It’s said every year just before the NHL draft, but the plan often times quickly veers off the tracks. Washington Capitals management meets with the media prior to each draft and is always asked about their strategy and focus for the draft. The reply has always been, “we will take the best player available.”
The strategy is sound. Taking the best player available, regardless of position, adds the greatest player-equity to the organization’s bottom line, regardless if there is an organizational need at that position. For example, you might need a right-handed defenseman, but if the best available right-handed defenseman is just average in the draft, you are better off taking another (better) player at another position, even if you are organizationally deep at that position.
While they strategy is sound, often times it is apparent that players are indeed selected based on organizational needs, regardless if there is a better overall player available at another position. A prime example can be seen in the Capitals 2021 draft.
While the Capitals continue to maintain that their draft philosophy is to draft the best player available, this pick screams “needs-based”. Promising right-hander (much needed) several years out;
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) July 24, 2021
The Capitals used their first two picks of the draft to selected right-handed defensemen, a position the Capitals were extremely shallow at. (Vincent Iorio, second round, #55 overall, and Brent Johnson, third round, #80 0verall).
Regardless of approach, it’s helpful for management, and for fans, to get an understanding of what is actually needed by the team. The best way to do that is to take a look at the organizational depth chart.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
The first step, pre-draft, is to take a “big picture” look at the organization in order to identify potential soft spots, or shallow depths, at a position. The following table provides a current high-level snapshot of each skater position (no goaltenders), heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. [Click to enlarge].
Definition And Caveats
The chart above assumes that certain free agents will not be re-signed this off-season (Michal Kempny, Justin Schultz, Matt Irwin, Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson). It’s certainly possible that the Capitals could re-sign one or more of the players (Larsson, Irwin). Also, the chart does not include current long-term injuries for the Capitals (Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson), in order to better identify current needs.
In addition, the chart does not include likely elevations of certain prospects. For example, there is a very good chance Brett Leason and Aliaksei Protas could see a roster spot on opening night this fall. The goal of this chart is to provide a snapshot of the organization prior to the draft and prior to training camp.
Also, the chart does not include potential free agent departures for certain prospects (Shane Gersich, Brian Pinho, etc.). If they decide to leave, that could further alter the positional depth (needs) at certain positions.
Finally, the chart does not include other positions players are potentially capable of playing at. For example, Aliaksei Protas could play left wing, Garrett Pilon could play center, etc.). The intent was to place each player at their first (natural) position.
The Capitals currently have three open positions at forward and and three open positions on the blueline. Again, it’s very possible a prospect or two are elevated to fill those immediate needs, but the current lack of depth needs to be considered heading into the draft.
At first glance there is a glaring overall lack of organizational depth on the left side at forward. Again, there are players that could shift to cover (Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, etc.), but as far as normal (natural) positions, the Capitals are shallow at left wing. Looks for the Capitals to possibly address that need in the draft, should they abandon “the best player available” philosophy.
The Capitals are also rather shallow at center, organizationally. There are aged veterans in place, but as far as the “big picture”, the Capitals need to fortify the center position.
Finally, with the departure of Tobias Geisser and the long-term injury to Alex Alexeyev, the once extremely deep left side of the blueline is suddenly in need of additional reinforcements. Look for the Capitals to potentially address that need as well in the upcoming draft.
Now that the organizational “needs” have been identified, we can next begin to look at the means for addressing the identified needs. In my next post (Part 2) I’ll take look at a few of the potential draft targets that are best suited for addressing the aforementioned organizational needs.
By Jon Sorensen
If the Caps hopefully still have the top two (20 and 46) picks I hope they take another center (Beck, right handed or Kulich lefty) and then get a winger or D with the next pick after. Very nice post here and great info to have this wide angle view of the players in the organization.
Thanks Marky. So your philosophy for the draft based on “needs” rather than best player available? Very common strategy.
For what it’s worth, I’ve begun pulling top prospect lists from various resources and sorting by position. Here is Craig Button’s top-96 list, sorted by position (overall ranking in parenthesis). It helps give a sense of how strong each position is.
