With a bevy of talent on the NHL roster and impressive prospects on the rise, the Washington Capitals could afford to offload some picks to add depth at the trade deadline. They did just that, acquiring Eric Belanger from the Minnesota Wild for a 2010 2nd round pick, Scott Walker from the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2010 7th round pick, Milan Jurcina of the Columbus Blue Jackets for a conditional pick in 2010, and Joe Corvo from the Hurricanes for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala, and a 2011 2nd round pick. On draft day, the Capitals only made five selections, trading the 116th and 146th picks for Toronto’s 112th pick.
In the end, the Capitals selected three forwards, a defenseman, and a goaltender, drawing from both European and North American development programs.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
1st round, 26th overall
6’0, 172 lbs
In the final pre-draft NHL Central Scouting Rankings, Kuznetsov was ranked third among European skaters. He fell to the Capitals at the 26th pick mostly because of the so-called “Russian Factor”, the fear that Russian players would rather play in the KHL than pursue an NHL career in North America. Some scouts pegged Kuznetsov as a top-10 talent but figured he was too risky to take a higher pick. Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee had no qualms about taking Kuznetsov 26th overall, saying his scouts slotted the Russian as the 12th-best player in the draft.
With Russian players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Semyon Varlamov on the Caps’ roster, Kuznetsov should be more interested in an NHL career. He certainly appears to have the talent for one. He captained Team Russia at the 2010 U-18 Championships and had a superb statistical showing, notching a team high 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and a plus-eight in seven games. He was voted one of Russia’s top three forwards at the tournament as well. He was also a participant in the 2010 World Junior Championships.
He is very skilled, possessing soft hands and a knack for navigating into traffic areas. The 18-year-old is also very patient with the puck, creating open ice and scoring opportunities for his linemates. He can beat most defenders one-on-one with his slick stick-handling skills. While playing in the KHL, he only managed two goals and six assists in 35 games. This however can be attributed to playing in a men’s league against much older and stronger opponents.
Kuznetsov seems like the stereotypical Russian prospect: all the talent in the world but lacks consistency and some question his mental makeup. He also needs to bulk up and improve his defensive play in order to make it to the NHL. With all that said, if his game continues to improve and he shows a commitment to playing in the NHL, the young forward has the talent to be one of the biggest steals of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Kuznetsov is under contract to Chelyabinsk for two more seasons and it’s expected he will play there next season.
Galiev was ranked twentieth overall among North American skaters for the NHL Central Scouting Rankings, but like Kuznetsov, he fell all the way to 86th overall, mostly because of the “Russian factor”. Some scouts ranked him as a first round talent but were fearful of his commitment to play in NHL. Considering he played for St. John of the QMJHL last season and for the Indiana Ice of the USHL a year earlier, this fear of defection is seemingly unfounded.
Galiev finished the QMJHL regular season with 15 goals and 45 assists in 67 games. In the postseason, he led all QMJHL rookies with 19 points (eight goals and 11 assists) in 21 games. He was a finalist for QMJHL Rookie of the Year award and named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. He patterns his game after Semin and lists the Washington Capitals as his favorite team. He, like Kuznetsov, is a slick puck-handler but more of a passer than a shooter. Scouts commend his good foot-speed, on-ice vision, and offensive creativity. They also tout his defensive capabilities, saying he shows good hustle while defending and just needs to work on his positioning and defensive awareness. The 18-year-old needs to bulk up to survive the rigors of the NHL but has shown standout playmaking capabilities and has a bright future with his favorite team.
He has a few more years of junior eligibility and is expected to return to St. John for the 2010-11 season.
To select goaltender Philipp Grubauer, the Capitals traded the 116th and 146th pick to the Maple Leafs to move up to the 112th spot.
Expectations for Grubauer have gradually risen after a great showing in the Memorial Cup and a spectacular performance for the Germans in the second division of the World Junior Championships. He posted a 13-1-2 record in 19 games with Windsor, sporting a .906 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average. He led Germany to the gold medal in the second division of the 2010 WJC, posting a miniscule 0.64 goals against average and .974 save percentage in five games, en route to being named the best player on his team and elevating Germany to the first division for the 2011 WJC.
Scouts say he is tremendously athletic and possesses amazing flexibility. He is very good at covering the bottom of the net, making flashy pad saves with his quick legs. He is also calm in net and challenges shooters well. He can over-commit to the play and be beat by patient forwards. He also can be streaky in net at times and needs to work on blocking high shots.
The 18-year-old was traded to the Kingston Frontenacs from Windsor at the OHL Entry Draft and is slated to be the starting goalie for Kingston. With a few more years of junior eligibility, he will have time to work on his consistency and the holes in his game. He is expected to play for Kingston next season and almost assuredly the one after that. If he can add some consistency and better positioning to his already outstanding reflexes, he could very well make it in the NHL, at the very least as a solid backup.
Caleb Herbert, C – Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars (HS-MN)
5th round, 142nd overall
5’10, 180 lbs
A runner-up to Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award, forward Caleb Herbert dominated the Minnesota high school ranks, posting 55 points (26 goals, 29 assists) in 25 games for Bloomington Jefferson. While he doesn’t possess much size, he has high-end offensive skill, a good mind for the game, and great speed. However, it remains to be seen if that skill will translate to the next level let alone the NHL. He seems to be more of a long-term project, but with an already impressive roster and strong crop of prospects, the 18-year-old have plenty of time to hone his skills and potentially be an impact NHLer.
Herbert is expected to play for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL next season before playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2011-2012.
Sam Carrier, D – Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL)
6th round, 176th overall
6’1, 186 lbs
With their last draft pick, the Capitals selected the offensive-minded Carrier of Lewiston. He led Lewiston defensemen in points with 10 goals and 32 assists and has a big, booming shot from the point. He is a prototypical offensive-defenseman who makes good outlet passes and can quarterback a powerplay. The knock on him is that he lacks size and physicality, and his minus-nine rating leaves something to be desired on the defensive end. If he can add some weight to his frame and improve his overall play in the defensive zone, he could be a solid puck-moving defenseman and powerplay specialist.
The 18-year-old is still very raw so expect him to take advantage of his remaining years of junior eligibility.
Patrick Harbolick contributed to this article.