Blues in a deal for T.J. Oshie. As it turned out, many of the forwards drafted in the latter half of the first-round and early part of the second-round proved to be busts. Had they chosen to keep the pick, the Caps could have chosen forward Phillip Danault, who the Blackhawks selected with the 26th pick. After a brief tenure with Chicago, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, failing to establish himself as a regular for the Habs until the 2015-16 season, with his career-high in goals being 13. Alternatively, the Caps could have drafted Vladislav Namestnikov, who Tampa Bay drafted with the very next pick (27), who eventually became a serviceable forward, or Rickard Rakell, whom the Anaheim Ducks drafted with the 30th overall pick, who, despite injury issues, has developed into a productive goal-scoring left wing. Other potential alternatives who were drafted in the second-round include center Boone Jenner (37th overall pick by Columbus), goalie John Gibson (39th overall by Anaheim), left wing Brandon Saad (43rd overall by Chicago), center William Karlsson (53rd overall by Anaheim), or right wing Nikita Kucherov (58th overall by Tampa Bay).
The Caps had no second-round pick that year as a result of trading it to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 at the 2010 trade deadline. That particular pick (57th overall) had since been acquired by the Calgary Flames, who drafted defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, who played only 30 NHL games. In the event the Caps kept that pick, they could have drafted Kucherov, who was taken with the very next pick. While the acquisition of defenseman Joe Corvo at the 2010 trade deadline (the same deal that sent the pick to Carolina) was meant to upgrade the Caps’ defense, it was not a popular acquisition due to past off-ice incidents Corvo had been involved in and he did not re-sign with the team following the 2009-2010 season. The Caps would have been better served by keeping the pick and drafting Kucherov. The question is whether they would have done so. Vincent Trocheck was another good player available at that time, whom the Florida Panthers chose with the 64th overall pick.
Since the Caps had no third-round pick in 2011 as a result of dealing it away, they did not select again until the fourth-round, when they chose goalie Steffen Soberg with the 117th overall pick, a prospect who never made it to the NHL. The lack of a third-round pick meant that Johnny Gaudreau (who the Calgary Flames drafted with the 104th overall pick) was no longer available when it came time for the Capitals to choose a player. The player drafted after Soberg that has made the most impact was Andrew Shaw, whom Chicago selected with the 139th overall pick. The Capitals’ fifth-round pick, Patrick Koudys (147th overall) never made it to the NHL; the Caps did not miss out on any high impact players drafted immediately after him. In the sixth-round, the Caps selected forward Travis Boyd with the 177th overall pick, who finally reached the NHL in 2017-18 and stayed with the Caps through the entire 2018-19 season. The best players drafted after Boyd were Ryan Dzingel (204th overall) and Ondrej Palat (208th overall).
Aside from Boyd, this draft was a major bust for the Capitals, as a result of not being able to make a selection until the fourth-round. The draft was one in which the overall quality of available players fell off after the early part of the draft. There were several busts selected in the first-round and even more in the second-round. However, a small number of really good players were chosen in the later rounds.
2012 NHL Entry Draft
In this draft, the Caps had two first-round picks, their own pick and one they obtained from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for goaltender Semyon Varlamov in the summer of 2011, which eventually became the 11th overall pick. After the first three picks were off the board, the next seven teams all chose defensemen; therefore, Filip Forsberg (above), regarded as the best offensive player in the draft outside consensus number one pick Nail Yakupov, was available. Eventually, Forsberg developed into the best player in the draft, as Yakupov failed to live up to expectations. However, he never played for the Capitals, as he was traded to the Nashville Predators in the ill-fated Martin Erat trade. The regret in this case was not choosing Forsberg in the draft, but rather trading him for so little (Erat and Michael Latta) and smacked of being a panicked, trading deadline move to help the Caps get in the playoffs.
The team’s other first-round pick came at no. 16, which they used to select rugged right wing Tom Wilson. Wilson played in a few playoff games for the Caps in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs and became a full-time player for them during the 2013-14 season, primarily playing on the fourth-line. His role gradually increased for the Caps over the subsequent seasons as he transitioned into a first-line forward in the 2017-18 season, solidifying that role in 2018-19. As far as offensive production is concerned, the Caps may have been better served by choosing Tomas Hertl, who the San Jose Sharks selected with the very next pick (17th overall), or Teuvo Teravainen, who the Chicago Blackhawks chose right after the Sharks selected Hertl, or even Tanner Pearson, who the Los Angeles Kings chose at the end of the round. In fairness, however, the pickings in the draft were relatively slim, especially when it came to forwards towards the end of the first-round, given that a fair number of the forwards chosen then and throughout the second-round, proved to be busts. When comparing to Teravainen, Wilson actually scored one more goal during 2018-19, although Teravainen has been a more consistent producer. While Pearson has had one season in which he has topped 20 goals (2016-17), Wilson outproduced him in 2018-19 and now has more career assists. The main regret with Wilson, aside from not choosing Hertl instead, is how the Caps handled his development, in using him as a fourth-line player in the 2013-14 season rather than returning him to juniors to continue to develop there and being slow to develop other facets of his game, as a result.
