Re. Size Matters: Have the Capitals Found Their Lucic?

Going into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft there were three principal objectives I’d hoped the Capitals would achieve beginning Friday night: Keep both no. 1 picks; draft for size; draft for right wing.

Check. Check. And check.

And if they could somehow manage to address the center position on the second line — a three-year eyesore and competitive albatross, as my blogger colleague Ed Frankovic notes — even better.

Welcome to Washington, Mike Ribeiro.

I spent a fair portion of the 2011-12 season pleading with my colleagues in new media that yes, while no. 2 center was a grave and perpetual roster shortcoming, at least the Caps had one of the best centers in the world in Nicklas Backstrom, who’s not yet 25, and one of the finest pivot prospects on the planetĀ  — Evgeni Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov is generally regarded as a center/wing prospect, and he could end up playing on the right side . . . if he ever comes to North America. He was definitely a dynamic, MVP force in the middle of the ice for the Russians at the most recent World Juniors. Meanwhile, on the right side of the ice back in North America — especially with an eye toward the Capitals’ top 6 — there was in the Capitals’ development stable . . . zilch. Nada. Forget about Development camp next month; at the next media skate, team scouts may have eye-balled Frankovic and me for the right side.

The Caps in recent seasons have skated Alexander Semin on the right, but it’s hard to imagine him in a Washington sweater next season. Mike Knuble, too, has been jettisoned. The Caps going into Friday night needed help in the middle of the ice to be sure, but they really needed help on the right side.

They got it, alright. And just as importantly: it arrived with size.

George McPhee telegraphed what may prove to be a rigorous — and badly needed — roster reconception early Friday night, shipping out diminutive bottom six prospect Cody Eakin and the no. 54 pick that night for Dallas’ Ribeiro. Instantly the Caps got bigger and more skilled and more experienced in the middle of the ice. Ribeiro’s no giant, but he plays courageously and with an edge, and has one year (at $5 million) left on his pact, so he has incentive to have a fine season in 2012-13. In an ideal world, he’d impress the Caps enough to earn a new deal of modest duration going forward (though he’d likely be seeking more than one or two years), and 2014 would deliver Kuznetzsov to D.C. and solidify the Caps with impact pivot play for the following five-plus years. The Kings this spring reminded us of the imperative of strong play from the cage out through the middle of the ice.

But it was with his two first-round picks that McPhee got really serious about reorienting his roster away from finesse and more with an eye toward playing hockey with the big boys. Filip Forsberg mystifyingly fell into his lap at no. 11. He’s a top-6 talent packaged in a 6’2, 180-pound frame. And he likes to use it:

“I’m kind of a big player and I try to play physical,” Forsberg said. “I also like taking the puck to the net as often as possible so I guess that’s a little bit more of a North American style of game than a European style of game.” [Emphasis OFB’s]

Red Line Report had Forsberg ranked the no. 2 prospect overall. It said this of our newest Swede: “Intense and ultra-competitive with a wicked shot . . . [bearing] the “heaviest, most accurate shot in the draft.”

More:

” . . . the complete package. Ultra-competitive and will take a constant pounding from opponents who clearly target him, yet he just keeps on coming. Has an absolutely hellacious shot, particularly on one-timers. Shows a true sniper’s mentality and sometimes looks a bit selfish taking shots from odd angles, but is actually quite creative and can saucer passes on the tape through traffic. Doesn’t need much space to get dangerous shots away, and can create room for himself. Powerful stride with acceleration and a separation gear. Very strong on skates and impossible to separate from the puck. Receives tough passes easily without breaking stride. Goes hard to net both with and without the puck and drives through checks. Overpowers opponents along the boards and wins battles. Determined in puck pursuit with an aggressive stick. Intense, strong-willed player. A thoroughbred who gets stronger with more responsibility.

“Projection: Top line power winger for upper tier club.
“Style compares to: Erik Cole”

[Imagine had McPhee ponied up dough for the actual Erik Cole last summer, instead of Joel Ward, and then drafted Erik Cole II. Actually, Cole as a Cap would have prevented the Caps from drafting anywhere near the top 15 Friday night. Quality centers are imperative, but they can’t have drek to distribute to.]

