Washington Capitals 2011 draft preview

By Patrick Harbolick

Photo: Hockey’s Future has Alexander Khokhlachev going in the first round to the Washington Capitals in the the HF staff mock draft. In his first season playing North American hockey, Khokhlachev was one of the top forwards for the Windsor Spitfires. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Top 10 Prospects

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW
2. Braden Holtby, G
3. Dmitri Orlov, D
4. Mathieu Perreault, C
5. Cody Eakin, C
6. Stanislav Galiev, C
7. Patrick Wey, D
8. Samuel Carrier, D
9. Caleb Herbert, C
10. Jay Beagle, C

Team Needs

With several forwards eligible for free agency, it remains to be seen what will become of the Capitals’ forward core for next season. With the jury still out on Francois Bouchard and Dmitri Kugryshev, the Capitals could use some high-impact forwards to round out their top-six. They could also use strong two-way players to populate the bottom-six, as they may lose Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon to free agency.

The Capitals currently boast a solid top-six defensive core, but they need more depth among their prospect pool. Dmitri Orlov and Patrick Wey are rising stars on the back end, but outside of them, most of their defensive prospects aren’t likely to crack the big club’s roster any time soon. On that note, the Capitals are in need of more depth on the blue line, with serious NHL potential.

Goaltending doesn’t appear to be an issue, with three NHL-capable netminders vying for ice time with the big club. Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov, and Braden Holtby all played well when they got into games, but Varlamov has struggled with injuries problems and Holtby might be too inexperienced to play a significant role in the NHL this upcoming season. With some longer-term projects on the way, the Capitals appear to be set at goaltender, at least for the next few years.

Organizational Strengths

Center ice is a position of strength of the Capitals’ prospect pool, with several young centers coming up the ranks, maturing with every passing season. Most of them are still at least a year or two away from contributing in the NHL, but Cody Eakin and Jay Beagle could be ready to play with Washington as soon as next season. They also have a plethora of grinders, such as Garrett Mitchell and Trevor Bruess, but it remains to be seen if they’ll ever crack the Capitals’ bottom-six.

Much like center ice, the crease is populated with maturing NHLers, in Neuvirth, Varlamov, and Holtby. But beyond those three, the Capitals organization possesses depth at goaltender. Philipp Grubauer and Brandon Anderson had decent seasons in the CHL, but they both figure to be longer-term projects in terms of their development.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Capitals lack depth on the wings, however. They lack impact players on both the left and right wings, with a need for scorers and power forwards who can create havoc in the opposing team’s crease. In addition, they could use more grit and toughness throughout their forward core. They need players who aren’t afraid to back down from the rough stuff and don’t get knocked off their game easily.

Injuries ravaged the Capitals’ defensive depth on the farm this past season, exposing their less than stellar depth. On that note, they may seek to shore up their depth in the offseason via trades or free agency, but could also look longer-term by drafting players with pro potential. With a relatively stable top-six defensive core locked up for next season, the Capitals have the luxury of not having to rush any players they end up taking in the draft.

Draft Tendencies

In the past few drafts, the Capitals have gone all over the board in the first round, selecting players from the CHL, SEL, and KHL. Typically speaking, they avoid players from the USHL or the NCAA when make their first round picks. However, they tend to take fliers on later round picks, regardless of the league they play for. In the 2010 NHL draft, they took two players from the QMJHL, one from the OHL, one from the KHL, and even one out of high school. General Manager George McPhee takes some risks in the first round, often selecting high-octane players with some knocks on their consistency or commitment to playing in the NHL. The Russian Factor has scared teams from drafting skilled Russians players, fearing they will never make the jump to North America. But with Russian stars Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, McPhee seems to have a more secure position than most general managers when taking Russian players. So taking some risks with late first round picks isn’t uncommon for the Capitals.

In the later rounds, McPhee tends to take more long-term projects, with the hopes they reach their potential with appropriate development time. In terms of specific physical attributes, the Capitals don’t really display much of a preference in any area. They don’t covet bigger or smaller players, typically just going with the higher player on their scouting lists or the best player available. They do favor players with speed however, preferring mobility on offense and defense, with good puck skills also being a plus.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No.26: Alexander Khokhlachev, C

Barely eligible for the 2011 draft, the 17-year-old Khokhlachev would bring a combination of skill, grit, and strong character to the Capitals organization. He is currently playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL so while he is born and raised European, he is ahead of the curve in terms of transitioning to the North American culture and style of game.