I am working on Corey Pronmons list right now.
I mean, in this draft, or any draft for that matter, who knows who the BPA is? Sebastion Aho was a 2nd round pick…I think if a known player (like Caps got with Lapierre) slips, you probably take him. But how different in talent really are the players in this draft after the first 10? If most are relatively the same why not go with a right handed center? Did the Caps get the BPA available when they took Samsonov at twenty something that year? The discussion about it is an old debate. All I would say is if the talent is pretty even, get a guy who would fill a future hole. If you have good player development, it should work out.
We should take Lucas Edmonds, Jordan Dumais, or Logan Morrisson as low risk high reward gambles, and Matt Maggio since we already had him in training camp last year and he’s kind of broken out
Great info! Thanks, Jon.
We’ve spoiled with stars for the last 20 years or so. Ovie, Backstrom, Kuzy, Carlson, Semin, Green, Jagr, Fedorov, Oshie, Wilson. For the future I’m not seeing any star power at any position. I love McMichael and Lapierre but they look like good 2nd liners which is good. I believe we have a lot of solid NHLers coming in Protas, Leason, Snively, Iorio, Pilon, Alexeev. I look forward to seeing them all with the Caps. But we clearly need to find some young stars by hook or by crook. Nathan McKinnon’s and Cale Makar’s and Nikita Kucherov’s do not grow on trees but you have to find players like that somehow.
It’s nearly impossible to draft one when you are winning like the Caps have all these years. Teams can barely trade up or acquire a top 10 pick unless you are giving them back one of your best prospects…? Talk about banging your head against the wall…The Caps have crash and burn before we start talking about whether they should take the best pro ready center or defensemen which are only in the top 10. ***As an aside, I watched the ’12 draft when we took Forsberg and remember most of the teams ahead of us taking defensemen and passing on FF. So unless you have a bunch of teams go brain dead ahead of you, good luck getting those type of player you mention. 😉
It’s really difficult to get star players now. 32 teams. Better methods and resources for scouting. Speaking of the 2012 draft I always thought McPhee/Mahoney wanted to take Vasilevsky and Wilson in that draft. FF inexplicably fell and they debated it and took him. And then we ended up without Forsberg and Vasilevsky in the end.
Thanks Lance! You are right, we lose sight of the fact we have been spoiled with superstars. And we need to find more.
I presume a follow-up piece is coming on organization goalie depth. But good assessment of the depth at other positions.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Caps have cap space for the first time in a very long time. Some of the depth could — and certainly will — be created that way this off-season.
That is a much faster way to fill holes than with non-lottery draft picks, who typically take a few years to develop if they develop at all.
A lot of fans think of the NHL draft as equivalent to the NFL or NBA drafts, where the drafted players are expected to contribute immediately (though the NBA is changing a bit). The NHL is drafting 18-yr-olds, most of whom (particularly outside the top 10 picks) are physically immature and not even close to making it into the league the upcoming season.
Investing a draft pick in the potential of an 18-year-old is a crap shoot. If the Caps want to build near-term depth, they need to sign some established NHL players in their prime and maybe trade a few aging pieces to teams who think they need only a player or 2 to challenge for a Cup, and are willing to part with more mature prospects drafted a couple of years ago who are probably closer to playing in the bigs.
I certainly see no reason to draft grinders unless the have the upside of a Tom Wilson. Those types of players are always available because of the cap rules these days. Shake a tree and a dozen Garnett Hathaways, Nick Dowds, and Johan Larssons will tumble out of it. They are valuable players, but the cap rules have those guys shuttling around teams. So instead, at our position, you have to gamble a bit. There are several intriguing players who could be DeBrincats or Ahos of the future and they might all be in play until the middle of the 2nd round. So if we come to pick 20 and see that the guy we want will probably be there at pick 35, why not trade down and get extra picks. I’d trade the 20th pick to get pick 26 and pick 36, for example. Two gambles instead of one.