Another year, another successful regular season for the Washington Capitals. Led once again by superstar winger Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals were a little less flashy than in past years, but no less difficult to play against. They nearly got over the hump in the post season, but wound up relinquishing a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers.
While the Capitals are currently led by some of the same cast that has been in charge for years, there is a youth movement on the rise. Goaltender Braden Holtby, an NHL regular for a few years now, has finally vaulted himself into Vezina contention. Highly-talented forwards Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov submitted decent rookie campaigns, and will look to make huge leaps forward in year two while do-everything defenseman Madison Bowey waits in the wings.
Entering the 2015 NHL Draft, the Capitals were armed with just four picks, but aimed to make the most of them. The team’s decision to take Ilya Samsonov in the first round might be a question mark for some, but the young goalie should become an exceptional NHL netminder.
They followed that up by addressing a need in the back end, taking Swiss rearguard Jonas Siegenthaler in the second round, and later selecting a couple of Regina defensemen in Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams. Siegenthaler stands the best chance of making a quick impact, though all of the team’s selections are likely at least a year or so away.
Ilya Samsonov, G, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
1st round, 22nd overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 200
In recent years, the Capitals haven’t addressed team needs exclusively when taking the podium in the first round of the draft. This year, they again went with the best player available on their board when they selected Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick.
Samsonov has good size and covers the net well. He’s already got strong positioning and shows good instincts, but what separates him is that he can make the highlight-reel save thanks to his spectacular athleticism. Along with Andrei Vasilevskiy, he is considered one of the best Russian goaltending prospects in years.
There are concerns about him, however. The dreaded “Russian factor” is in play here, especially with him under contract until 2018. There are also concerns about his level of compete. In any event, the Capitals have stashed away a top-notch goaltending prospect that won’t be under the pressure to make his way through the ranks quickly thanks to the presence of Holtby at the top of the Capitals depth chart.
Despite it being such a wonderfully momentous day for him, his family couldn’t be there to see him selected:
“They were back home and couldn’t get off work, but I’m sure they were very happy when they saw me on TV.”
Samsonov has also been watching the NHL a bit as he models himself after two of the Eastern Conference’s best goaltenders.
Thanks to his contract, it will be at least three years before we see Samsonov on North American ice. Depending on the status of Holtby and his own progression, Samsonov could be ready to crack the Capitals lineup by 2018-19, but may spend a year in the AHL to gain starter experience as a professional.
Samsonov spoke with the media via an interpreter after his selection by the Capitals, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Jonas Siegenthaler, D, ZSC Lions (NLA)
2nd round, 57th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 220
With the departure of Mike Green, the Capitals had a need to address, which they did by trading up to select Siegenthaler. At 6’2, he’s already a solidly-built 220, and uses his size well in his own zone. His game is built around the defensive end of the ice, where he uses quality positioning and good mobility as the building blocks of his game.
Siegenthaler described his strengths and weaknesses shortly after being selected at the draft.
“Weakness is my quickness and my shot, but I’m working on it and it’s gotten better and better. Things I do good are one-on-one battles in the corner, physical play, good stick.”
He described his game as being similar to New Jersey’s Adam Larsson, though his offensive upside is significantly less. His future in the NHL will be as a quality top-four defensive defenseman, something the Capitals can’t seem to get enough of especially given the decline of Brooks Orpik.
Siegenthaler is still under contract with Zurich for another season, but has stated that he would like to make the jump to North America after his contract expires. From there, he’ll be given the opportunity to crack the Capitals out of camp, but could need a year in Hershey before making the jump to the NHL full-time.
After his selection by the Capitals on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, Siegenthaler met with the media, with his comments being captured in this HF video.
Connor Hobbs, D, Regina Pats (WHL)
5th round, 143rd overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185
Continuing on the trend of filling the defensive ranks, the Capitals reached a little to grab Regina’s Hobbs. He has decent size for the position, and plays with a mean streak. He is more than willing to drop the mitts to defend a teammate and plays with a little bit of physicality.
He moves well for his size, but is very raw overall and is still trying to find out what kind of player he is. The man himself describes his game:
“I’d say that I’ve got a pretty hard shot. I like to rip the puck and I can make hard passes, mostly tape-to-tape, but I really like to pass the puck hard. I play physical. I really need to work on getting shots through, seeing the lanes.”
Hobbs will get his first full WHL season in 2015-16, and could spend another year there after that. His path to the NHL will likely run through the AHL a few years from now and he’ll have to establish himself as a physical defensive defenseman to make it to the big club.
Hobbs spoke with reporters on Day 2 of the draft, with his comments being included in this HF video.
Colby Williams, D, Regina Pats (WHL)
6th round, 173rd overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 190
Hobbs’ teammate in Regina, Williams fits the mold of the smaller, puck-moving defensemen that the Capitals have shown an affinity for selecting in the past. He is not the dynamic offensive defenseman that they love, but pushes the pace when he’s carrying the puck and has a presence on the power play, leading to a career-high 41 points in 2014-15.
Though he’s a bit undersized, Williams plays with a physical edge in his own zone and doesn’t back down from the physical battles. He needs to get a little bit stronger to stand up to some of the bigger players he faces in those battles, a common thing for most draft prospects.
With three full seasons under his belt in Regina, Williams will likely move on to either the AHL or the USHL in 2015-16. His size and lack of a dynamic offensive ability put him behind the eight-ball in terms of his career path, so he will have to work to overcome those obstacles to make the Capitals.
Follow Ryan Womeldorf on Twitter: @tankcity2015