After missing the playoffs in the 2013-14 season the Washington Capitals parted ways with head coach Adam Oates and general manager George McPhee. In his place, former assistant GM Brian McClellan stepped up to the podium at the 2014 NHL Draft.
Washington did very little dealings in order to get additional assets, and held six picks over the course of the seven round draft. With wingers being an area of need for the Capitals system, the organization used five of its six picks on players capable of playing wing. They continued the trend of drafting raw, average sized, highly skilled players.
While many will look back at the 2014 NHL Draft and remember it as the first McClellan draft, it is important to note that scouts likely already had these picks in place with little input from the newly appointed GM. The 2015 draft will truly be the first McClellan draft. Here is a look at the 2014 selections.
Jakub Vrana, F, Linköping (SHL)
1st round, 13th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 lbs
Vrana hails from the Czech Republic and is currently etching his way into more playing time in the SHL with Linköping. Despite a low scoring 2013-14 with the big squad, Vrana was aged 17 for the majority of the season. As usual with young players in the SHL, it is not necessarily about the point totals but more or less about the fact that they are playing against grown men at an incredibly young age. Make no mistake though, Vrana is an electrifying talent. His offensive skills were among the best in the draft class, especially his creativity with the puck and his knack for finding scoring areas for himself and his teammates.
If the Washington Capitals want to get back to playing an up-tempo and high-scoring style again in the future then Vrana is definitely a player who fits that mold. His speed and shooting are considered plus attributes, but the one knock on him has been his defensive game. Physically, even at 6’0 the youngster has seemed willing to engage against larger opponents in the SHL. However, his defensive responsibilities certainly do take a backseat to his highly creative and offensive oriented mindset. He also needs to bulk up and add some muscle to his frame.
That being said there is a ton of time for Vrana to round out those rough edges as he matures. Even with a rough defensive zone game the potential for him flourishing as a highly creative winger with a natural offensive touch is definitely present.
Vrana met with the media on Day 1 of the 2014 draft following his selection by the Capitals, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Vitek Vanecek, G, HC Bili Tygri Liberec U20 (CZE U20)
2nd round, 39th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 181 lbs
Despite being ranked as the 8th best European goalie by Central Scouting and missing out entirely on the ISS final rankings, the Capitals stepped up and selected Vanecek as the fourth goalie in the draft. This one is definitely an off the board pick. Nonetheless, the Capitals picked up yet another goaltender for a pipeline that has produced some decent backstops in recent times.
Vanecek is a project. He has very sharp reflexes and shows a lot of raw athleticism. His size could be concerning, given that the modern NHL goaltender seems to be getting bigger and bigger, but the Czech does have a lot of desirable qualities for a smallish netminder. The Capitals can also afford to sit on Vanecek for as long as need be. The team already has a young tandem at the NHL level with Braden Holtby and Justin Peters, and behind them are Philipp Grubauer and Ed Pasquale. This gives him plenty of time to adjust to the speed of the professional game and develop good reads to go along with his highlight reel caliber athleticism.
It is not often you see a player drafted out of the AHL. It also is not often you see a hockey player who was born in Cardiff, Wales, nor is it often you see a player flying the banner of Australia. That, however, is the story of Nathan Walker thus far. Drafted as a 20-year old, Walker played primarily in the Czech development leagues until last season when he was given a chance by the Hershey Bears of the AHL. After 43 games, 11 points, and 40 penalty minutes with Hershey the Capitals decided to make him exclusive property of the Capitals by drafting him in the third round. Safe to say that the Capitals will know exactly what they are getting with Walker, and he will have a distinct advantage having already been introduced to the team and the system he will now officially develop under.
Aside from the unique journey of the young Aussie, he has some skills that project well into a potential NHL future. He had been on the radar of NHL scouts since 2011 but was not drafted previously. Despite his smaller stature, Walker utilizes a combo of speed and aggression to impose himself on defenders. He is not afraid to throw the body around or take a beating on the half wall to cycle the puck. That kind of enthusiasm and willingness to battle is always a positive sign. While his offensive ceiling may be somewhat limited, he could have a future as a solid grind line forward given his skill set.
Shane Gersich, F, USNTDP
5th round, 134th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 175 lbs
Gersich is a player you love to take a chance on with a later round pick. He is undersized at 5-11, however, he has warp drive speed and a decent scoring ability. The athleticism of Gersich alone makes him worth a look. The young forward has been very strong with the USNTDP recently, and he will look to continue on the success as he hits his final year of the USHL and then heads to college.
Gersich is committed to a great program with the University of North Dakota for 2015-16. The college route will allow the smallish forward to get bigger and pack on some muscle in order to stand up to the rigors of professional hockey. He has the up-tempo game and potential scoring ability to be a valuable asset for the Capitals in the future.
Gersich met with the media after being chosen by the Capitals, with some of that conversation being captured in this HF video.
Steven Spinner, F, Omaha Lancers (USHL)
6th round, 159th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 180 lbs
The Capitals picked up another college-bound player in Omaha Lancers forward Steven Spinner. As expected with later round picks, Spinner has some good qualities but should largely be considered a project player. With the four-year route he will have plenty of time to fill in the gaps. Spinner is another high-tempo forward with decent offensive skills, however his defensive game and physicality could definitely take a step forward. His speed and playmaking skills are already at a high level, and there is some leadership qualities to him as well. Consistency will be a major factor for him as he moves up in the ranks.
Spinner is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for 2014-15, and the long-term development of the college route will be the best option for the 18-year-old. He is just one of many players the Capitals picked up in the 2014 draft class that speak to a more energized and fast-paced system in the future.
Kevin Elgestal, F, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
7th round, 194th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 172 lbs
Elgestål is not a flashy player but he certainly does have some meat to his game that makes him worth a seventh-round pick. The young man from Sweden has played fairly well for his country on the world stage, and he has also had some pretty solid seasons for Frolunda’s junior squads. Thought of as primarily a pass-first player, Elgestål will probably want to get more engaged and meaner if he wants to have an NHL future. He has decent size for his age and will need to learn to use it rather than being a perimeter player.
It will be interesting to see how Frolunda decides to work Elgestål into the lineup in the next year or so. The Indians were very solid last year and he may have trouble cracking the lineup. However, if he does manage to move up keep an eye on him as he will have to elevate his game to a new level keep up with the pace.
Following the completion of the 2014 NHL Draft, Capitals’ Assistant GM Ross Mahoney met with the media to discuss some of the players chosen by the Capitals. Mahoney’s comments are included in this HF video.