Japers' Rink Mailbag: The Draft, The Farm and Timing

Bruce Bennett

What the Caps might be looking for in next month's draft in Philadelphia, how things look on the farm, and indecision in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

Leading off the 'Bag is a draft-related quandary:

The Rink will have much more to say about the draft as it approaches next month, but these are the sorts of questions that might be foremost in the minds of Caps fans as those days in Philadelphia approach.

Let's take a look at the second part of the question first.  If you were going to address this in the Socratic way, I might ask you in return, "which prospects in the Capitals' system have the highest probability of being day-to-day contributors in the NHL?" Among left wingers you might include Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, either of whom could be top-end skill players.  At right wing you might think of Tom Wilson (if you still think of him as a "prospect" after a playoff year and an 82-game season) or Riley Barber, either of whom might be two-way players with the big club in time.

On defense, Dmitry Orlov is still developing, Connor Carrick got a taste of NHL action this season, and Madison Bowey had a fine follow-up season in junior hockey after being drafted by the Caps last summer.  In goal there is Philipp Grubauer, who has shown at every level he has played at to date that he can be a solid netminder.

Now, look at the centers.  Assuming you think Kuznetsov's future is at left wing, there is not a single prospect center in the Caps' system of whom it could be said confidently, "yup, someday he'll be skating every night for the Caps."  Maybe Michael Latta will be that guy, but even so, it would seem his future is as a fourth-, maybe third-liner.  There might be a surprise lurking in there somewhere, but in terms of players and prospects you might expect to make significant contributions to the big club, the void the Caps have at the center position after Nicklas Backstrom extends deep into their system like a sinkhole.

That brings us to the first part of the question, and what the organization needs to look for in the later rounds.  The Caps haven't hit many home runs from deep in the draft over the past decade, so perhaps it would be helpful to think about what sort of player has stood out in the post-season and think about finding that kind of player to take a chance on.  There are Brendan Gallagher (a fifth-round pick), Mats Zuccarello (undrafted), Carl Hagelin (a sixth-rounder) - none of them big guys, but all of them possessing speed and/or the ability to play with a high motor.

Speed is something that the Caps lack, and that seems to be an emerging factor in teams' success.  If you're going to take a flyer on a later round draft pick, maybe this is the quality you need to look for.

Sticking with the draft, we'll turn the floor over to J.P. for this one:

Is it that bad? That depends on who you ask - prospect evaluation isn't an exact science. But no, it's probably not that bad. To begin with, the ranking cited was referenced in a recent Fancy Stats post and is Hockey's Future's rank from back in the fall. By the spring, the same outlet had moved the Caps up to 13th (and that was despite Tom Wilson graduating from consideration for the list). But it's also just one opinion; take the fact that back in September, fabulous prospect guru Corey Pronman had the Caps ranked 11th.

Obviously how someone defines "prospect" will make a difference (Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov may no longer be prospects, but are Connor Carrick and Michael Latta? Evgeny Kuznetsov? Do you define it by age, games played, or a combination?), but another difference that you see frequently is the emphasis they place on depth of the prospect pool versus high-end talent (and the likelihood that they reach it). It's easy to say you'd take a small handful of blue-chip kids with nothing behind them over a half-dozen guys with third-line upside, but what if only one or two of those top prospects is likely to ever pan out?

Bottom line: Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Bowey, Grubauer and Barber all look to have the potential to make some impact in the NHL, and a few other names (Chandler Stephenson and Nate Schmidt, among them) could as well. That doesn't sound so bad to me... as long as you don't have a thing for centers, as Peerless noted above.

Meanwhile, we're all getting antsy. J.P.?

Would we be able to differentiate between "indecision" and "thorough, well-informed decision-making"? These are two enormous decisions the Caps have to make. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren't getting any younger. The fan base is growing impatient. Local media is turning its attention elsewhere, and national media is all too ready to shovel dirt on anything resembling the current incarnation of the team.

If the Caps had found the gentlemen that they were convinced could put this team back on a track towards winning, they'd have hired them already. So either they're not yet convinced on one or both of the hires, they're waiting for the season to end for someone whose team is still playing... or they have their guy(s) and are waiting to kick off summer with a big announcement early next week. Indecision? Maybe. But if it's not an easy decision - and it's not - this one's worth doing due diligence on, because they have to get it right.

***

Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.

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