The Caps did not pick again until the third-round, when they chose center Chandler Stephenson with the 77th overall pick. Stephenson played in a handful of games for the Capitals in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before being called up to the NHL early in the 2017-18 season and establishing himself as a full-time NHL player. He has played at both center and wing, usually playing center on the fourth-line, but also serving as a winger on any line. In comparing to other players drafted in his round (or early in the next round), the very next player drafted after Stephenson was offensive defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers. Other players the team could have drafted instead of Stephenson include defenseman Colton Parayko, drafted by the St. Louis Blues later in the round, or Josh Anderson, a forward drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Several players chosen near the end of this round participated in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals along with Parayko, including Oskar Sundqvist and Matt Grzelcyk.
In the fourth-round, the Caps chose center Thomas DiPauli with the 100th overall pick. He chose not to sign with the Caps, but become a free agent and eventually signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals could have chosen Cedric Paquette, who Tampa Bay selected with the very next pick or defenseman Brett Kulak, who Calgary picked with the 105th pick. They also chose forward Austin Wuthrich with the 107th pick, who has not made it to the NHL. Chosen later in the round were center Andreas Athanasiou who Detroit chose with the 110th pick, and Jaccob Slavin, who Carolina choose at #120.
In the fifth-round, the Caps chose defenseman Connor Carrick who was later sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal involving Brooks Laich. They would have been better served by choosing defenseman Alexander Kerfoot, who the Colorado Avalanche drafted with the 150th pick, or Connor Brown, who Toronto drafted early in the sixth-round with the 156th pick. In the sixth-round, the Caps chose Riley Barber with the 167th pick, who has never really had an extended chance with the Caps in the NHL. Center Vinnie Hinostroza, who the Chicago Blackhawks drafted two picks later, had a fine year with the Arizona Coyotes, with 16 goals.
In the seventh-round, the Caps drafted defensemen Christian Djoos (195th pick), Jaynen Rissling (197th pick), and goaltender Sergey Kostenko. Djoos is the only one of that group to make it to the NHL and is hands-down the best player.
The Caps chose well with Forsberg but mishandled the asset by trading him away. The Caps mishandled the development of Wilson. They drafted two other players, Stephenson and Djoos, who made it to the NHL and have earned relatively regular roles. While there were good players available after them, this was a productive draft for the Caps in that they drafted four future NHL players.
2013 NHL Entry Draft
The 2013 draft was one in which several highly-regarded prospects were at the top of the draft, including defenseman Seth Jones and centers Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov. Many figured Jones would be the top pick overall, but the Colorado Avalanche opted to pick MacKinnon, instead. Jones ended up being chosen at fourth overall. After a terrible start, the Capitals turned their 2012-13 season around enough to qualify for the playoffs and, thus, were not contenders for any of the top picks. The Caps ended up picking at the 23rd selection in the first-round and chose forward Andre Burakovsky. While his performance has been somewhat disappointing since the 2015-16 season, when he had 17 goals, he has performed well compared to many of the forwards drafted before him and nearly all the forwards drafted after him. He has vastly outproduced forwards Valeri Nichushkin (10th overall), Curtis Lazar (17th overall), Kerby Rychel (19th overall), Frederick Gauthier (21st overall), and Emile Poirier (22nd overall) and appears to be a much better pick than defensemen Samuel Morin (11th overall) and Mirco Mueller (18th overall) were for their teams. The only forward drafted after him who has performed better is Jake Guentzel, who was drafted in the third-round (77th overall). Compared to the players drafted near his selection, he has done much better. There should be no regrets for the Capitals on picking Burakovsky, although disappointment that his production has been hampered by a series of hand injuries during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
In the second-round, the Capitals drafted defenseman Madison Bowey with the 53rd overall pick. He was unable to firmly establish himself as a regular in the Capitals’ lineup and was sent to the Detroit Red Wings near the 2019 trade deadline.
The team would have been better served by drafting defenseman Brett Pesce, who Carolina drafted in the third-round with the 66th pick. They could also have chosen Jake Guentzel (77th pick), who has turned out to be the best forward in the draft taken after the first-round or another forward such as Pavel Buchnevich (75th), Mattias Janmark-Nylen (79th), or Anthony Duclair (80th).
The Caps had one additional second-round pick, with the 61st overall pick, which they used to select left wing Zach Sanford, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues in a trade deadline deal for Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017.
In the fifth-round, the Caps drafted Blake Heinrich (155th), who has not made it to the NHL. In the sixth-round, the Caps drafted center Brian Pinho (174th pick), who spent the 2018-19 season with the Hershey Bears. The Caps’ last pick in the draft was defenseman Tyler Lewington (204th pick), who played two games for the Caps in 2018-19. There are no regrets with any of these late round picks, as it appears no impact players were drafted in the last three rounds.
Overall, the Caps did very well in choosing Burakovsky in a draft that had several really good players drafted early but much thinner in talent after the top half of the first-round. They could have done better with their second-round picks, Bowey and Sanford, but both became NHL players, albeit ones who the team later traded at the deadline for other assets. In the latter rounds, one player, Lewington, has played in the NHL.
By Diane Doyle
Draft Class Grades (Updated): Grading the Capitals’ Draft Picks in the Last 10 Years — Pre 2019 NHL Entry Draft Edition
21st Century Capitals Draft Picks
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2004
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2007
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2008