Capitals 2005 draft evaluation

By Kyle Kujawa

The Washington Capitals currently boast the fourth best group of prospects in the NHL as ranked by Hockey’s Future, but the 2005 NHL Entry Draft did not help them achieve that depth. The Capitals focused on defensemen for the day, drafting five along with one goaltender, and one forward that they traded on draft day.

From top to bottom, their 2005 draft was a failure. They selected two players in the first round, neither of whom have an NHL game between them. In fact, only one of their selections has even made noise at the AHL level. The only player to suit up in the NHL from this draft remains the one pick they traded away, just one round after drafting him.

Sasha Pokulok, D — Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
1st round, 14th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Capitals believed Pokulok had all the tools to be a top-four defenseman for them. He had size, at 6’5, 220 pounds, played a physical brand of hockey in his own end, but was also a strong skater with a blistering shot, who could also move the puck, making him a viable option to use on the power play. He got some time there playing for Cornell, but put up only 10 points in 26 games as a freshman, and 13 in 27 as a sophomore.

Unfortunately, injuries quickly derailed what could have been a promising career. He missed time in both seasons he played with the Big Red, including a collarbone injury the year the Capitals drafted him. Concussions became a big problem as Pokulok was limited to 17, 49, and 31 games in the three years of his entry-level contract, with two of the three years spent primarily in the ECHL and not the AHL.

Beyond that, Pokulok never showed much promise on the ice. He scored just seven points in the 53 games he spent with Hershey in the AHL, as his offensive game never took flight. He became mostly a stay-at-home defenseman who no longer possessed the mobility that made him a sought-after NHL prospect.

He wasn’t qualified by the Capitals last offseason, ending his career in their organization. This season, he showed hope that he may not be done entirely, having an all-star season with Bakersfield in the ECHL. He recorded 13 goals and 26 assists in 49 games, earning two tryouts in the AHL. He posted five assists in a seven-game stint with Springfield, and later two goals and an assist in eight games with San Antonio.

Joe Finley, D — Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
1st round, 27th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Capitals weren’t done adding size on the blueline in the first round, trading a pair of second-round picks in the same draft to Colorado for 27th overall, a pick that netted them Joe Finley.

The Minnesota product had spent the year in the USHL, posting 13 points and 181 penalty minutes for Sioux Falls. Size was his most obvious asset, standing at 6’7 and 229 pounds. While Pokulok was supposed to be more of a two-way player, Finley was mean and intimidating but needed to work on his play with the puck. He would have time to do that, as he spent the next four seasons with the University of North Dakota.

Those skills never really materialized for Finley, whose best season with the Fighting Sioux came as a junior with four goals and 11 assists in 43 games. Despite this, Finley is still in the system, signed to an entry-level deal last summer. The Capitals tried him as a forward in training camp, more for his fisticuffs than scoring ability. A soft-tissue hand injury that required surgery limited him to just one game in the AHL and 17 in the ECHL.

He has one more year left on his entry-level deal, and will need to establish his defensive style on an already deep blueline in the AHL if he has any future in the Washington organization.

Andrew Thomas, D — Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
4th round, 109th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Due to the trade of two second-round picks to acquire the Finley pick, the Capitals were left without a selection until the middle of the fourth round, when they took a third straight defenseman with ties to the collegiate level.

Thomas was cut from the same cloth as the first two selections, the main difference being his 6’2 frame compared to the towering heights of the first two selections. Thomas offered a package that is often sought after in a defensive defenseman. He was mobile and could move the puck, but he did not often take offensive risks. He took care of his own end first, offering his relentless work ethic in combination with his ability to deliver devastating body checks.

During his four seasons with the University of Denver, Thomas scored just six goals and added 20 assists in 159 games. He didn’t get a contract with Washington, but Anaheim gave him a one-year deal for the 2008-09 season. He split time between their AHL team in Iowa, registering four assists, and their ECHL club in Bakersfield, where he had 14 assists in 24 games.

Thomas spent this past season without an NHL contract, spending all but one game with the Trenton Devils in the ECHL. He showed some offensive flair with 21 points, but his game still remains defense. He will likely float around the minor leagues for his career, topping out as a serviceable veteran defenseman.

Patrick McNeill, D — Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
4th round, 118th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With a pick acquired in a trade with Boston that ended Michael Nylander’s first term in Washington, the Capitals picked up the high-scoring McNeill, the first overall selection by Saginaw in the 2003 OHL Priority Selection.

