Capitals Draft Look Back – 1996

By Jeff Charlesworth

With the entry draft on the horizon, and the Capitals coming off what might be their best draft ever, I thought I would take a look back at what is considered the Caps’ worst draft of the 1990s. In 1996, Washington had twelve picks – including seven of the top 100. Not only that, but there was an NHL-calibre player on the board every time their turn came up. Now, just four years later, they have only one player to show for it.

This season the Capitals dealt former first round picks Alexandre Volchkov to Edmonton and Jaroslav Svejkovsky to Tampa Bay. That left the Capitals with young centre Jan Bulis as the only player under contract from their entire 1996 draft.

Washington held all of their picks 1 through 9 except the 4th rounder (98th) that they traded to Colorado for Anson Carter. They had acquired four extra selections through trades: L.A.’s 1st (4th overall ) and Dallas’ 4th (85th) from the Kings in exchange for Byron Dafoe and Dimitri Khristich; Dallas’ 3rd (58th) from Colorado for John Slaney; and Chicago’s 4th (74th) for Igor Ulanov.

Let’s take a look at the selections that David Poile and the Washington Capitals made in 1996, and try to determine what they were thinking on draft day and where they went wrong.

RW Alexandre Volchkov 6’1″ 194 – Barrie Colts (OHL)

(1st round, 4th overall – originally Los Angeles’ pick)

C.S.B. Ranking: 2nd, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 3rd N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Volchkov was the ultimate risk on draft day. He was miles above anyone else in the draft talent-wise, but was labelled as a troublemaker and was not liked by his teammates. He was a possibility to go first overall, but was passed over by the Senators, Sharks and Islanders. The Capitals felt they had a potential star on their hands if they could harness him.

What happened? Not everyone has given up on him, but the Capitals lost patience with his lack of production. He was given a last chance at training camp this year and played extremely well, but slumped when he was assigned to the AHL.

Who should they have taken? D Derek Morris (Calgary- 13th)

LW Jaroslav Svejkovsky 6’0″ 195 – Tri-City Americans (WHL)

(1st round, 17th overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 28th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 16th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? He was coming off a 58 goal, 100-point rookie season in the WHL and was eligible to turn pro immediately. His lack of size prevented him from being a top ten pick. The Caps needed offense at the NHL level, and hoped that he could help.

What happened? He has shown flashes of talent, but fell victim to the numbers game in Washington. They didn’t have room for him in the NHL, but couldn’t send him down to the minors either. It hurt to trade him, but he wouldn’t be getting any ice time right now and would be wasting away.

Who should they have taken? C Marco Sturm (SJ – 21st)

C Jan Bulis 6’0″ 194 – Barrie Colts (OHL)

(2nd round, 43rd overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 14th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 36th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Caps scouts fell in love with him while watching Volchkov in Barrie. He should have gone higher, but was overshadowed on a star-studded Colts team. The Caps were extremely happy to find him at this spot.

What happened? The only pick that went right, Bulis is a centrepiece of the Capitals’ future. He was able to step into the NHL after only two years and has progressed exactly the way Washington wanted him to.

Who should they have taken? Bulis was the best choice at this spot.

D Sergei Zimakov 6’1″ 194 – Soviet Wings (CIS)

(3rd round, 58th overall – originally Dallas’ pick)

C.S.B. Ranking: 18th, European skaters

Actually drafted: 9th European skater taken

Why was he selected? A bit of a reach this high, but the Capitals felt he could contribute right away. They probably envisioned him pushing for a spot at training camp

What happened? He has bounced around the Russian Superleague-now playing for his third team. The Capitals’ defence corps depth and his inconsistency combined to keep him in Russia.

Who should they have taken? D Tom Poti (EDM – 59th)

G Dave Weninger 6’1″ 160 – Michigan Tech (NCAA)

(3rd round, 74th overall – originally Chicago’s pick)

C.S.B. Ranking: 18th, North American goalies

Actually drafted: 6th N.A. goaltender taken

Why was he selected? He was already 20 years old on draft day, but was a starter as a freshman in college. Perhaps the Capitals thought they convince him to turn pro early.

What happened? He stayed at Michigan Tech for the full four years and was 23 when he graduated. The Capitals already had several goaltenders ahead of him in the system by that time. Dave caught on with the Penguins earlier this season, but was released.

Who should they have taken? RW Mark Parrish (COL – 79th)

RW Shawn McNeil 6’0″ 170 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

(3rd round, 78th overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 117th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 58th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Already a two-year WHL veteran, and had a decent offensive year. He had tons of talent and was playing for one of the best teams in junior hockey.

What happened? He put up great numbers in junior, but his size was a concern. He played in the WHL for five seasons, and is now playing for Louisiana (ECHL).

