The Washington Capitals had 14 drafted players appear on their NHL roster this season including eight former first round picks. They have had a knack for developing their high end prospects to be impact players on the team, but the prospect depth is not as deep as it was in previous years.
In an effort to re-stock their system, the Capitals selected 10 players at the 2012 NHL draft. The current salary cap will likely require the Capitals to use cheaper, young prospects to fill roster spots so they can afford to keep their top talent. For the 2013 draft, the Capitals need to build upon last year's trend and fill holes in their depth.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, LW
2. Tom Wilson, RW
3. Tomas Kundratek, D
4. Philipp Grubauer, G
5. Stanislav Galiev, LW
6. Michael Latta, C
7. Chandler Stephenson, LW
8. Riley Barber, RW
9. Nate Schmidt, D
10. Patrick Wey, D
Washington's top need will be secondary scoring which could be a non-issue if the team is able to re-sign Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro was the most consistent and reliable player early in the season when the team struggled. He brought a calming presence on the ice in critical times and came in exactly as advertised. The Capitals will struggle to bring anyone else in to fill this void at a salary they can afford. In addition, the Caps do not have any prospects ready to make the move to a top six forward – at least not until Yevgeni Kuznetsov comes overseas.
In addition, the Capitals need to rebuild their organizational depth which includes adding some top AHL talent. The Capitals have built a tradition of winning in their minor league system which has brought the current roster of homegrown talent the confidence and winning expectation. Playing in a winning atmosphere is an intangible asset that is valuable to the complete growth of prospects.
While Braden Holtby solidified his hold on the number one goalie spot for the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth is still a young goalie with a lot of upside, and Philip Grubauer continued the success he had in the ECHL in the AHL – the Capitals goaltending is solid and young. They are not deep at goaltending, but have three goalies that have a lot of upside and long term future in the NHL.
While the team may lack an elite defensive prospect, the Capitals have a large crop of defensemen in their prospect pool. Along with former prospect Dmitri Orlov and late-bloomer Steve Oleksy, Tomas Kundratek, Cameron Schilling, and Nate Schmidt appear to be NHL ready. Connor Carrick and Patrick Wey lead the next wave of young defensemen that could impact the Capitals lineup in a couple years.
The biggest need for the organization is to rebuild the depth of prospects, in particular at center and goaltender. The Capitals have some exceptional young talent in Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson and some emerging talent like Riley Barber and Carrick. While there was improvement in depth after last year's draft, the need still exists.
The Capitals lack depth at center and General Manager George McPhee has made it clear he has no problems moving centers to wing. This thinking makes centers even more valuable and the current crop of center prospects are either long-term projects or older prospects who likely will not make it to the next level.
The current crew of goaltenders in the system is strong, but beyond Grubauer, there is a lot of uncertainty among the goalie prospects. Steffen Soberg was selected 117th overall the 2011 draft, and though he took a step forward, it was not enough for the Capitals to sign him to an entry-level deal and he is longer part of the organization. Goaltenders can take longer to develop, so it would be wise for the organization to add some goaltending depth for the future.
The Capitals have eight selections, including two in the 5th round, in this year's draft. The list of picks is as follows: 23rd, 53rd, 84th, 114th, 127th, 144th, 174th, and 204th overall.
The organization is poised to make some trades at the draft, especially they can acquire older, more developed prospects. In addition, the Capitals' early picks have heavily favored European players while the later picks include many players going the NCAA route. In addition to Europeans, many of the more successful Capitals have come from the CHL.
Based on the Capitals history of drafting Europeans first and the team's organizational needs, trading the 23rd pick is possible. While trading up is possible, it seems more likely the team moves down and either adds more picks or some immediate depth.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
The Washington Capitals return to Plymouth to select Ryan Hartman, who played last season alongside Capitals prospects Wilson and Carrick.
Hartman is a smaller power forward with extremely high work ethic, who can play a physical game and score goals. He is a versatile player, able to play multiple positions and various roles. He is also an outstanding skater and has good hockey sense.
Hartman is a low risk, high reward player because there is little doubt that he can quickly become an energy or checking line forward, but has the signs to develop into a top six forward.
Follow Eric Scheib on Twitter: @EricScheib_HF