Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports
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 the final installment 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 2014-2018 drafts. Draft regrets for 2000-2010 can be found here. Draft regrets for 2011-2013 can be found here.
2014 NHL Entry Draft
The 2014 was the first draft the Caps participated in which Brian MacLellan served as the General Manager of the team. After a dismal 2013-14 season, in which the team missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. held the 13th overall pick and chose Czech winger Jakub Vrana. While he played in the NHL for part of the 2016-17 season, Vrana fully established himself as a regular in 2017-18 and enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19 in which he topped 20 goals for the first time in his career. Prior to this season, it appeared that Vrana’s development was slower than some other forwards drafted in the first-round after him, including Dylan Larkin, who the Detroit Red Wings selected with the 15th overall pick. While Vrana spent the 2015-16 season (his first year in North America), with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears, Larkin spent his first professional season after a year in college with the Red Wings, scoring 23 goals that year. Larkin has continued to be more productive than Vrana since then, and scored 32 goals during the 2018-19 season. Admittedly, Detroit, as a declining team was more in need of forwards than the Capitals, a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, but perhaps there is a case to be made for the Caps selecting Larkin. Another prospect drafted after both Vrana and Larkin, David Pastrnak, has turned out to be better than both of them. Pastrnak came to North America during the 2014-15 season and started off the season with Boston’s AHL team, the Providence Bruins but was recalled by the Bruins later that season. He had a breakout year in 2016-17, in which he scored 34 goals and, since then, has perennially scored more than 30 goals per season. It appears that Boston picked the second best player in that draft, the best being Leon Draisaitl, who the Edmonton drafted third overall.
While there are two forwards drafted after Vrana that are clearly better than him, Vrana’s productivity compares favorably with several forwards who were drafted ahead of him that year. Brendan Perlini, who the Arizona Coyotes drafted immediately ahead of him, has scored five more goals in his career than Vrana but has 13 less assists. Vrana’s statistics were accumulated in less games, 176, as opposed to Perlini, who has played in 199. Perlini has yet to score 20 goals in his career. His career-high was 17 goals, scored in 2017-18, but scored 14 during 2018-19 and was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. He had more goals this past season than Kevin Fiala, whom Nashville drafted 11th overall and is just eight goals and 16 assists behind him in career goals which is notable considering Fiala has played in the NHL one more full season than Vrana has. Vrana has more career goals than Nick Ritchie, who Anaheim drafted 10th overall. He has 15 less career assists than Ritchie, but Ritchie has played one more season than Vrana has. Ritchie has yet to top 14 goals in a season. The 2015 NHL Entry draft was a much stronger draft for forwards than the drafts of the previous two years had been.
In the second-round, the Capitals chose goalie Vitek Vanecek with the 39th overall pick. With the current goaltending situation of the organization, Vanecek has yet to make it to the NHL. Compared to other goalies selected after him, none have become impact NHL players. The best players drafted after him in Round 2 (and early in Round 3) include Christian Dvorak, whom the Arizona Coyotes picked with the 58th selection, and defenseman Brandon Montour, whom Anaheim picked 55th. Brayden Point, who Tampa Bay drafted with the 79th overall pick was still available.
In the third-round, the Caps drafted left wing Nathan Walker with the 89th pick, who has played a few games in the NHL but has primarily been an AHL player. The best player drafted within a round of him was right wing Viktor Arvidsson, who Nashville selected with the 112th pick. The Caps had no picks in the fourth-round. but in the fifth round chose forward Shane Gersich with the 134th pick. Gersich has played three NHL games for the Caps but spent his first full season in the pros with Hershey in 2018-19.
The Caps’ last two picks were forward Steven Spinner (159th pick) and forward Kevin Elgestal (194th pick). By choosing them, the Caps missed on right wing Kevin Lebanc (171st overall) and Ondrej Kase (205th overall).
While it could be argued that Vrana was not the best possible pick, he is developing into a solid player. Granted, the Caps missed out on some good forwards by drafting a goalie in the second-round, but it is prudent to keep the development pipeline stocked with goalies.
2015 NHL Entry Draft
In the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Caps held the 22nd overall pick and used it to select Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov. At the conclusion of 2018-19 season, he is the only first-round selection from the 2015 draft who has yet to appear in an NHL game. This is largely due in part to the fact Samsonov did not come to North America until 2018. In comparing his play to other goalies drafted that season, MacKenzie Blackwood, who the New Jersey Devils drafted with the 42nd overall pick in Round 2, has played in 38 NHL games. Adin Hill, who Arizona drafted in the third-round with the 76th pick, has appeared in 17 games. The remaining goalies drafted in 2015 have not yet appeared in the NHL. It is too early to determine if there are any regrets with choosing Samsonov, as opposed to any other goalie in the draft. Samsonov’s performance during the second half of the season with Hershey was a vast improvement over his first half performance, which bodes well for his NHL future.
