The Washington Capitals have acquired many key players in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. However, several of those drafted players were unable to live up to expectations, with injuries being a significant factor. In this piece we take a look at the Capitals’ first round picks whose careers have been greatly affected by injury.
The Capitals drafted right winger Pat Peake with the 14th overall pick in 1991. Two years later, he scored 58 goals, recorded 70 assists and was named the Canadian junior player of the year. Peake was only the second American player to receive this honor.
In his first year in Washington, Peake scored 29 points in 49 games. Two years after being drafted, he had 36 points in 62 games for the 1992-93 Junior Red Wings.
In this first season with the Capitals, 1993-94, he had 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points overall in 49 games. He had also spent some time with the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates.
Peake’s season was marred by illness during 1994-95. This was also a season where the NHL had a shorter than normal schedule due to the owners locking the players out of training camp.
Peake was off to a slow start, with no goals and three assists in the first 15 games. Jack Button, the Capitals’ Director of Player Personnel at the time questioned his effort and sent him down to the Portland Pirates.
Peake, who felt he was trying, also saw a doctor and had bloodwork done. When he arrived in Portland, he received a phone call from Button and was instructed to fly back to Washington. Peake was told that he had a late stage of mononucleosis, which accounted for his lack of energy and production. He ended up playing just five games with Portland that season. He returned to the Capitals in March, played in three more games and recorded one more assist.
Peake rebounded in the 1995-96 season, scoring 17 goals and recording 19 assists in 62 games. He missed a month that year after Chris Pronger, defenseman for the St Louis Blues, slashed his throat during a game in late October. Peake stayed in the hospital overnight and was diagnosed with fractured thyroid cartilage. Pronger was suspended for four games for the slash.
The worst of his injuries that year occurred in the Capitals playoff series against the Penguins. In racing to beat an icing call, Peake shattered his heel. The heel injury cost him much of the 1996-97 season, as he had to undergo several surgeries, as well as undergo extensive rehabilitation.
Peake was hoping to return in late February of 1997, but as he was moving a big-screen television in his house, the television fell on his hand, breaking a bone. When that healed in March, he returned to the ice, but a few weeks later, he and left wing Steve Konowalchuk were in a minor car accident outside of US Airways Arena. Peake suffered a concussion and missed the season’s final three games. In all, Peake played in just four games in the 1996-97 season and three games with the Portland Pirates.
Peake missed the first 16 games of the 1997–98 NHL season because of continued pain in his heel. He returned to play on November 8, 1997 but tore tendons in his right ankle. That was his last professional game. He officially retired from playing professional ice hockey prior to the 1998-99 season.
Further Reading on Peake
Peake Out With Throat Injury
After Sitting Out Wedding, Peake Back on His Heels
Peake Picks Through Shattered NHL Dreams
NHL Capitals: Alumni Q & A With Pat Peake
Konowalchuk and Peake in Car Accident
Jaroslav “Yogi” Svejkovsky
After performing well during the 1996-97 season with the Portland Pirates in the AHL, where he scored 38 goals and recorded 28 assists in 54 games, he was called up to the Capitals for the remainder of the season.
Svejkovsky had a promising start in the NHL when he scored seven goals in 19 games including four goals against the Buffalo Sabres in the last game of the season. [Svejkovsky is the only rookie to accomplish the feat of scoring four goals in a game in Caps franchise history].
However, early in the 1997-1998 season, Svejkovsky sprained his left ankle and missed a month. He returned for a game in late November but reinjured his ankle and was out again.
Svejkovsky did not return until late February, ultimately missing 43 games. After returning, he was sent to the Portland Pirates for conditioning and subsequently shuttled back and forth between the Capitals and Portland. He played with Portland during their playoffs but was recalled for one playoff game with the Caps. For the 1997-98 season, he had four goals and one assist in 17 games.
The 1998-99 season was more of the same for Svejkovsky. He sprained his right ankle early in the season, in the team’s seventh game. This time, he did not return until late January, missing 37 games. Svejkovsky then suffered a concussion in mid March, which ended his season.
Svejkovsky ultimately played in 25 games that year, scoring six goals with seven assists. While he was bothered by a groin injury early in the 1999-00 season, he was relatively healthy overall that season but could not live up to his earlier promise. His ice time was relatively diminished and he was a healthy scratch several times.
Svejkovsky was subsequently traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 17, 2000. He played 23 games with the Caps that season, scoring one goal and recording two assists. He played in 29 games with Tampa Bay, scoring five goals and recording five assists.
During the 2000-01 season, he played two games with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League, scoring two goals and having two assists. He retired after that season due to post-concussion syndrome.
