Capitals 2006 draft review

By David Rathbun

The Washington Capitals entered the 2006 draft with 11 picks with which to hopefully fill some organizational needs and better bolster their prospect ranks. Armed not only with the fourth overall selection but the 23rd, 34th and 35th overall picks, the Capitals had four selections in the top 35 which gave them a huge leg up in locating impact players.

On draft day, the Caps attacked all of their immediate organizational weaknesses, acquiring five centers, two goaltenders, two left wingers and one defenseman.

The pattern of the Caps’ first four or five selections show a plan of necessity. But at the same time, the Caps also grabbed some of the best players available at their respective positions without having to move up. The Caps were able to snag who they believe will be Alexander Ovechkin’s center counterpart when they grabbed Swedish star center Nicklas Backtrom, and also hedged their bets by selecting two highly-regarded goaltending prospects with their next two choices. In addition, the Caps grabbed a potential second line, scoring center with their fourth selection. And with their fifth, took a slight risk and selected a medium-risk, high-reward defender with a huge offensive upside.

Nicklas Backstrom, C – Brynas IF Gavle SEL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 183 lbs
DOB: Nov 23, 1987
1st Round, 4th Overall

It wasn’t Washington’s GM George McPhee who announced the selection that made Backstrom a Cap. Strolling up to the podium to make the selection was recent Calder Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin. To the delight of the crowd, the charismatic Ovechkin waved, smiled and selected Backstrom with the fourth overall selection, even hinting during later interviews that he was to be his future centerman.

When asked at the draft how he would enjoy playing along side Alexander Ovechkin, Backstrom replied, “Alex is a very good player. He scored over 100 points this season…If I’m going to play in the NHL with him, then I’m very happy to do that.”

Reportedly Washington scouts had been to Sweden at least four times during the last year to scout Backstrom, and appear to have gotten their man without having to make a trade. They passed on the very talented Phil Kessel to take him.

Many scouts and hockey analysts believe that Backstrom is the most NHL-ready player in this year’s draft, and could possibly step right in and make an impact from Day 1. He has a good combination of speed and grit, and is said to be one of the smartest players in the 2006 draft and already possess the hockey sense of more seasoned veterans. He also has an above average shot, and his playmaking ability is almost unparalleled for someone of his years. At this stage in his development, he has even been compared to Philadelphia Flyers star Peter Forsberg. Playing against men as an 18-year-old in the Swedish Elite League, he led his team in scoring and was named the SEL’s rookie of the year. He finished the 2005-06 season with 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) in 46 games.

Recently, the Caps were hard at work trying to sign Backstrom so that he could begin his NHL career this fall. However, the young forward felt that he would be better served by having one more development season in the SEL, and has opted to not to come over until after next season.

If Backstrom can build on his fine 2005-06 season, the Caps will surely have a treat to look forward to. He is projected to be a first-line, playmaking center in the NHL, and will most assuredly provide Washington with an additional first-line scoring threat who will also compliment the already dangerous Ovechkin.

Semen Varlamov, G – Yaroslavl (Rus2)
Height: 6’1; Weight: 183 lbs
DOB: Apr 27, 1988
1st Round, 23rd Overall

Announcing his second pick at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Ovechkin welcomed into the fold fellow Russian Semen Varlamov. Varlamov is the first Russian goaltending prospect to be selected in the first round since Boston’s Evgeni Ryabchikov in 1994, and joins long-time Capital Olaf Kolzig as one of the two goaltenders that Washington has ever selected in the first round.

Varlamov is a big, athletic goalie that combines his butterfly style with solid positioning in the crease. In 2005-06, he played for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Russian second league, appearing in 33 games and posting an impressive 1.81 GAA. Like most goalies his age, Varlamov is a bit of a project at this point in his development. It is likely that the Caps will allow him time to develop in Europe as Kolzig continues his reign at the top of the Caps’ depth chart.

Michal Neuvirth, G – HC Sparta Praha
Height: 6’0 Weight: 185 lbs
DOB: Mar 23, 1988
2nd Round, 34th Overall

With their first of three second round selections, the Caps again addressed their lack of depth in the goaltending department and selected Extraliga U18 Czech League goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth is also a highly-regarded butterflier who also posted some solid stats last season. In 45 games with Sparta of the Czech Junior League, Neuvirth posted a 2.02 GAA. He also played for the Czech Republic in last spring’s World Under-18 Tournament, and in those seven games, posted a 2.44 GAA and .927 save percentage.