The main potential regret on choosing Samsonov, as opposed to a forward, was missing out on some talented forwards that were drafted later in the first-round and early in the second-round. The Vancouver Canucks chose right wing Brock Boeser with the next selection (23rd pick). Boeser has had two great seasons for the Canucks, topping 25 goals in each of them and has also appeared in an NHL All-Star game. Another forward the Capitals could have drafted was right wing Travic Konecny, who the Philadelphia Flyers took with the 24th overall pick, who has topped 20 goals in each of the last two seasons. Other notable forwards missed include left wing Anthony Beauvillier, who the New York Islanders selected with the 28th pick, and left wing Sebastian Aho, who Carolina chose early in the second-round with the 35th overall pick and who has scored 24 or more goals in each of his three NHL seasons and has improved in goal-scoring every year. Alternatively, the Capitals could have drafted a defenseman instead of Samsonov. The best defensemen drafted after Samsonov were Brandon Carlo, whom the Boston Bruins chose with the 37th pick, and Travis Dermott, who the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted with the 34th pick. Defensemen are harder to evaluate at 18 and the defensemen chosen late in the first-round and second-round still need to develop.
In the second-round, the Caps drafted defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler with the 57th overall pick. Siegenthaler debuted for the Capitals during the 2018-19 season, playing in 26 games. The best player drafted after him was left wing Anthony Cirelli, who was chosen with the 72nd overall pick, and scored 19 goals in his first full NHL season. Nobody else drafted after him in the second or third-round has played a significant number of NHL games, so evaluation is difficult. The Caps did not draft again until late in the fifth-round, when they chose defenseman Connor Hobbs, with the 143rd pick. He has not yet made it to the NHL, and no player drafted after him has played in a significant number of NHL games. The Capitals drafted defenseman Colby Williams in the sixth-round with the 173rd overall pick. The best player drafted after Williams was fellow defenseman Markus Nutivaara, who the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted with the 189th pick, and who has played an entire season in the NHL.
So far, the 2015 draft has produced a lot of talent throughout the first-round and the early part of the second-round, but the talent is much thinner after that. It is too soon to know if the Caps erred by choosing Samsonov instead of choosing one of the promising forwards available then. So far, one draftee from this Capitals’ draft class has appeared in the NHL (Siegenthaler).
2016 NHL Entry Draft
In the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Caps initially held the 26th pick in the first-round but traded the pick along with a third-round pick to the St. Louis Blues in order to move down in the draft (28th pick). With that pick, the Caps chose defenseman Lucas Johansen, who has played two years with the Hershey Bears and who has set back by injury. While it is too soon to give up on Johansen’s chances of making the NHL, the Caps would have likely been better served by choosing Alex DeBrincat, who Chicago chose with the 39th overall pick. DeBrincat has already played two full seasons in the NHL and scored 41 goals during the 2018-19 season. He is the type of high-end forward that the Capitals need on their team, with the inevitable aging of the team’s current core stars. If the Capitals had still been intent on choosing a defenseman, they could have chosen Samuel Girard, who the Nashville Predators picked at no. 47, and who has already played nearly two seasons in the NHL.
The Caps had no second-round pick in 2016. Their next pick came late in the third-round, selecting center Garrett Pilon with the 87th overall pick, and who played with the Hershey Bears in 2018-19. The Capitals selected left winger Damien Riat in the fourth-round with the 117th overall pick. Riat has yet to come to North America, but the report is that he will come to the team’s Development Camp this summer. The Caps’ fifth-round pick was left winger Axel Jonsson-Fjallby who the team selected with the 147th overall pick. Jonsson-Fjallby played a handful of games with Hershey but returned to Sweden to play. In Round 6, the Capitals chose defenseman Chase Priskie with the 177th pick. Priskie had a great college career but will opt to go to free agency rather than sign with the Capitals. In the seventh-round, the Caps chose defenseman Nikita Zaitsev with the 207th pick. In the third-round and afterwards, the only players with more than 80 games of NHL experience are: defenseman Victor Mete (pick #100 by Montreal) and left wing Jesper Bratt (162nd by New Jersey).
The jury is still out on this draft, but the main regret will likely be missing out on Alex DeBrincat and his great offensive production.
2017 NHL Entry Draft
In this draft, due to trades, the Caps had no draft picks until the fourth-round. They chose defensemen Tobias Geisser with the 120th pick, Sebastian Walfridsson with the 151st pick, and Benton Maas with the 182nd pick, and left wing Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen with the 213th pick. None of these players have made it to the NHL yet. As of now, no other selections have made an impact at the NHL level and as a result, no regrets are apparent, and the Capitals were in the midst of deep Stanley Cup aspirations.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
In this draft, the Caps held the 31st pick of the first round, as a result of winning the Stanley Cup, which they used to select defenseman Alexander Alexeyev. In the second-round, they had consecutive picks at 46 and 47, which the Capitals used to select defenseman Martin Fehervary and right wing Kody Clark. In the third-round, they chose right wing Riley Sutter with the 93rd pick. In the fouth-round with the 124th pick, they chose goalie Mitchell Gibson; in the sixth-round with the 161st pick, they chose defenseman Alex Kannok-Leipert. With the final pick of the draft, they chose center, Eric Florchuk.
It is too soon to tell if this draft class will have any regrets associated with it.
A Retrospective On The Last Decade of Draft Picks by the Washington Capitals
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
By Diane Doyle