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