Capitals 2008 draft preview

By Zak McGinniss

Top 10 prospects

1. Karl Alzner, D
2. Eric Fehr, RW
3. Semen Varlamov, G
4. Mathieu Perreault, C
5. Francois Bouchard, RW
6. Chris Bourque, C
7. Josh Godfrey, D
8. Andrew Gordon, RW
9. Keith Seabrook, D
10. Michal Neuvirth, G

Team Needs

With the reported departure of longtime goaltender Olaf Kolzig and the potential to lose Cristobal Huet to free agency, the Capitals biggest need is to remove the question mark in net.  The only goalies under contract in the organization are Brent Johnson and Daren Machesney.  While Johnson was formerly a starter with St. Louis, he does not provide the same feeling of confidence that having an all-star goalie provides. 

The Capitals are in immediate need of a mobile defenseman who can take the body with authority, but with better offensive output than current aggressor Shaone Morrisonn.  The Capitals already have seven NHL defensemen on the roster, not including veteran Brian Pothier, who is still recovering from injury. So it will be very difficult to address this need without shipping out a current piece of the lineup.

Washington could also use an intimidating center on the second line, though this spot is most likely spoken for with the return of Michael Nylander from injury and the potential to re-sign Sergei Fedorov.  That being said, a bulldog-like center would open room for Alex Semin to produce, and neither Nylander nor Fedorov bring that type of game.  Meanwhile, assuming the Capitals re-sign Fedorov, he is still 38 years old and the Capitals run the risk of wearing him down over the course of a full season.

As the free agency period approaches, the Capitals must resolve their goaltending situation.  Huet was stellar for the Capitals down the stretch, and will be just as important if the Capitals want to defend their division crown this year.  Adding a defenseman will be harder with the logjam that currently exists without trading some pieces.

Organizational Strengths

While both goaltending and a big defenseman are current needs for the Capitals, the future answers for both are already in the organization.  Semen Varlamov will be coming over to North America this year after playing 33 games for Yaroslav Lokomotiv in the RSL and leading his team to the championship game.  Meanwhile, fellow 2006 draftee Michal Neuvirth backstopped his Oshawa Generals to the Eastern Conference Finals in the OHL playoffs.  Both have been signed by the Capitals and will compete for time over the next few years.  The Capitals will not be quick to rush their young duo, so it can be expected that both will share time in Hershey next year, though one may end up on the Capitals depending on how the current goalie situation resolves itself.  Re-signing Huet will be the key to bridging the gap between the departure of Kolzig and whichever of these prospects eventually becomes his heir.

Meanwhile, Karl Alzner played his final game for the Calgary Hitmen and turned down an opportunity to play with Hershey after a season that saw him named WHL Player of the Year and named captain for Canada in the 2008 World Junior Championships.  While the Capitals have plenty of veteran defensemen on the blue line at this point, Alzner bring a unique game that should earn him an extended look at training camp in September.  It would not be a surprise to see Alzner make the jump directly to the NHL, considering his size and the maturity of his game.  He is the big mobile defenseman the Capitals have been looking for, and the safe game that he plays should translate well to the NHL level. 

Also in the system are first rounders Josh Godfrey and Joe Finley.  Godfrey finished his last year in the OHL and produced 61 points in 60 games, and suited up for Hershey for one of their playoff games as well.  He is a few years from the NHL but should eventually become a regular.  Finley will enter his senior year at UND, where he has been a physical presence on the Fighting Sioux blue line.  Also a few years away, he projects to become a solid third pairing defenseman for the Capitals.

Organizational Weaknesses

While the Capitals boast the most exciting left wings in the NHL with Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, after these two, however, there is a stark drop in talent.  Oskar Osala is the best left wing prospect that the Capitals currently have, and it is most likely that the recently signed Finn will spend the 2008-09 season in Hershey.  Considering the depth that the Capitals have with centers right now in Dave Steckel, Brooks Laich, and Boyd Gordon, it is unlikely that a spot will open on the third and fourth lines this year.

While the Capitals should be set with Niklas Backstrom centering the top line for the foreseeable future, diminutive Mathieu Perreault is the best center in the system.  Perreault recently signed an entry-level deal after another great year for Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, where he produced 114 points in 65 games, leading the Titan in points and assists. Although he has the potential to be an injury call-up to Washington, he will most likely spend his first professional season competing for time with a deep Hershey roster.  He is a very talented center, a fast skater with a quick release, but time will tell if his body can withstand the physicality of the professional game.

Draft Tendencies

For the past few years, the Capitals have been very successful when they have had a very high draft pick, plucking stars such as Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Alzner.  However, they have mixed success with their picks later in the first round.  While former first rounders Mike Green, Alex Semin, and Jeff Schultz have become NHL regulars, other picks such as Sasha Pokulok and Eric Fehr have not progressed as well as their draft number would create expectation.

The Capitals own nine picks in the upcoming draft, including three picks late in the second round.  Considering past draft performances, it would not be a surprise if GM George McPhee packages these picks to move up in the draft.  With as many NHL defensemen the Capitals have, one or more may be involved in a deal as well.  While the Capitals have no qualms drafting international talent, more picks have come from the WHL than any other North American league the past few years.

Draft Picks

Round 1 (23rd overall)
Round 2 (54th overall)
Round 2 (58th overall) – from San Jose
Round 2 (59th overall) – from Philadelphia
Round 3 (84th overall)
Round 4 (94th overall) – from Los Angeles
Round 5 (145th overall)
Round 6 (175th overall)
Round 7 (205th overall)

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft result: Evengi Grachev, C, Yaroslavl Lokomotive

Grachev provides size down the middle in the future, something missing from the current lineup.  Not afraid to hit, this 6’3 center will fill out and become that much stronger in the next few years.  He is capable of strong two-way play, a must for a second-line center on this Capitals team.  Grachev does not shy away from traffic, and is capable of great passing.  Another possibility at this pick is the son of a former Capital, Anton Gustafsson.  He is also a large center with a gifted set of hands.  However, an injured back hampered his play this year, and he appeared in 33 games for Frolunda Jr. and only one game for Frolunda in the SEL.