Capitals 2004 draft evaluation

By Dan Watkins

The 2004 NHL Entry Draft was a turning point for the Capitals organization. After gaining the first overall pick in the lottery, the Capitals selected franchise winger Alex Ovechkin to build their young team around. But the draft wasn’t just top heavy for the Caps, as there are two more players with significant game experience and three beyond that with cups of coffee at the NHL level.

The Capitals had the second highest game-per-pick yield from their 2004 class, at 59 games.

Alexander Ovechkin, LW
1st round, 1st overall – Moscow Dynamo (Russia)
NHL Games Played: 324
Status: NHL Player

Taken with the first overall selection, Ovechkin has lived up to the hype surrounding him in 2004. Already with 219 goals and 420 points in his first four seasons, Ovechkin could be one of the highest scoring wingers in NHL history.

Ovechkin has all the tools to be one of the best in the world. Not only is he a speed demon on skates, but he is also one of the best hitters in the game. Combine that with solid passing abilities, great awareness, deadly slap and wrist shots, and personality to spare, and you have yourself a franchise winger with a unique skill set that had never been seen in the Capitals organization.

At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, Ovechkin was locked into a 13-year deal with the Capitals, so he is obviously expected to be the face of the franchise for the next decade and beyond.

Jeff Schultz, D

1st round, 27th overall – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 174
Status: NHL Player

When drafted, Schultz was thought to be more of an NHL project. Tall, lanky, and an awkward skater, the Capitals have had a lot of patience with his development. And to a certain extent, it has paid off.

Schultz is a defensive defenseman who could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. He has solid positioning and normally makes smart passes out of the zone. He also has a very accurate shot from the point, when he decides to use it.

While Schultz is considered an NHL player, he still has a long way to go in his development. He is often caught flatfooted and is beaten to the outside easily. Screening his own goalie is also something that has to be improved upon as well. With a new defensive coach in the Capitals organization, better play from Schultz is possible going forward.

Mike Green, D
1st round, 29th overall – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 242
Status: NHL Player

Having scored only 14 goals during his best season in the WHL, Green has burst onto the NHL scene in the past two seasons, scoring 18 and 31 goals respectively. Green is an offensive-minded defenseman with a cannon of a shot. His wrist shots are also very accurate, which is a great tool to have when you pinch into the zone as much as Green does.

The smooth skater can also run the power play from the point and distributes the puck very well for his age. Having 144 points already this early in his career is quite an accomplishment, but Green does need to work on his play in the defensive zone. A heavy hitter capable of laying out the best of them, Green is still often times outworked in his own zone, which leads to costly goals. Despite the defensive deficiencies though, Green is still the Capitals franchise defenseman. His offensive prowess heavily outweighs his defensive liabilities, and with age and experience, Green should be able to improve upon play in his own zone.

Chris Bourque, LW
2nd round, 33rd overall – Cushing Academy (Mass. H.S.)
NHL Games Played: 12
Status: NHL Prospect

When Bourque was taken early in the second round, it was much higher than expected. Nearly five years later, the son of legendary defenseman Ray Bourque has been able to establish himself as a top AHL talent, routinely scoring around 20 goals per season. For his size, Bourque is very aggressive and can throw some effective hits. The question for undersized players is always the same though. Can they do it at the NHL level?

Having only a couple of recalls during his young hockey career, Bourque has not received a quality opportunity to prove himself in the NHL. In six games of action this season, he was able to score his first NHL goal against the Sabres. Once again though, his size might limit him at the NHL level, where he has shown in his short time with the team that bigger opponents can push him off the puck fairly easy. This next coming season is going to be make or break for Bourque. He could still turn into a solid NHL player however, but will it be with the Caps?

Mikhail Yunkov, C
2nd round, 62nd overall – Krylja Jr. (Russia)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

In the five years since being drafted, Yunkov has yet to make the jump to North America. A recent report out of Russia had him signed with the organization, but there has been nothing confirmed.

If he does decide to come over, he will probably need an adjustment period in Hershey. Weighing around 180 pounds, Yunkov needs to fill out more to be able to handle the tougher style of North American play. The Caps have reason to believe he will handle himself well though. In the last two seasons playing in Russia for Spartak, he increased his point totals from 10 to 18, and doubled his assist totals during that time, going from six to 12. If he can adjust to the North American style of play, the young center might be able to eventually find a spot on the Capitals second line. He is strong in most aspects of his game, but does not stand out in any largely significant way. With above average passing ability and solid defensive awareness, perhaps Yunkov will be a bright spot during the Washington Capitals training camp.   

Sami Lepisto, D
3rd round, 66th overall – Jokerit Helsinki (Finland)
NHL Games Played: 14
Status: NHL Prospect

Lepisto is an intriguing prospect, in that he is slightly older due to being passed over in the 2003 draft. Further along into his development than most prospects playing in Hershey, Lepisto has had two very strong seasons in North America since making his debut at the AHL level in 2007-08. He had 38 assists and a total of 42 points in 70 games this past season is not an easy thing to do for a defenseman in the AHL, but unfortunately injuries cut Lepisto’s year short and he is now sitting in the stands watching his teammates compete for the Calder Cup.