The fun got serious with pick 16. You watched the Lumberjack Wilson shake the Consol Energy floor with his strides up to the stage, you listened to Pierre Mcguire quiver as he neared, and . . . well . . . this blogger thought ‘George is trying to entice Dale back to D.C.’ Little commented upon about the 2011-12 season here: Hunter worked with a finesse roster he’d have modified perhaps significantly had he been brought in early last offseason. (An offseason dreamer, I like to think that Hunter one day could return to the Capitals bench, to coach an appropriately constructed Capitals roster.)

On TV the commentators evoked the name ‘Lucic’ as comparison. Wilson lives to brutally bodycheck. He piles up the PIMs, but not haphazardly. He views as a primary mission creating space for his teammates. How’s long it been since we heard that said of a high-end Caps’ pick?

Red Line had Wilson ranked no. 27. More telling (for me) is this cryptic, succinct description: ‘One Nasty Mutha.’

He’s a project to be sure, but the type of project all too often AWOL in Washington during the Era of Ovechkin. I’ve long thought the most imposing Capitals team would be one in which Alex wasn’t a lone wrecking ball but rather one of three or four such hell-raisers.

More Red Line:

“Ranked #1 in Society of Plastic Surgeons Trophy category (Toughest players/best fighters): Has a really short fuse and likes to go looking for trouble. Absolutely blows guys up with crushing bodychecks.

“Huge, mean and nasty S.O.B. who brings a lot of snarl to the rink every night and is the best pure body-checker in this draft group. Loves the physical aspect of the game and is always looking to initiate contact in corners and around the walls. Would rather run over his check than around him – punishes opponents at every opportunity. Intimidating physical presence causes fear among OHL d-men. Stands up for teammates and provides skilled players more room to operate. Excellent when he drops the gloves, and is not a liability skating 5-on-5. Will never be a sniper, but chips in offensively by causing turnovers and dominating down low around the crease. When given a more prominent role on a scoring line in the playoffs, showed he could score with seven goals in 13 games. Has battled injuries two straight years, so that’s a potential red flag.

“Projection: Head cracking physical presence who chips in
“Sytle compares to: Milan Lucic-lite”

Absolutely blows guys up with crushing bodychecks.

Summer well, Sidney.

And develop well and fast, big man. Big men. We need you.

This entry was posted in Dale Hunter, Filip Forsberg, Frontier justice, George McPhee, Going Big, Mike Ribeiro, Morning cup-a-joe, NHL Entry Draft, Old Time Hockey, Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Re. Size Matters: Have the Capitals Found Their Lucic?

  1. Steven says:

    All season I was hoping the Avalanche’s pick would be top 5 or higher. The pick turned out to be 11, but it looks like we got a top 5 prospect. Wouldn’t that 11th pick be the same no matter where the Caps’ finished? Then again, hindsight is, well, usually a lot better then foresight (not necessarily 20/20).

    Pucksandbooks, I’ve really missed your commentary this season, and this column just confirms that. I hope to read more from you soon.

  2. Dougeb says:

    Very good well-written piece. I am very pleased as well. I was a bit upset that the Caps didn’t select Maata @ #16, but GMGM reveals a conversation with Dale Hunter in which Hunter highly recommended Wilson. You have to figure that means something: Maata was Hunter’s player, while Wilson was a competitor on another OHL squad.
    Forsberg: I am still giddy abuot that pick. I literally jumped off my chair when we picked him. So looking forward to Development Camp!! Hope to see you there as well.

  3. We kinda knew Coach Hunter was going to serve an advisory role for the team for this draft, but for me it was still thrilling to learn of his input for the Wilson selection. I hope Huntsy’s influence is welcomed at Kettler until the Day the team finally wins a Cup, and beyond.

    If you haven’t attended a Development Camp before I highly recommend your doing so. Media tends to overplay the camp’s importance, and I caution against forming hard and fast opinions of prospects when there’s so wide a discrepancy of size and pro puck experience on a sheet, but it does afford glimpses of individual players’ skill sets. It’s also a great gig for the kids, as the prospects seem to enjoy the spirited environment and are generous with autograph requests.

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