Further Reading on Svejkovsky
Yogi Bears Burden of Promise
Injury Bug Bites Capitals
Capitals Bullis Set to Return
From the Archives: Skating Through Life
Capitals Notebook: Svejkovsky Traded to Tampa Bay
Alexandre “Sasha” Pokulok
The Capitals drafted defenseman Sasha Pokulok in 2005 with the 14th pick overall. While he was considered a “reach” in that he ranked 39th among North American skaters in the final Central Scouting Service rankings that year, injuries contributed to him never making it to the NHL.
After being drafted, he returned to Cornell University to continue his college hockey for one more season and turned pro in 2006. He was assigned to the Hershey Bears but received a concussion in his very first game there.
Pokulok missed four months of action and then returned with the Capitals ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. He played 16 games with them before getting a second concussion.
The concussions caused Pokulok to lose significant development time. He played two more seasons in the Caps organization, primarily with the Bears in 2007-08 and the Stingrays in 2008-09.
In his time with the Capitals organization, he played in 53 games for the Bears and never appeared in any NHL games. The Caps did not offer him a qualifying offer when his entry level contract expired in June 2009.
After that, Pokulok bounced around in the AHL, ECHL, and various European Leagues. In 2014, he was part of a lawsuit seeking compensation for potential brain damage from the concussions he had suffered. He reported suffering multiple head traumas during his career, including training camps, NHL rookie games, and prospect and main camps. The suit also added that he was never warned by the NHL of the negative health effects of head trauma.
The Capitals drafted defenseman Joe Finley with the 27th overall pick in 2005. After the draft, he played in college with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. During his senior year in 2008-09, he missed two months with a concussion.
Finley signed a pro contract with the Capitals after the NCAA tournament and was ultimately assigned to the Hershey Bears. Finley played in one game for them but did not play in any of their playoff games, as the Bears made their run to the Calder Cup Finals and won.
During the 2009 training camp, Finley was converted into a winger and sent to the South Carolina Stingrays. He played in 15 games for the Stingrays before suffering a deep tissue hand injury. The injury turned out to be a ruptured artery that required season-ending surgery.
In 2010-11, Finley started the season with the Hershey Bears but was demoted to South Carolina and missed most of the 2010-11 season with a lower body injury. After the 2010-11 season, when his entry level contract expired, the Capitals declined to re-sign him.
Finley then signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization and played five games with them but spent more time with the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate. He later also played 16 games with the New York Islanders.
The Capitals drafted center Anton Gustafsson with the 21st overall pick in 2008. He was the son of former Caps center Bengt Gustafsson who had played for the Caps from 1979-80 through 1988-89.
Gustafsson injured his back prior to being drafted, so it was hard for scouts to assess his ability. When he reported to summer development camp in 2008, he aggravated the herniated disc in his back and ultimately missed all but 45 minutes of development camp that year.
Gustafsson‘s back was still not fully healed when he reported to rookie camp in September. He ended up aggravating the herniated disc again during drills and was unable to play in a scheduled rookie scrimmage. He ultimately returned to Sweden the next day.
Gustafsson was sidelined again during the 2009 development camp. This time he had banged his head on the goal post and suffered a cut above his eye that required 10 stitches to close and also received a mild concussion. While his headaches from the concussion had subsided by the end of the week, he was unable to participate in the final prospect scrimmage. He played in one game for the Hershey Bears that season but was then sent back to a Swedish team to get more playing time.
During the 2010 development camp, Gustafsson got hurt again. He tweaked a hip flexor during drills and left after two shifts in the second period of the next scrimmage. He was ultimately assigned to Hershey but was unable to make their roster and was assigned to the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL.
Gustafsson did not report to South Carolina, choosing to play in the Swiss League instead. He never did make it to the NHL and mostly played in Switzerland and occasionally playing in Sweden.
Further Reading on Gustafsson
Capitals Welcome Second Gustafsson
The Capitals drafted defenseman Lucas Johnsen with the 28st overall pick in 2016. He is the younger brother of Ryan Johansen, an All Star caliber center who has played with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Nashville Predators.
After returning to his junior team, the Kelowna Rockets, for the 2016-17 season, he started his professional career with the Hershey Bears in 2017-18. Johansen had a reasonably promising first season as he played in 74 games with 6 goals and 21 assists.
In 2018-19, he was injured in a game in late November and missed the next two months, not returning until early February. The 2019-20 season was even worse, from an injury standpoint, as he played in just nine games.
Johansen has now signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps and will likely return to the Bears for the 2020-21 season. This may very well be his last chance to make it with the Caps.
Further Reading on Johansen
Capitals Re-sign Lucas Johansen To One-Year, Two-Way Deal
Washington Capitals Prospect Review and Forecast 2019; Lucas Johansen
Washington Capitals Prospect Review 2018: Lucas Johansen
By Diane Doyle