Any draft that produces a top line defensemen and a starting goalie with great potential should be considered a success. For the Washington Capitals, the 2008 NHL Draft produced stalwart defenseman John Carlson and platoon starter Braden Holtby.
The success of Carlson and Holtby makes up for those players that did not pan out from the draft. Players like Joel Broda (MIN) and Stefan Della Rovere (STL) are still considered prospects, but long shots to see significant time in the NHL.
Anton Gustafsson, C, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit) – 1st round, 21st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Son of former Capital Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, Anton Gustafsson failed to succeed in North America. He signed a three year deal with the Capitals in 2009, but struggled with injuries during Capitals camp. After playing the pre-season in Hershey, it was clear he was not going to get the time needed in Hershey (AHL) and he was not in favor of playing in the ECHL, so Gustafsson returned to Sweden to play. He would return to Capitals camp again in 2010, but again injuries and disconnect from the North American style stood in his way to succeed.
His contract was terminated so he could play in Switzerland where he struggled. He now plays in a lower Swedish league where he has 21 points in 41 games.
John Carlson, D, Indiana Ice (USHL) – 1st round, 27th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games: 201
John Carlson has been an instant success and winner since being drafted by the Capitals. In 2008-09 he played for the London Knights where he scored 76 points in 59 games and was named to the CHL All-Rookie team. He would join the Hershey Bears late for their playoff run where he would help the Bears win the Calder Cup Championship. In 2009-10, Carlson would play in Hershey, but leave the team in December to play for the United States U20 World Junior team where he would score the game winning goal to lead the United States to the gold medal. He would return to Hershey and have 39 points in 48 games and be named to the AHL All-Rookie team as well as win with the Hershey Bears, his second Calder Cup Championship.
It was during the 2009-10 season that Carlson saw his first time in the NHL. That season he scored six points in 22 games along with another four points in seven playoff games with the Capitals. In 2010-11, he would score 37 points in his first full season in the NHL and be named to the NHL All-Rookie team.
Carlson is a solid two-way defenseman that has a good shot and provides strong offense. During his time in the NHL, he has grown to be a top pairing defenseman, often along side of Karl Alzner, and the two together often are the featured shutdown defensive pair. Carlson's future looks bright in the NHL and at 23 years old, has yet to enter his prime.
Eric Mestery was supposed to be a big, stay-at-home defensemen who had a lot of potential. In 2008-09 he was traded from Tri-City to Lethbridge in the WHL. He combined for 19 points in 63 games. The next season he was traded back to Tri-City, but took a step back. That summer, in June 2010, the Capitals decided against signing the young defensemen. Just over a month later, Mestery announced his retirement stating "the game was no longer fun for him".
He did attempt a comeback in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 2010-11 and now is playing for the University of Manitoba. While he has the size to play, Mestery seems destined to be a bust pick for the Capitals.
After being drafted by the Capitals, Dmitri Kugryshev came to North America and played junior hockey in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts. In two seasons, he put up 161 points, including 63 goals, in 123 games. He joined the Hershey Bears where he struggled to experience the same offensive success and scored 14 points in 64 games. Kugryshev showed some good playmaking skills with the Bears, but did not get a good opportunity to show off his offensive side as he often played in the third and fourth lines. His season in Hershey showed he needed more development, but was not a complete failure.
Kugryshev was not part of the Capitals immediate plans and he likely would have needed a few more seasons in Hershey to develop. Kugryshev opted to sign with CSKA Moscow in the KHL for two years and the Capitals terminated the remainder of his contract. It is possible Kugryshev could develop the skills needed to compete in the NHL, but currently he seems content to play in his native Russia.
Braden Holtby, G, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) – 4th round, 93rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 29
After previously drafting goaltending prospects Semyon Varlamov and Michel Neuvirth, the Capitals took a fourth round pick on the Saskatoon Blades workhorse, Braden Holtby. From 2006 to 2009, Holtby would play 176 games in three seasons with the Blades while posting consistent numbers. In 2009-10, Holtby would join the backlog of young Capitals goalies and was assigned to play in South Carolina of the ECHL. He would only play 12 games before injuries caused him to be called up to Hershey (AHL). In his first season with the Bears, he would play 37 games and post a 2.32 goals against average along with a .917 save percentage. He also served as Neuvirth's backup in the playoffs as the Bears won the Calder Cup.
In 2010-11, Holtby would be pegged to play in Hershey where he would once again dominate and was named to the AHL All-Star team. Again, injuries would cause him to be promoted, but this time to the NHL. He was dominant in 14 games he played where he posted a 1.79 goals against average and .934 save percentage. Capitals depth would return him to Hershey in 2011-12. He did manage to play seven regular season games in the NHL that season but it was not until the playoffs that he really made a name for himself on the world stage. In 14 playoff games he posted a goals against average of 1.95 and a save percentage of .935.
This season, he seemed primed to at least split the starting goalie duties in Washington. The lockout forced him back down to Hershey, where he was once again strong. Currently, Holtby is splitting duties with Michael Neuvirth on a struggling Capitals team. His stock is still high and with improved consistency, he should have long career in the NHL.
Joel Broda, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) – 5th round, 144th overall
NHL Games: 0
In the WHL, Joel Broda was a sniper who put up big numbers in the goal column. After being drafted in 2008, Broda would be traded from Moose Jaw to Calgary and score a combined 53 goals in the WHL, tops in the league. He would return to Calgary in 2009-10 where he scored 74 points in 66 games. Broda appeared to have done everything he could have to earn an entry-level contract by the Capitals, but that was not the case.
Broda would go unsigned, but it would not take long for the Minnesota Wild to sign the center to an entry-level deal. In 2010-11, his first pro season, he would split time between Bakersfield (ECHL) and Houston (AHL). In Bakersfield, he had 17 goals and 30 points in 32 games while be named to the ECHL All-Star team. He would add another seven points in 22 games with Houston. He has continued his play in Houston where he has developed into a two-way forward. He has not had great offensive success in the AHL, but is still a prospect that has some upside and a shot at the NHL.
Greg Burke, LW, New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (EJHL) – 6th round, 174th overall
NHL Games: 0
After being drafted in the sixth round by the Capitals, Burke would attend college in his home state at the University of New Hampshire. Burke had some success in his freshman year, but has struggled with injuries including shoulder, knee, and most recently a concussion. Burke's health has been a big impairment to reaching his potential.
As a senior, it has yet to be seen if the Capitals will tender a contract to Burke after his season ends. The Capitals have a number of prospects close to turning pro and Burke may miss out. He is a long shot to make the NHL, but could catch on with an ECHL or AHL club which is likely the only way to continue his hockey career after this season.
Stefan Della Rovere, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL) – 7th round 204th overall
NHL Games: 7
Stefan Della Rovere is an agitating winger who possessed good goal-scoring ability at the OHL level. His rights would be traded to the St.Louis Blues for enforcer, D.J. King. That same season, 2010-11, the Blues would call Della Rovere up for seven games, which so far is the only NHL action he has seen. He would spend the remainder of the 2010-11 season and the 2011-12 with Peoria where he had 226 penalty minutes in two seasons.
This season, Della Rovere reported to camp with an off-season knee injury and as a result, has spent most of the season with Evansville in the ECHL. It appears that his skill is limited to physical, chippy play and because he has not brought more to his game, his NHL potential has slipped.