The 2006 draft marked the first time since 2002 that Washington selected two goaltenders in the same draft, and interestingly enough, the last time the Capitals used consecutive draft choices on goaltenders was in 1989 when they took Kolzig (19th overall) and Byron Dafoe (35th overall). The Caps hope that Neuvirth too can someday make an impact with the club. In fact, he may be in a position for that to happen sooner than later as Neuvirth was recently drafted by the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, and should get his first taste of the North American game this fall.

Francois Bouchard, C/W — Baie-Comeau QMJHL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 180 lbs
DOB: Apr 26, 1988
2nd Round, 35th Overall

With back-to-back picks in the second round, the Capitals went with offense and selected a highly-touted forward prospect out of the QMJHL, Francois Bouchard. The younger brother of the Minnesota Wild’s forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Francois went pretty much right where scouting services had ranked him to go. Washington, in dire need of skilled center prospects, used the 35th overall pick on him.

The major knock on Bouchard is that he is a fairly timid player, lacking in size and strength, although he’s larger than his older brother currently playing in the NHL. He is, however, a wonderful skater and he also possesses some pretty dynamic playmaking skills and overall vision. Last season as a member of Baie-Comeau, Bouchard more than quadrupled his point output from 2004-05 (11 goals, 13 assists), and finished 13th in the league in scoring while registering 33 goals and 69 assists for a total of 102 points. Despite huge numbers, he still finished a combined -6 defensively and will need to improve on that to eventually become an everyday NHL player.

Bouchard is a great pickup for the Caps and will have two more years to develop prior to going pro. When he does, it is unlikely that he will be an immediate impact player in the NHL, and will likely need a season or two in the AHL prior to handling full-time NHL duty.

Keith Seabrook, D — Burnaby Express BCHL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 200 lbs
DOB: Aug 2, 1988
2nd Round, 52nd Overall

With their final choice in second round, the Capitals again went with bloodlines and selected Keith Seabrook, the younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (14th overall 2003 NHL Entry Draft). Washington selected him with the 52nd overall pick — their third of three second-rounders on the day.

Seabrook came on late in the 2005-06 season with Burnaby, but as the season grew on, he emerged as one of the team’s best defenders. In 57 games, Seabrook registered 10 goals and 24 assists, and finished the year with a total of 81 PIMs. However, the Doyle Cup playoffs are where he really caught fire, as Seabrook was a major catalyst in Burnaby’s championship run. Seabrook finished the BCHL postseason as the league’s highest scoring defender, and registered 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 20 postseason games.

Seabrook has tremendous offensive upside. He routinely makes sharp, quick outlet passes and is also very versatile because he can quarterback a power play. According to scouting reports, Seabrook does, however, have tendency to think offense first, and can be out of position from time to time. He has recently accepted a scholarship to play at Denver University. With a good bet that the Caps will allow Seabrook to play out his collegiate eligibility, don’t expect Seabrook to turn pro for a few years.

Oskar Osala, LW — Mississauga Ice Dogs OHL
Height: 6’4 Weight: 217 lbs
DOB: Dec 26, 1987
4th Round, 97th Overall

With no picks in the third round, the Capitals had to bide their time before stepping up to the podium again. But when they did, Washington grabbed this huge winger with the 97th overall pick.

Osala, a Finnish native, played for the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL last season. It was Osala’s first exposure to the North American style of hockey, and although he didn’t play badly, Osala really started to put his game together after a lukewarm start. He finished the year with fairly modest numbers, registering 48 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 68 games, and was also a prominent fixture on the Mississauga power play.

Osala is a huge presence on the ice, and at times, effectively uses his size to his advantage. Although he’s not a relatively physical player, he excels at using his frame to shield defenders from the puck, and is also a difficult to move in corners and in front of the net. He also possesses a decent shot, skates well for a large player, and also likes to crash the net — a trait not usually common in European-born players.

At this point in his progression, Osala is a project.