McNeill had a tough time living up to that first overall billing, posting 33 points in 66 games with a -29 rating on a struggling Spirit team. His offensive game took flight the following two seasons, with consecutive 20-goal campaigns that helped him to 77 and 58-point seasons, respectively. His 77-point season in 2005-06 was good for tops in OHL scoring among defensemen.

McNeill entered professional hockey considered one of the top offensive defensemen in all of junior hockey, but also very reliable in his own end as he was Saginaw’s top defenseman for three straight seasons. However, he struggled to adjust to professional hockey, spending some time in the ECHL in his first season. He lit up that league with 16 points in 19 games, but only contributed 14 points in 48 AHL games.

While no longer considered a prospect, McNeill had a very strong season in Hershey this year, his third professional season. He chipped in eight goals and 35 points on the annually strong Bears club. However, with prospects like Karl Alzner and John Carlson in the picture, it’s unlikely that McNeill will get an NHL taste in Washington. He is a restricted free agent this offseason and could be brought back for depth, but might be better off ultimately in another organization.

Daren Machesney, G — Brampton Battalion (OHL)
5th round, 143rd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The first non-defenseman selected by Washington was Machesney, a goaltender out of Ontario. In his draft season, he made in the OHL All-Rookie Team and split time as a starter, posting a 2.74 GAA and .917 save percentage.

The following season, playing on a better Brampton club, his numbers sagged slightly, to a 3.03 GAA and .908 save percentage. He was aggressive and quick, with strengths in his glove hand and his rebound control, which was still enough to earn him a professional contract from Washington.

After spending some time with South Carolina in the ECHL, he was able to establish himself as a solid AHL backup. His best season came when he won 22 games in 38 appearances in 2007-08, splitting time with Frederic Cassivi. He recorded a 2.55 GAA with a .916 save percentage, but his numbers inflated the following season as he eventually lost playing time to Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Machesney started more games in the regular season, but Neuvirth saw every minute of playoff action as Hershey won the Calder Cup.

He was not offered a new contract following the season, but caught on with Manitoba in the AHL and played 21 games while backing up Vancouver prospect Cory Schneider. Machesney has proven to be reliable at the AHL level, but is unlikely to get another chance at the NHL level.

Tim Kennedy, LW — Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
6th round, 181st overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 79

Washington’s best pick in the draft happened to spend the least amount of time with the team. Kennedy was the Capitals’ sixth-round pick, but they traded him to Buffalo during the seventh round in exchange for a 2006 sixth-round pick (Mathieu Perreault). Reasons for the trade were immediately clear — Kennedy is a native of Buffalo and the Sabres clearly intended to select him, but the Capitals got there one pick sooner.

Kennedy scored 61 points in 54 games with Sioux City in his draft year, but was also known for his speed and two-way play. He went on to a successful career with Michigan State University. After just 19 points as a freshman, he posted 43 points in 42 games in two straight seasons, including the 2007 season that saw the Spartans capture the National Championship, assisting on the game-winning goal with less than a minute left.

Kennedy quickly worked his way into Buffalo’s long-term plans. In his first and only season in the AHL, he recorded 67 points in 73 games with Portland. That was enough to see him earn a full-time job in the NHL this past season, scoring 10 goals and adding 16 assists in 78 games with Buffalo.

Viktor Dovgan, D — CSKA-2 Moskva (RUS-3)
7th round, 209th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Dovgan was one of the more memorable seventh-round picks of 2005, since his listed birthdate (December 29, 1987), would make him eligible for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, where he was considered to be a potential second or third-round pick. However, the Capitals were able to prove that he was actually born in February, so their pick was permitted.

Dovgan was considered a stay-at-home defenseman with good size. Like most of the defensemen Washington took in this draft, he was considered physical and had a great work ethic. He was mobile as well, though he wasn’t known as a point producer at any level.

Despite the initial steal in getting a player who was regarded as an earlier pick for the following year’s draft in the seventh round, Dovgan never came close to panning out. Washington signed him before the 2006-07 season, but he spent the year with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL and got only one game in the AHL. He spent the next year in Russia before coming back to North America for the final year of his entry-level deal, again spending all but two games in the ECHL.

Washington decided not to bring Dovgan back, so he returned to Russia, signing with Zauralie Kurgan in Russia’s second tier before signing with the KHL’s Automobilist Ekaterinburg in December. He will likely bounce around Russia for the remainder of his hockey career.