We Could Have Had….?!”: Washington Capitals’ Draft Day Misses: 2014 – 2016

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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.

Methodology

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.

Draft regrets for 2000-2010 can be found here.  Draft regrets for 2011-2013 can be found here. The original draft regrets from 2014-2018 can be found here.

Photo: Dennis Schneidler | USA TODAY Sports

2014 NHL Entry Draft

2014 was the first draft in which Brian MacLellan served as the General Manager of the Capitals.

First Round

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.

Second Round

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

Photo: Nelson Star

First Round

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.

Second Round

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.

Later Rounds

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

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

First Round

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

Related Reading
A Retrospective On The Last Decade of Draft Picks by the Washington Capitals
Draft Class Grades (Updated): Grading the Capitals’ Draft Picks in the Last 10 Years — Pre 2019 NHL Entry Draft Edition
21st Century Capitals Draft Picks
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2004
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2007
Capitals’ Draft Class: 2008
We Could Have Had….?!”: Washington Capitals’ Draft Day Regrets – 2014 – 2018
“We Could Have Had…?!”: Washington Capitals’ Draft Day Regrets – 2011-2013
“We Could Have Had:: Washington Capitals Draft Day Regrets –2000 Through 2010″

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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10 Responses to We Could Have Had….?!”: Washington Capitals’ Draft Day Misses: 2014 – 2016

  1. Anonymous says:

    Shesterkin is a tough swallow. Imigine.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d say all of them. Pretty much no franchse altering pciks simce Burakovsky and Forsberg, whom they traded:) That makes Wilson the last great pick, which was 10 years ago. Let’s hope the upcomming generation will turn out to be solid NHLers: Fehervary, Leason, Protas, MCM, and Lapiere.

      • steven says:

        That is why they need a new GN as GNBN drafts very similat or worse than GMGM. A younger Gm and front office staff would be more intune with where hockey going and doing and realize taht the rebuild is more important to the franchise than Ovie getting a scoring record and that the team as it ismade up toay is not a Stanley Cup team. Although the owner and GM say those words, they are a Stanley Cup team, I wonder if they really believe them and are just delusional. Yes there are misses in the draft but I bet if the Caps drfts were compared to others who are drafting in the same position the caps are it would be the same; as the draft is really a crap shoot after the first few picks.

  2. Antti says:

    Jesper Bratt is a big star now.

    • steven says:

      A “Big Star” now….lmao!! Lets see 26 and 37 for a total of 73 points is not a “Big Star”. in his 5…..yes 5 year career he has played 307 ganes and scored 70 goals and 133 assists for 203 points. There is no consistancy in his play and averaging 14 goals a year is NOT a star.

    • Diane Doyle says:

      I wouldn’t call Bratt a big star but now revised that section to note that both he and Ross Colton blossomed in 2021-22

  3. Lance says:

    The draft must be really hard to get right. I’ve watched since the 80’s and we missed on so many stars it’s unbelievable. Most other teams missed alot, too.

    McMicheal, LaPierre, Protas, Leason, Alexeev, Iorio and Pilon look like NHLers to me. That’s good drafting when you’re consistently picking in the 20s.

    I think BMac and Mahoney are sharp. They do a good job of executing their plans. It might be time to plan a rebuild.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      It is. All teams have these “oops” on their draft days. Interesting to look at Caps and what could have been, though.

    • GR+in+430 says:

      I’ve posted this before, but will repeat it again: It is VERY difficult to project whether 18-yr-olds will develop into great, or even good, NHL players. That’s particularly true after the first few picks each year, and as you indicated, picking in the 20s is generally a crap shoot each year. The Caps haven’t had a top 5 pick or even a top 10 pick in 15 years (Alzner, #5 in 2007).

      GMGM traded away their highest pick in that 15 years — picked #11 — for a bag of magic beans that never sprouted. Worst. Trade. Ever.

      GMBM traded away another relatively high pick in Vrana but at least got a reasonably talented player back. During his draft year Vrana was considered a great talent who disappeared when he didn’t have the puck. Which is what he has remained to this day. Perhaps he has finally matured and will become a consistent 2-way star in Detroit, but then again, maybe not.

      Other than that, the Caps have actually done reasonably well in finding pretty good NHL players via draft, trade or free agency despite drafting late in each round. They have won a lot of games over the past 15 years.

      Could they have done better? Sure. But every team misses on a lot of picks. During the same period covered in Diane’s article above, Tampa’s top 2 picks each year were: Tony De Angelo, Dominik Masin, Mitchell Stephens, Matthew Spencer, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek. None of those guys has his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup, despite the overall franchise success, and I wouldn’t consider any of them to be top-tier NHL players. But Tampa was successful because they found excellent players like Cirelli, Colton and Pointe further down in the draft. Maybe that was skill. Maybe luck. As I said, drafting 18-yr-olds is a crap shoot…

      • Diane Doyle says:

        I haven’t done the research but most teams probably have a similar list of misses. TB has had some real busts in the first round (remember Slater Koekkoek) but have found guys like Ondrej Palat late. And found Kucherov in the 2nd round.

        I think every team has their laments. Boston had found Pastrnak but the next year had 3 mid first round picks and didn’t find a star among those three picks. Later picks that year were better.

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