Capitals 2006 draft preview

By David Rathbun

Washington’s Top 10 Prospects

1. Alexander Semin, LW
2. Eric Fehr, RW
3. Mike Green, D
4. Chris Bourque, C/LW
5. Jakub Klepis, C/RW
6. Tomas Fleischmann, LW
7. Boyd Gordon, C
8. Joe Finley, D
9. Jeff Schultz
10. Patrick McNeill, D

Mid-way through the 2003-04 NHL season, the Capitals anticipated a lengthy lockout and unloaded star players Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang and Sergei Gonchar, and were remunerated with a multitude of talented prospects and high-end draft picks. With 13 selections at the 2004 NHL Draft, the current rebuilding effort was in full swing, as Washington pretty much solidified their future by selecting superstar Alexander Ovechkin and three players who appear in the top ten list above.

This year the Caps are back at it again, and boast 11 picks in the upcoming draft. They carry with them a top-five, a late first rounder (from Nashville), and three second round selections giving them four picks in the top 35.

Team Needs

With a record of 29-41-12, there are some obvious needs for the club.

The biggest need lies with the defensive corps. Last season, the Caps’ rear-guard was comprised of mainly young, inexperienced players. At times, they managed to look pretty good. However, the Caps’ defense often had difficulty with the speed and openness created by the league’s new rules, and was frequently whistled for holding — and other obstructions – in attempts just to keep up. They also had difficulties just getting the puck out of their own zone, and caused numerous turnovers as a result of their lack of inexperience and overall skill. As a result, the team finished the season as one of poorest defenses in the league.

The Caps also have a serious depth problem at the center position. This year, Dainius Zubrus emerged — after the Andrew Cassels free agent experiment failed — as a decent complement to Ovechkin. However, Zubrus is not much more than a fine second line player on most other teams, thus still leaving the organization short on offensively talented pivots.

While not as urgent, a successor must be found to eventually replace aging netminder Olaf Kolzig.

Organizational Strengths

Although they have fallen to No. 7 in Hockey’s Future’s Organizational Rankings with the graduation of Ovechkin and among others, the Washington Capitals still boast a solid stable of young talented players with NHL potential.

Washington is incredibly deep at the left wing position. They already boast one of the world’s elite forwards in Ovechkin, and this fall, will welcome back highly-talented winger Alexander Semin. Matt Pettinger also had a somewhat of a breakout season and recorded 20 goals as fixture on the second and third lines.

Another left winger that has a chance at making an immediate impact with the Caps next fall is young Czech winger, Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann is currently having a breakout season with the Hershey Bears, and led his respective club in points during the regular season. He also finished second in postseason points as well, and was a catalyst of the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup triumph. However, despite his solid play, Fleischmann will have his work cut out for him in order to crack the Caps’ opening night roster, although it is anticipated that he will see some additional playing time in the NHL next season.

Help is on the way on defense — eventually. In the last two drafts (2004, 2005) the Washington Capitals selected 10 defenders, and two of them (Mike Green, Jeff Schultz) are already signed and playing within the system. The Caps also have two very promising NCAA defenders in Sasha Pokulok (Cornell) and Joe Finley (UND), and across the pond, have Oscar Hedman (Modo – SEL) and Sami Lepisto (Jokerit – FNL) playing professional hockey in their respective countries. In addition, the Caps also boast last season’s highest scoring defenseman in the OHL (Patrick McNeill – Saginaw). However, despite what appears to be an abundance of promising talent on the blue line, don’t count on Washington passing up promising defenders should they be available when it’s their turn to pick.

Organizational Weaknesses

The center position is a problem area for the Caps. With the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, the Caps will likely address that concern as there are many very promising centerman prospects at the top of the draft rankings.

And finally there’s the goaltending issue. This February, Kolzig signed a two-year contract extension which almost guarantees that he’ll retire as a Cap. Finding a replacement, however, remains to be the big issue as Washington is very light when it comes to young, quality goaltending prospects. In fact, Washington already seems to be working on the issue as they recently signed 2005 draftee Daren Machesney. However, he is unlikely to make an impact for several years since goalies usually take longer to develop than other players.

With a late first rounder and three second round selections, the Washington Capitals are in pretty good shape to rebuild depth within their prospects ranks.

Draft Tendencies

In recent years — dating back to the 2001 draft — the Washington Capitals had fairly balanced draft tendencies, and pretty much evenly selected players from the Canadian Juniors, players bound for the NCAA and European prospects. The most notable difference though, is that for many years, the Caps would almost exclusively draft players from the WHL and not the OHL or QMJHL. In fact, out of the 20 or so Canadian Juniors players selected since 2001, 70 percent have come by way of the WHL. In addition, Washington will almost more likely than not select a goaltender in later rounds, and have done so in four of the last five years.

Times have certainly changed however, as the Caps pulled an about face at the 2005 draft, selecting four players bound for the NCAA, one European, and two players from the OHL.

With the 2006 draft just days away, Washington has been tight-lipped as usual when publicly discussing their intentions in regards to this year’s entry draft. With the fourth overall pick, it is likely that the Caps will target the best offensive prospect available, but would also like a player that can be a solid two-way contributor. However, with centers in abundance at the top of this years draft order, it is assumed that the Capitals will select the best player available that can one day complement their franchise winger Ovechkin. A goalie and some additional defensive prospects will also be targeted as well, but likely in later rounds as the Caps need forwards to counter-balance the fact that the Caps did not end up with a single forward in 2005 – forward Tim Kennedy was selected 181st overall by Washington and quickly traded the same day to Buffalo for a sixth round pick in 2006.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Phil Kessel, C, University of Minnesota (WCHA).

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.