So how did the Caps do at the draft this weekend? One answer is, a lot better than the Islanders and especially Pittsburgh. Here’s a Hockeysfuture reflection from an Isles’ fan attending a Friday night draft party, grading out his team’s labor in Ottawa:
“NYI-On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the worst they are in negative numbers.
“I was at the draft party. The place was furious when they traded the 5th pick, but when they got nothing of value back from the Leaf’s the place really started to flip out.
“Then when the Isles traded the 7th pick to the Preds‚Äîagain for nothing much in return‚Äîof the 1,000 or so fans in attendence‚Äîat least 500 got up and walked out in disgust and silence. They did not even boo.
“When they selected Bailey‚Äîyou could hear a rat piss on cotton in Argentina. Then‚Äîeveryone left in disgust.”
At least the Isles, eventually, belatedly, made some selections. Pittsburgh goes on the clock for the first time late this Tuesday morning. In this draft, you just wanted to be in the mix (and not, like Garth Snow, trying to trade out of it), with some picks among the top 75 or so prospects. The Caps were, they had a specific strategy — players targeted for the team’s draft positions — and they landed their targets.
In their last five drafts, the Caps have accumulated 10 first-round picks. And if you listened to General Manager George McPhee’s post-draft reflections on Saturday, he’d have you believe there’s an 11th in the tally — Dmitry Kugryskev, a CSKA-2 teammate of sixth-overall selection Nikita Filatov.
“We thought he may have gone somewhere in the first round,” McPhee said after Saturday’s drafting has been completed. Alluding to the absence of a transfer agreement with Russia, McPhee added that Kugryskev certainly would have gone higher “in the old NHL.”
Over the weekend McPhee also noted that the Caps enjoy a distinct drafting advantage by virtue of having Alexander Ovechkin. While most other organizations in rounds 1 and 2 will understandably be wary of selecting Russians then in the absence of a transfer agreement, and now the formation of the Continental Hockey League as a bigger, better-paying version of the RSL, the Caps as they interview Russian prospects can gauge interest in the youngsters’ willinginess to come over and skate with their nation’s hero. Kugryskev is one such prospect.
“I dream about the NHL every day of my life. It’s my dream,” Kugryskev said recently.
With respect to his new Russian winger, McPhee probably wasn’t just whistling that 30-team, post-draft sunshine tune that’s a staple of every draft’s conclusion, either. Last season the right winger scored 58 points in 35 games with CSKA-2. His lottery pick teammate Filatov had 66 points in 34 games. He’s renowed for his worth ethic.
The Capitals were going to trade out of round 1 Friday if neither of Anton Gustafsson nor John Carlson had been available. They landed both. They also had multiple trade offers when their turn came up late in round 2. McPhee actually called a timeout to ponder them but ultimately judged what was available (Kugryskev and Eric Mestery) as more valuable. So the Caps landed their primary targets and then, while with offers in hand to move away from the draft’s still rich realm, they judged their draft list delivering them better value and they selected, solidly.
The Carlson selection in particular may prove to be a sage one. Already blessed with a pro physique, the mobile, two-way reargruard was an intrigue prospect for this draft. His size and all-around game drew universal commendation from NHL organizations, but competing in the United States Hockey League, and competing in a draft chock full of bluechip defenders, Carlson was a candidate to be there late in round one.
Charlie Skjodt, his coach with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, told the Newark Star-Ledger before the draft, “I’d be shocked if he isn’t selected in the first round . . . without a doubt, he’s going to be a star in the NHL.” Carlson’s already served as an assistant captain on a U.S. select team and is likely a strong candidate to represent the U.S. in future World Under-20 tourneys.
The Capitals are currently ranked sixth by Hockeysfuture for the strength of their prospect holdings. If you’re at the very top of that list it likely means you’re drafting too high, too often too consecutively each June. With their work this past weekend the Capitals are a safe bet to remain in the top 10 of the HF ranking. That seems about where they’d want to be: not a lottery regular but with a farm chock full of promise and able fill-ins for injured players on the parent roster. And it’s this quality and depth that is central to the Caps’ tenet of building and replenishing largely from within.
It’s worth noting, too, the success the Caps are now having in drafts’ later rounds. Among recent signees are Mathieu Perreault (6th round, ’06), Oskar Osala (4th round, ’06), Andrew Joudrey (8th round, ’03), Daren Maschesney (5th round, ’05), Patrick McNeill (4th round, ’05), Travis Morin (9th round, ’04), and Andrew Gordon (7th round, ’04).
The Capitals today are an experienced drafting organization; McPhee and Ross Mahoney have been together 10 years now. They’ve made their share of mistakes in June in years past, which the GM has aknowledged, but they’re enjoying more success these days. That continued this past weekend in Ottawa.