In his brief stint in the NHL, Lepisto has looked solid offensively and horrid defensively. While he did rack up four assists in only seven games played this season, he was often out of position and pinched at the wrong moments. This lead to many odd-man rushes and a few goals against. If Lepisto hopes to make the cut in the NHL, he has to improve his decision making and defensive zone awareness. Next year will be a telling year for him too. He has to have a spectacular training camp to make the team as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Lepisto has the tools to compete, but will he be able to make the jump to the NHL permanently?

Clayton Barthel, D
3rd round, 88th overall – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

In drafting Barthel, the Capitals thought that they were getting a large and physical defensive defenseman. It was almost seen as a very safe pick for being towards the end of the third round. Things did not go as according to plan, and five years after being drafted, Barthel is no longer in any NHL system.

Barthel came to numerous training camps in Washington but never stood out among his peers. After five full seasons in the WHL, Barthel had not improved as much as the Caps would have hoped, and he was not signed. Since then, he has had a couple of short stints in the ECHL, and is now playing in Germany. Barthel will most likely never return to North America at a level higher than the ECHL.

Oscar Hedman, D
5th round, 132nd overall – Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik (Sweden)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

Brother of NHL super prospect Victor Hedman, Oscar was never able to shine and stand out. Coming from the well credited Modo hockey program in Sweden, Oscar was originally thought to be a possible steal in the 2004 NHL entry draft. After a few training camps in North America however, he simply did not stand out enough for the Caps to offer him a contract.

Currently playing for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, Hedman put up respectable numbers for a defenseman this past season, garnering 11 points in 55 games played. Hedman will probably not have a future in North America, especially now that he is no longer part of the Capitals organization.

Pasi Salonen, LW

5th round, 138th overall – IFK Jr. (Finland)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

The offensively gifted Salonen looked to be a promising late-round pick. At the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Salonen even came over to North America and had success on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and current Capitals prospect Francois Bouchard during training camp. Unfortunately, he was unable to stick and didn’t sign a contract with the Capitals, making him free to return back to Finland.

Now playing with HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish League, Salonen has no future in North American professional hockey. He is one of those players who can play and be affective in Europe, but when exposed to the North American game, their weakness shine through. Even on a successful line with Backstrom and Bouchard, it was easy to see that while Salonen made some nice plays at times, he was always pushed off the puck too easily and wouldn’t fight through the check. Expect Salonen to remain in Finland for the rest of his hockey career.

Peter Guggisberg, RW

6th round, 166th overall – Davos (Switzerland)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

Much like Salonen, Guggisberg never successfully made the transition to the North American pro game. A very highly skilled winger in his own right, Guggisberg has put together some solid seasons in the Swiss A league, even scoring 39 points in 48 games this past season. With numbers like this, Guggisberg definitely has the potential to play at a higher level, but will another team take a shot at him now that he is not a member of the Capitals organization?

Guggisberg is another highly-talented European player who is unlikely to ever see North American ice. Look for him to possibly compete for a spot on the Swiss national team as the years go by.

Andrew Gordon, RW
7th round, 197th overall – Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL)
NHL Games Played: 1
Status: NHL Prospect

Drafted as a project out of a lower junior A league in Canada, Gordon attended St. Cloud State and had three very successful years with the team before turning pro at the start of the 2007-08 season. His success didn’t end there though, as he has been able to put up 51 points and 45 points in the two seasons spent with the Hershey Bears. He even appeared in one game for the Capitals this season.

Gordon is an interesting prospect because he has the skills to be a top-six winger in the NHL. With that said however, he will probably be more suited for a third line spot in the big league due to his ability along the boards and a solid aggressive nature. Gordon never shies away from contact and is one of the first players in scrums to protect his teammates. A solid looking prospect, Gordon will probably either top out at the second or third line in the NHL. He will get more opportunities at the NHL level next season with the Caps.

Justin Mrazek, G
8th round, 230th overall – Estevan Bruins (SJHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

Mrazek is a hybrid goalie with a quick glove hand. Even though he came to multiple training camps with the Capitals, he never displayed enough potential. Playing four years at Union College, Mrazek had a spotty NCAA career, losing the starting job in his senior year after playing the majority of his team’s games the previous year.

The Regina native is not part of the Capitals organization anymore and appears to have retired.

Travis Morin, C
9th round, 263rd overall – Minnesota State University (NCAA)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

After being signed by the Capitals before the 2007-08 season, Morin has been prolific, but at the ECHL level. He was one of the league’s leading scorers this past season with 88 points.

The smart and hard-working center has a great overall skill set, but excels in his passing abilities. He has great awareness, and never really looks out of place. Because of Hershey’s depth the past two season, he has not got a real chance to prove himself at the AHL level yet, only playing in five games total. The ECHL All Star has nothing left to prove in the ECHL, and should get a chance in the AHL next year. He may have to leave the organization to do it, however.