Coming Late to the Draft Party, But Leaving with Another Pretty Date

Cup'pa JoeJohn Carlson may have flown under the radar at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but his presence was conspicuous at the 2009 Draft in Montreal Friday night. For starters, the TV talking heads, which included Bob McKenzie and Pierre McGuire, gushed over Carlson’s season in London and Hershey, noting that he was a prime candidate to make the Caps this fall. But our 19-year-old bluechip prospect was also the subject of a brief trade discussion the Caps had with Anaheim for Chris Pronger’s services, says Mike Vogel

Not that the Caps were offering Carlson for the 34-year-old, soon-to-be UFA Pronger, mind you. The Ducks demanded him, along with one of the Caps great young goalies, a roster player, and “something else” George McPhee confirmed. I imagine McPhee lost train of concentration so deep into so ludicrous a litany of personnel demands from the Ducks — the second such for the same player in just the past few months. What stands out to me about that demand is Carlson’s name rather than Karl Alzner’s. Anaheim ended up exacting pounds of flesh from Philly for Pronger, but in their trade chat with GMGM, they wanted our 27th pick from last year rather than our lottery one from the year before.

Marcus Johansson’s selection by the Capitals at no. 24 Friday night represents the third Swedish pivot the Capitals have selected in the first round in the past four years. What’s even more interesting is that should each of those players’ projections pan out — and it’s pretty safe at this point to suggest that Nicklas Backstrom’s have — the trio should center the Caps’ top three lines in the not-too-distant future: Backstom up top followed by Anton Gustafsson and Johansson.

Of his newest prospect the GM said he’s a “very well rounded player, very good in almost every area of his game. [We] loved the way he played against Canada in the World Junior final, in a real hostile environment — [in front of] 20,000 Canadian fans. Some of the Swedish kids didn’t show up [to play], and [Johansson] showed up.”

Right as McPhee and Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney were walking up to the draft stage to make the team’s selection the TSN broadcast team was touting Washington’s successful work deep in round one in recent years, alluding to the likes of Carlson, Mike Green, and Simeon Varlamov. McPhee acknowledged feeling good about his scouts’ work then and deemed the Johansson selection another addition to that stellar list.

2009draft.jpg“We’re really happy with the way we’ve been drafting late in the first round, and we think we got another good player [in Johansson].”

Washington is weaving a real durable, annual storyline with its late first round drafting success. Choosing among presumed second- and third-tier talent late in the first round is the reward the Caps now enjoy for getting it so right with all levels of first-round talent in recent drafts. Did you notice Friday night how often the television broadcasters referenced Mike Green’s name as footage of puck-moving defensemen aired? He’s become the new gold standard for mobile, big offense producing rearguards in the new NHL.   

What stands out to me about Marcus Johansson’s early development are the nearly 50 games of action he saw in the Swedish Elite League last season, and his 10 points in presumably limited 4th-line duties. Both Gustafsson and Johansson will ripen further in the SEL next season.  

As television theater Friday night in Montreal was conspicuously dull by recent Entry Draft standards. Last year we saw something like a dozen trades made during round one. As the Versus broadcast began it appeared as if we were in for some serious Friday night fireworks: Darren Dreger immediately broke word of Anaheim dealing Pronger to Philly, before anybody seemed to know what was going the other way to the Ducks. But the widely speculated Bs-Leafs deal involving Phil Kessel fizzled, and teams began making their picks with only moderate movement among them . . . once they got past expressing appreciation for Montreal’s hospitality ad nauseum.

The most entertaining aspect of the Versus/TSN broadcast was the savvy decision to mic up Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, whose frank, BS-free musings and analyses of his rivals’ personnel whims came across as reality TV that was actually real. And therefore most refreshing. Better still, Friday night featured the Leafs selecting just a few picks ahead of bitter Northeast division rival Ottawa, and the television cameras captured a classic exchange between Burke and Senators’ GM Bryan Murray.  

Burke approached Murray just seconds before heading up to the selection stage to make the 7th pick. On real good intelligence Burke seemed to know of Murray’s keen interest in selecting London Knights’ center Nazem Kadri. The two apparently had had discussion of potentially swapping picks.

“Kadri’s the kid we’re gonna take,” Burke informed his rival GM, “Is that the kid you want?” Murray nodded yes, and then Burke reaffirmed that he was foiling his foe before brusquely turning away, like the varsity QB who informs the chess club president at the school dance of his intention to go steal his girlfriend. [The encounter can be found two minutes into this YouTube Draft download.]

Murray in that moment looked positively overmatched.

Not so our GM at this annual puck party.  

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