Luke Lynes, C/LW – Brampton Battalion OHL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 195 lbs
DOB: Nov 28, 1987
4th Round, 122nd Overall

With the 122nd overall pick, the Capitals selected another forward — one who just happens to be of the home-grown variety. Lynes, the Ellicott City, MD, native, played the last two seasons with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL, often skating alongside teammate and Colorado Avalanche top prospect Wojtek Wolski.

Last season, Lynes enjoyed huge increase in his scoring and more than tripled his goal scoring output from the previous year. He finished the 2005-06 season with 62 points (34 goals, 28 assists) in 62 games, up from the previous year’s totals of 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists). Perhaps most importantly, Lynes is also a very responsible player and plays a solid two-way game. He also finished the 2005-06 season with a plus/minus rating of +10.

Lynes is a decent skater and is not afraid to pay the price for the puck down low. He has a big time slap shot and a nifty wrister that gets up in a hurry. Although he is not overly fast, Lynes has pretty good hockey sense and can hit holes and stickhandle in high traffic areas. He too will likely benefit from another season or two of junior hockey. Lynes has the ability to be a solid, scoring two-way player at the pro level if he reaches his potential.

Maxime Lacroix, LW — Québec Remparts QMJHL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 180 lbs
DOB: Jun 5, 1987
5th Round, 127th Overall

Passed over in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Lacroix rebounded from a less than stellar 2004-05 campaign and more than tripled his scoring output from the previous season. Skating for the Quebec Remparts, Lacroix enjoyed a mini breakout season in 2005-06, and put up a respectable 47 points (25 goals, 22 assists) during 70 regular season contests. He was arguably one of the Remparts’ better players during his team’s Memorial Cup championship run, and finished with 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 23 postseason games.

While it is unlikely that Lacroix will ever become a regular point producer at the pro level, an excellent two-way forward is defiantly not out of the question. Despite his respectable goal scoring output, Lacroix is a very dependable forward who picks up his defensive assignments very well. He finished last season with an impressive +29 defensive rating, and was also +9 during the playoffs. He also sees some time on the Remparts’ penalty-killing unit.

Lacroix could possibly make the NHL as a grinding, shut-down type of forward who can chip in the occasional goal. However, he will have his work cut out for him as the Caps system is full of young, talented scorers on the left side. Lacroix will most likely play out his junior eligibility before turning pro. And even then, will likely skate in the minors for a few seasons before seeing some occasional call-ups.

Brent Gwidt, C – Lakeland High School USHSW
Height: 6’2 Weight: 200 lbs
DOB: Feb 20, 1988
6th Round, 157th Overall

In the sixth round, the Capitals went with another highly-skilled pivot, selecting Brent Gwidt out of the USHS. Standing at 6’2 and already 200 lbs, Gwidt is a very powerful forward who is already stronger than most players his age. He is also terrific finisher, and recorded 41 goals in just 21 games last season playing for Lakeland HS.

Apparently Gwidt is also a hard worker, and is always looking to improve his already solid game. Gwidt is said to practice very hard, and be a leader in the locker room. Gwidt was recently drafted in the first round of the USHL entry draft, and will skate for the Indiana Ice in 2006-07.

Mathieu Perreault, C – Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Height: 5’8 Weight: 151 lbs
DOB: Jan 5, 1988
6th Round, 177th Overall

And with their final pick on the evening, the Capitals selected QMJHL rookie standout Mathieu Perreault. At only 5’8 and 151 lbs, Perreault’s size and strength were most likely factors as to why he fell so late in the draft despite putting up huge numbers last season. In his rookie year as a member of Acadie-Bathurst, Perreault scored an impressive 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) in 62 contests, and also finished with an outstanding plus/minus rating of +20. He also erupted during the 2005-06 postseason, and led his respective club in playoff scoring with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 17 games.

Perreault has some work to do in order to develop into a NHL player. He will need to add some weight to his frame, and it is likely that the Caps will be patient with his development. It cannot be overlooked that Perreault is a scoring machine who could seriously stand to benefit from the league’s new rules that encourage skating and speed.

Draft Day Trades

The Capitals traded the 137th overall pick (obtained from Vancouver in exchange for goaltender Maxime Ouellet) to the New York Rangers in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft.

Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.