Capitals 2005 draft preview

By Sandor Roberts

Capitals Top 10 Prospects

1. Alexander Ovechkin, LW
2. Alexander Semin, LW
3. Maxime Ouellet, G
4. Eric Fehr, RW
5. Steve Eminger, D
6. Shaone Morrisonn, D
7. Tomas Fleischmann, LW
8. Mike Green, D
9. Jakub Klepis, C
10. Jared Aulin, C

The long-awaited 2005 NHL Entry Draft represents the eighth time that George McPhee and his staff will be responsible for the draft selections, under the stewardship of majority team owner Ted Leonsis. As determined by the 30-team draft lottery, the Capitals selection will be No. 14 overall.

While the Capitals biggest needs remain on the blue line. The Capitals used two of their three first round choices in last year’s draft on defensemen, and are expected to continue to address that need. Since the top two defensemen in this year’s draft, Jack Johnson and Marc Staal, will likely be long gone by time the Capitals announce their selection, they could make a rather unconventional choice and take USNTDP and Lincoln Stars defenseman Brian Lee. Even though Lee is raw at this stage, he did obtain much needed international experience as the second-youngest member of the USA WJC team. Lee has a great deal of offensive upside, and the Capitals will be in no hurry with him as he will matriculate to the University of North Dakota.

Team Needs

With only four players presently under contract (Olaf Kolzig, Boyd Gordon, Alexander Semin and Darcy Verot) accounting for $7 million and a slew of restricted free agents (Josef Boumedienne, Jason Doig, Steve Eminger, Jeff Halpern, Shaone Morrisonn, Maxime Ouellet, Stephen Peat, Matt Pettinger, Brian Sutherby, Trent Whitfield, Brian Willsie, Brendan Witt and Dainius Zubrus) awaiting new deals, the Capitals have a lot of holes to plug in a relatively short amount of time. Five players are UFAs, but is it highly unlikely that any of them will return to the Capitals. Finding consistent goal-scoring will once again present a big problem, and while some of the Capitals prospects who spent last season honing their skills with the Portland Pirates will get time with the big club, this team still has its fair share of growing pains to endure.

One player who should immediately provide a spark to the Capitals offense is Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin, who recently signed with Avangard Omsk, exercised a clause in his contract which will allow him to play in North America this fall. The Capitals will need to sign him to a contract as well as come to terms with 2003 first rounder pick Eric Fehr. The Capitals need to sign Fehr by July 28th, or they will lose his rights and he will re-enter the draft.

Organizational Strengths

By most accounts, the Capitals are the envy of the league with all of the high-end talent in their system. Of course, some of these players came into the fold after their fire sale during the 2003-04 season. Thanks to the lockout, many of these players have been allowed to mature in the minors and provide the organization with a lot of depth, especially at forward. The Capitals can only dream of the possibilities once Ovechkin, Semin (suspended last season for refusing to report to Portland) and Fehr drive the scoring machine in Washington.

Another position of strength is between the pipes. Even though he had an off year, Ouellet will move up to Washington to back up Kolzig. As a result, Maxime Daigneault, who saw time in the AHL this past season due to Ouellet’s injury and played well, will be the main man in Hershey, the Capitals new affiliate.

Organizational Weaknesses

Defense is probably the weakest area for the Capitals prospect pool. Beyond Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn, there are a few that are surefire NHL’ers, but most are years away from contributing.

The goaltending position has quantity, but could be upgraded in quality.

Draft Tendencies

Washington’s tendency at the draft table is to look west…to the Western Hockey League. Armed with three first-round selections last year, the Capitals plucked Mike Green and Jeff Schultz out of the league, bringing the total to six WHL’ers out of nine first round selections dating back to 1999.

The Capitals had 13 selections in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (seven in the first three rounds), and they drafted players from all over the map: WHL (3), Finland (2), Russia (2), SJHL (2), NCAA (1), Sweden (1), Switzerland (1) and USHSE (1). A split between Europeans and North Americans at the end of the day will fairly accurately reflect the Capitals drafting.

Player most likely to be taken (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Brian Lee, D, USNTDP

An offensive-minded defenseman, Minnesota native Brian Lee impressed a lot of people this past year by making the USA WJC team (the second youngest player on the team) and was solid in his brief time with the USHL Lincoln Stars. Lee, 6’3, 200, has already committed to the University of North Dakota, and would provide the Capitals with another young swift-skating defenseman to add to their burgeoning stable.

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