The 2022 NHL Entry Draft is just 10 days away. As part of our pre-draft coverage we present our annual look draft day misses – players the Washington Capitals could have selected, but ultimately decided to go in another direction.
Following the 2019 season, Nova Caps conducted a three-part series on Washington Capitals’ draft regrets for the drafts from 2000 through 2018. But with the passage of time and subsequent player development, it’s time to reexamine the more recent drafts. This piece discusses the drafts of 2014 through 2016. A follow-up piece will discuss the drafts of 2017 and afterward.
As a template, the player that the Caps would have been wiser to select is generally a player selected later in the same round or early in the next round.
Despite missed opportunities in the drafts of this millennium, the Capitals were still able to build a team that won one Stanley Cup, three Presidents’ Trophies and numerous division winners.
2014 NHL Entry Draft
2014 was the first draft in which Brian MacLellan served as the General Manager of the Capitals.
In this draft, the Caps held the 13th overall pick and selected Czech winger Jakub Vrana. Vrana made his NHL debut in 2016-17 and became a regular in 2017-18. He followed that up with two more seasons of scoring 20 or more goals before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2020-21 trade deadline.
But fans can not help comparing him to forwards who have been more productive and were drafted later in the same round, such as Dylan Larkin and fellow Czech, David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has the second-highest totals for goals, assists, and NHL points for the entire draft class.
However, Vrana has been more productive than several forwards drafted ahead of him, including Michael Dal Colle, Jake Virtanen, Nick Ritchie, and Brendan Perlini. When performing an overall comparison of players drafted in his year, Vrana’s goal-scoring and his overall points total are close to his draft slot. In other words, he met expectations, although he did not exceed them.
In the second round, the Capitals chose goalie Vitek Vanecek with the 39th overall pick. He finally made the NHL for the 2020-21 season and has been part of the Caps’ goaltending tandem with Ilya Samsonov ever since.
The most impactful goaltender chosen after Vanaecek was Igor Sheshterkin (New York Rangers – Round 4 — Pick #118) who won the Vezina trophy for 2021-22. Other notable goaltenders chosen in the draft were: Elvis Merzlikins (Columbus Blue Jackets) — Round 3 – Pick #76, Ilya Sorokin with the (New York Islanders) — Round 3 – Pick #78, Ville Husso (Round 4 – Pick #94).
At the time of the draft, Shesterkin had not yet started compiling outlandishly great save percentages, which did not take place until the 2016-17 season. Plus, there was probably a concern that he was not yet interested in coming to North America. That was likely also the concern with Ilya Sorokin.
Aside from the goalies, the best players drafted after Vanecek 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 also still available.
Third Round and Later
In the third round, the Caps drafted left-wing, Nathan Walker, with the 89th pick, who has played on and off in the NHL, but has been primarily an AHL player. Aside from goalie Igor Shesterkin, 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 played three NHL games for the Caps but has spent the rest of his professional career with the Hershey Bears. The most impactful players chosen soon afterward were: Oskar Lindholm (Philadelphia Flyers) – pick #138 and Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins) – pick #146.
The Caps’ last two picks were forward Steven Spinner (159th pick) and forward Kevin Elgestal (194th pick). By choosing them, the Caps missed out on right-wing Kevin LeBanc (171st overall), Viktor Olofsson (181st overall), and Ondrej Kase (205th overall).
2015 NHL Entry Draft
In the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Caps held the 22nd overall pick and selected Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov. He made the Capitals’ roster as the backup goaltender for the 2019-20 season and is currently part of the Caps’ goaltending tandem, along with Vitek Vanecek.
The most notable goaltenders chosen after him were McKenzie Blackwood, Daniel Vladar, Adin Hill, Samuel Montembeault, and Karel Vejmelka, Even given Samsonov’s struggles at the NHL level, none of those goaltenders have performed consistently, as well. Samsonov has played in more NHL games than any other goaltender drafted in 2015, except for Blackwood. There should be no regrets at present in choosing Samsonov instead of the other goaltenders from that draft class.
The main potential regret of choosing Samsonov was missing out on some talented forwards that were drafted later in the first round and early in the second round. This includes: Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) — 23rd pick; right-wing Travis Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers) – 24th pick; left wing Anthony Beauvillier (New York Islanders) — 28th pick, and left-wing Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) — Round 2 — 35th pick.
Alternatively, the Capitals could have drafted a defenseman instead of Samsonov. The best defensemen drafted after Samsonov were: Travis Dermott (Toronto Maple Leafs) – Round 2 — 34th pick and Brandon Carlo (Boston Bruins) – Round 2 — 37th pick.
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 but was traded to the New Jersey Devils in 2020-21. The best player drafted after him, in either the second round or the third round, was left-wing Anthony Cirelli, who was chosen with the 72nd overall pick.
The Caps did not draft again until late in the fifth round, when they chose defenseman Connor Hobbs with the 143rd pick, who never made it to the NHL. The best players drafted within a round of his selection were: Troy Terry (146th pick) and Andrew Mangiapane (166th pick).
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.
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 to move down in the draft (28th pick). With the 28th pick, the Caps chose defenseman Lucas Johansen.
Johansen’s development was stalled by a series of injuries but he had a great year with the Hershey Bears this past season and finally played a game in the NHL during the 2021-22 season. He is expected to battle it out for a defenseman slot for the Capitals next season, with the expected departures of Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny in free agency.
Perhaps the Caps would have been better off hanging onto the 26th pick as Tage Thompson, who the St Louis Blues drafted in that slot, has now developed into a star player – with the Buffalo Sabres. There’s no guarantee that the Capitals would have chosen Thompson although some mock drafts had projected them to choose him.
But assuming they still traded for the 28th pick, the Caps would have likely been better served by choosing Alex DeBrincat, who Chicago chose with the 39th overall pick and developed into a star. He is the type of high-end forward that the Capitals needed, especially with the team’s current core stars aging.
Other players they could have chosen include center Trent Frederic (pick #29), center Sam Steele (pick #30), forward Jordan Kyrou (Pick #35), defenseman Samuel Girard (pick #47), goalie Carter Hart (pick #48), and forward Filip Hronek (Pick #53).
Third Round and After
In Round 3, the Caps selected center Garrett Pilon with the 87th overall pick who has played three games with the Capitals but has primarily played with the Hershey Bears. The Capitals then selected left winger Damien Riat in the fourth round with the 117th overall pick. He played a partial season with the Hershey Bears in 2020-21 but opted to play in his native Switzerland for the 2021-22 season and has now signed a multi-year contract to remain there.
The Caps’ had two picks in the fifth round, left-wingers Beck Malenstyn and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, who were picked with the 145th and the 147th overall pick, respectively. Both mainly played with the Hershey Bears during 2021-22 but also played in a few games for the Capitals.
In Round 6, the Capitals chose defenseman Chase Priskie with the 177th pick while in the seventh round, the Caps chose defenseman Nikita Zaitsev with the 207th pick. Neither signed contracts with the Caps.
The most notable players drafted in the third round and later after Pilon were: defenseman Victor Mete (pick #100 by Montreal), center Ross Colton (pick #118), and left-wing Jesper Bratt (162nd by New Jersey), the first who hasn’t yet established a permanent spot in the lineup and the latter two who blossomed during the 2021-22 season.
Part 2 covering draft selections made from 2017 to 2019 will be posted later this week.
By Diane Doyle
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