Around NHL Draft weekend every year, there are plenty of trades — some in pursuit of big names, some to make room under the NHL salary cap, and some to move up or down in the draft. Since getting the job in 2014, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has made a lot of trades around draft weekend, especially when it comes to swapping picks. How have they worked out for the Capitals? Of course, we will not know for another few years, but we can look at how those picks are developing even if they not already in the NHL at the moment. NoVa Caps looks back at the picks MacLellan has swapped throughout his tenure as Capitals GM.
During MacLellan’s first crack at leading the NHL Draft, the Capitals acquired the 39th overall pick, which turned out to be goaltender Vitek Vanecek, from the Buffalo Sabres for the 49th overall pick, which was Eric Cornell, and 74th overall pick, which was Brycen Martin. All the picks occurred in the 2014 NHL Draft. Vanecek hasn’t played in the NHL yet, though he served as the Capitals’ backup for one game earlier this year when Ilya Samsonov suffered an undisclosed injury in practice. The 24-year-old has posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average in 141 career AHL games, all with the Hershey Bears, and he could be the Capitals’ backup goaltender next season with Braden Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Meanwhile, Cornell, a 24-year-old forward, has posted 35 goals, 78 points, and a -10 rating in 277 career AHL games, and Martin, a 24-year-old defenseman, has spent the last three seasons in the ECHL.
Also during the 2014 draft, MacLellan made a move that he would certainly regret with the benefit of hindsight. He acquired the 89th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft (which turned out to be forward Nathan Walker) from the New York Rangers for the 118th overall pick (which ended up being goaltender Igor Shesterkin), and 104th overall pick, which was Ryan Mantha who has been with the Bakersfield Condors (the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate) and has not played an AHL game since 2017-18. Shesterkin, on the other had, has turned out to be one of the most highly-touted goaltending prospects across the NHL. In his first 12 NHL games earlier this season, Shesterkin went 10-2-0 with a .932 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average. He could very well be the team’s starting goaltender in the qualifying round when the NHL season resumes. Of course, there’s no guarantee that MacLellan would have taken Shesterkin (particularly since he had taken Vanecek earlier in the draft). Walker played appeared in just 10 games with the Capitals, posting a goal and an assist, before signing with the St. Louis Blues as an unrestricted free agent last offseason. One intereating side note: Walker has already made his mark in the Hockey Hall of Fame when he became the first Australian to play in an NHL game. His Capitals jersey was on display in Toronto to commermorate the milestone.
Also in 2014, the Capitals acquired goaltender Edward Pasquale (who is no longer in the organization) and the 159th pick in 2014 (forward Steven Spinner) from the Winnipeg Jets for the 203rd overall pick in 2015 (center Matteo Gennaro), 164th pick in 2014 (forward Pavel Krakovsky), and 192nd pick in 2014 (forward Matt Ustaski). Spinner has played only one AHL game in his career. Gennaro has recorded seven goals, 12 points, and a -3 rating in 66 career AHL games over the past two years. Krakovsky has spent the past seven seasons in the KHL and has never topped eight goals or 18 points in his career. Utaski, 26, has only played one career AHL game and that came two seasons ago.
MacLellan made a solid move when the Capitals acquired the 57th pick, which turned out to be defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, from New York Rangers for the 113th overall pick in 2015, which they used to select center Brad Morrison, and the 62nd overall pick in 2015, which they used to pick forward Robin Kovacs. Siegenthaler played his first full NHL season this year and was solid, earning two goals, nine points, and a +11 rating, while earning some time on the top pairing next to John Carlson before the team acquired Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks on February 19. He also averaged a team-high 3:11 on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, Morrison spent 2018-19 in the AHL where he recorded 10 goals, 20 points, and an even rating in 50 games before spending this season in the ECHL. Kovacs played the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack, the Rangers’ minor league affiliate, but has spent the past three seasons in the Swedish hockey league.
2016 marked the first time that MacLellan moved down picks as he traded the 26th overall pick (forward Tage Thompson) to the Blues for the 28th overall pick (defenseman Lucas Johansen) and the 87th overall pick (forward Garrett Pilon). Thompson was dealt to the Sabres two years later as part of the trade that sent center Ryan O’Reilly to the Gateway City. He has tallied 10 goals, 21 points, and a -34 rating in 107 career games with the Blues and Sabres. Johansen, who has recorded nine goals, 43 points, and a -24 rating in 128 career AHL games, has been passed on the Capitals’ organizational depth chart by the likes of Seigenthaler, Martin Fehervary, and Alexander Alexeyev as the game has gotten too fast for his playing style. He played in only nine games this season. Pilon has played well in his first two seasons with the Bears, posting 28 goals, 69 points, and a +3 rating in 142 games.
The Capitals moved up to the 161st overall pick in 2018 where they selected forward Alex Kannok-Leipert, who will re-enter the draft in 2020 after the team opted not to sign him, from the Vancouver Canucks for the 186th pick in 2018 (which they used on forward Artyom Manyukyan) and the 180th pick in 2019 (Jack Malone). Manyukyan has posted five goals, 18 points, and a +8 rating in 69 games in the KHL over the past two seasons while Malone tallied two goals, eight points, and a +11 rating in 27 games with Cornell during his first NCAA season in 2019-20.
The Capitals acquired the 91st pick in 2019, which they used on center Aliaksei Protas, from the New Jersey Devils for the 129th overall pick (used on forward Arseni Gritsyuk) and the 188th overall pick (used to select defenseman Case McCarthy). Protas recorded 31 goals, 80 points, and a +37 rating in 58 games with the WHL’s Prince-Albert Raiders this season while Gritsyuk posted 28 goals, 63 points, and a +40 rating in 59 games with the MHL’s Omskie Yastreby and McCarthy tallied two goals, 12 points, and an even rating in 32 games with Boston University this past year.
The Capitals once again moved up in the 2019 NHL Draft to select defenseman Martin Has. They dealt the 211th overall pick (which was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins who used it on defenseman Santeri Airola) and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the San Jose Sharks to acquire Has, who was picked 153rd overall. Has recorded a goal, two points, and a +3 rating in five games with Liiga’s Taapara; one goal and a +4 rating in 13 games on a loan in Finland’s Mestis league; and six assists and a -9 rating in 21 OHL games this past season. Airola posted 11 assists and a +6 rating in 26 games with Mestis’ Kettera and a -2 rating in two games with Liiga’s Saipa on a loan.
Swapping draft picks with other clubs has provided a mixed bag of results for MacLellan, which is expected to be the case. Guys like Protas and Siegenthaler were very good picks while the deal that resulted in the Capitals picking Walker looks pretty bad now. Others, like the trade that saw the pick used to select Kannok-Leipert, are to early to assess. Of course, we will need to give it more time before we call a trade good or bad and the players that these picks were used on would not have necessarily been the same depending on a team’s criteria for drafting players, team needs, and more.
With the 2020 NHL Draft class expected to be one of the best in years, could we see MacLellan swapping more picks? We’ll have to wait and find out.
By Harrison Brown