Who should they have taken? D Michal Rozsival (PIT – 105th)

F Justin Davis 6’2″ 175 – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

(4th round, 85th overall – originally Dallas’ pick)

C.S.B. Ranking: 129th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 62nd N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Very skilled and good height. He was coming off a 30-goal rookie season. Highly rated player seemed to be a future sniper. The Capitals hoped he would get bigger and become a top-line player.

What happened? A bit of a mystery. He was the Memorial Cup’s leading scorer last year and had seasons of 32, 30 and 22 goals during his four year OHL career. For some reason, he quit playing hockey after last year.

Who should they have taken? D Alexei Tezikov (BUF – 115th)

LW Matthew Lahey 6’3″ 225 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)

(5th round, 126th overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 114th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 89th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? He has great size and was thought to be a potential power forward. Already a veteran of two OHL seasons, he had just produced a 20-goal year.

What happened? Although he scored 20 goals three years in a row, it was decided he was not NHL-calibre and was not signed. He played in the ECHL last season, and is currently looking for work.

Who should they have taken? F Andreas Dackell (OTT – 136th)

F A.J. Van Bruggen 6’6″ 230 – Northern Michigan (NCAA)

(6th round, 153rd overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 87th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 106th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? He is an absolutely huge player. The Capitals usually spend one pick per year on a tank, hoping that they can teach him how to play.

What happened? He left college one year after being drafted and entered the WHL. He played one season there before disappearing for good.

Who should they have taken? D Pavel Kubina (TB – 179th)

RW Michael Anderson 6’1″ 186 – U. Minnesota (NCAA)

(7th round, 180th overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 107th, North American skaters

Actually drafted: 124th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Had some natural talent and was enrolled in one of the top college programs in the country. College players make better late round picks because the team holds their rights until they graduate while they develop their skills.

What happened? He never did anything to deserve a contract with the Capitals. He graduated last season and isn’t playing pro anywhere right now.

Who should they have taken? D Tomas Kaberle (TOR – 204th)

D Oleg Orekhovsky 6’0″ 183 – Moscow Dynamo (CIS)

(8th round, 206th overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: 30th, European skaters

Actually drafted: 42nd European skater taken

Why was he selected? At eighteen years of age, he was already a two-year veteran of the Russian Superleague. It was also becoming easier to get players out of Russia. He was definitely a project with below-average size and low point production, but the Capitals obviously saw something in him.

What happened? He was a long shot to make it to the NHL, and he probably decided it was better to play for the top team in Russia than to be a minor-league journeyman.

Who should they have taken? C Lubomir Vaic (VAN – 227th)

F Chad Cavanaugh 6’0″ 185 – London Knights (OHL)

(9th round, 232nd overall)

C.S.B. Ranking: Not rated

Actually drafted: 158th N.A. skater taken

Why was he selected? Undersized, but had some offensive potential. He had just completed his rookie season in the OHL and had scored 31 points. Not really a prospect, as there is usually not much to find this late.

What happened? He did have some decent offensive seasons, including 40 goals last year in the OHL. The Capitals did not offer him a contract however, and he went to training camp with Tampa Bay this year. He is now enrolled in university, playing for Acadia in the CIAU.

Who should they have taken? D Sammi Salo (OTT – 239th)

The 1996 draft was probably one of the shallowest in the nineties, but there were good players to be had throughout the draft. Washington has been able to uncover several late round gems in the past, including current Capitals: Peter Bondra (8th ’90), Ken Klee (9th ’90) and Richard Zednik (12th ’94).

This was supposed to be a change in philosophy for the Capitals, who had always taken the safe pick and tended toward big defensemen and all-around forwards. They took risks and selected a few smaller, flashy forwards. They also ignored Central Scouting Bureau and went out on a limb with several of their selections.

I can remember looking over the list after the draft in 1996. I supported the Volchkov decision then, and I still do now. The Capitals’ problem was and always has been a lack of elite forwards, and taking a chance on a potential superstar is something successful clubs do. Volchkov, Svejkovsky and Bulis were the right picks at the right time for the Caps, and just because two of them didn’t pan out shouldn’t discourage them.

The problem that stuck out for me back then was the third-rounders. Zimakov was a project playing in Russia who probably could have been had later on. Weninger was three years away from turning pro, and the Capitals already had their goaltender of the future in place. McNeil was undersized and had only scored 45 points the previous season. Considering the players that were still on the board at the time, having three third-round picks was the make-or break aspect of this draft. If only one of the three had made it to the NHL – not an unreasonable expectation – the Caps’ future would have been significantly boosted.

Usually, finding a player of Bulis’ calibre would automatically make a draft year a success. But the mess that came after the second round leaves a black mark on this list. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I am not saying that I would have done better. This is only a look back at “what could have been”.