Capitals 2009 draft preview

By Dan Watkins

Top 10 Prospects

1. Karl Alzner, D
2. Simeon Varlamov, G
3. John Carlson, D
4. Anton Gustafsson, C
5. Oskar Osala, LW
6. Michal Neuvirth, G
7. Chris Bourque, LW
8. Francois Bouchard, RW
9. Mathieu Perreault, C
10. Dmitri Kugryshev, RW

Team Needs

Making it to the second round for the first time since the 1998 playoffs, the Capitals made incredible strides this season in their organization. However, it was apparent during the playoff run that the Capitals were just a few pieces away from realistically contending for the Stanley Cup.

On a skilled team that plays an up-tempo style like the Capitals, a scoring line power forward is the type of player noticably lacking. Neither Chris Clark nor Eric Fehr has produced offensively like they should be capable of doing. Fehr was always supposed to be that gritty offensive forward who could net between 20 or 30 goals a season, but after years of injuries and being stuck on lower lines, he’s not likely to develop into more. The Capitals would be wise to add a big forward, preferably a right winger, who is capable of crashing the net and scoring garbage goals.

One other weakness that became extremely apparent in the playoffs is the need for a high quality defensive defensemen. Someone who could clear out the crease and keep the goalie protected is a must if the Capitals hope to take the next step towards the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Holding the No. 24 pick in the draft, the above needs are more likely to be met via trade or free agency.

Organizational Strengths

With affiliates AHL Hershey Bears and ECHL South Carolina Stingrays both winning their respective championships in 2008-09, the Capitals organization obviously has a lot of young talent within their organization, especially at the goaltending position. With Varlamov and Neuvirth battling for time in Washington next season, the Capitals appear to be set in goal for the future. 2008 fourth-round draft pick Braden Holtby also had a strong season in the OHL, followed up by a short stint as the Bears backup goalie.

Centers are also at an abundance in the organization. Mathieu Perreault had a terrific first professional season in Hershey and 2008 first rounder Anton Gustafsson just signed a three-year entry-level deal. On top of these players, Joel Broda and Jay Beagle also have opportunities to play with the Capitals in the near future, although Broda might end up finding his professional home at wing.

Organizational Needs

The Capitals organizational depth at right wing is thin. While Francois Bouchard and Andrew Gordon have great chances at playing with the Caps in the future, neither are the high skilled caliber right wing that the Capitals need to help complete their line-up. Dmitri Kugryshev could also turn out to be a steal, but he has a long way to go in his development before he is ready for NHL time.

A true defensive defenseman is another pressing need for the organization. Karl Alzner and John Carlson are currently slated to help out the Caps defensive core next season and for years to come, but after that, there is a big drop-off when it comes to defensive defensemen. Joe Finley could turn into a solid NHL player one day, but he has to make many strides to improve his overall game before he is considered ready for primetime.

Draft Tendencies

Under George McPhee as general manager, the Capitals like to use their first round picks on WHL players, as evidenced by Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, and Karl Alzner all being taken in the first round since 2002. The Capitals also tend to shy away from strictly defensive defensemen, which has caused depth problems in the organization for a type of player that the Capitals strongly need.

The Capitals draft Europeans, but they like them to develop in North America.  Europeans headed for the CHL next year are the kind most likely to be taken.

Trading picks in the first round to move up or down is not out of the question, and it is hard to see what McPhee is going to do until he actually pulls the trigger on it.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No. 24 Carter Ashton, RW- Lethbridge Hurricanes

Staying in the WHL to keep with past trends, Carter Ashton would be one of the best still available at this point in the draft. He is a big right winger who loves to crash the net and get the dirty goals a team needs to have success in the playoffs, evidenced by his 31 goals this past season. His hands are also above average for a player his size and he has a very strong two-way game. He still needs a couple years of seasoning before he is ready for the NHL, but one day he could be just the top-six winger that the Capitals so desperately need.