Below is a collection of comments on the Caps' 2006 Draft generally (and the draftees specifically) from around the hockey world. Check back often, as this post will be updated as needed.
The Washington Capitals select Nicklas Backstrom, from Sweden. A member of Sweden's world junior championship team, he's a silky smooth puckhandler/playmaker and has been compared to Swedish greats like Peter Forsberg and Henrik Zetterberg.
I had a chance to talk to talk to Backstrom in British Columbia during the world junior tournament, and while his language skills are going to need some improvement, he's an extremely determined youngster who was actually one of the youngest players to ever play in the Swedish Elite League as a 16 year old. Given that he's fallen all the way to No. 4, he could end up being the steal of this draft.
The fact that the Washington Capitals bypassed Phil Kessel to select Swedish prospect Nicklas Backstrom counted as the first mild surprise of the draft. General manager George McPhee handled it pretty well — he introduced Alexander Ovechkin, the Calder Trophy winner — and let Ovechkin make the call on Backstrom, who played in the Swedish Elitserien for Brynas and helped a team that's almost always on the cusp on being demoted from the first division stay up this season.
Backstrom had a little Peter Forsberg and a little Joe Sakic in him — he isn't big or exceptionally fast, but he competes hard and possesses unbelievable hockey sense. Presumably, the Capitals figured that Backstrom would be a better fit with Ovechkin than Kessel would.
[Backstrom] is a great player and the sky's the limit. Scouts say he compares well to Peter Forsberg....
[Semen Varlamov]'s not a prototypical Russian goalie - with his agility and athleticism, this guy has the ability to steal games.
Great idea for Washington to include rookie of the year Alexander Ovechkin in the proceedings as he announced the Caps' first (Swedish forward Nicklas Backstrom) and second (Semen Varlamov) picks of the day.
Although the Caps were prepared to send Ovechkin home after the annual awards ceremony Thursday, Ovechkin said he wanted to stay and meet the new draftees. Throughout the day, Ovechkin could be seen hanging out with the new players and signing autographs and providing interviews to the media.
So much time is spent wondering how best to market the new NHL -- here was a living example of how it should be done.
Caps superstar Alexander Ovechkin announced the pick to the crowd at the GM Place. The Swedish center will fit nicely on a top line with the Big O. The Caps' top player liked what he saw when he played against Backstrom at the World Championship....
Varlamov figures to be the starting goalie for Team Russia at the 2007 World Junior Championships. He's an athletic stopper. Some scouts believe he has the ability to "steal" games. Somewhere down the road, he could replace Olaf Kolzig in the Caps' crease.
UPDATE (6/26, 9:55 a.m.) - Allan Muir, SI.com:
Nicklas Backstrom (4th) looks like the player most capable of jumping directly to the NHL -- an important element for a team that needs immediate help. He's expected eventually to center Alexander Ovechkin on the first line. Semen Varlamov mans the nets for the Russian Junior Nats, and while a bit of a stretch at 23, he's highly regarded. Watch for Francois Bouchard (35th) and center Brent Gwidt (157th) to help make this one of Washington's most productive classes ever. Grade: A
UPDATE (6/27, 10:30 a.m.) - The Hockey News:
The Good: Nicklas Backstrom (fourth overall) is the most NHL-ready of the 'Big Five'. The Caps are excited about seeing him line up at center with Alexander Ovechkin. They also need to start searching for a replacement for the aging Olaf Kolzig. In choosing two goaltenders early, they hedged their bets.
The Bad: They went off the radar a little early in choosing center Brent Gwidt 156th, and Maxime Lacroix 127th overall.
The Unique: The Caps need a skilled right winger immediately, and Francois Bouchard (Pierre-Marc's brother) will have an opportunity.
The Grade: A+ Washington could not have done better. Backstrom was great pickup, and choosing goalies Semen Varlamov (23rd overall) and Michal Neuvirth (34th overall) they filled a definite need. Grabbing Bouchard 35th was also a great pickup. The team really improved Saturday.
UPDATE (6/30, 7:45 a.m.) - FOX Sports:
Semen Varlamov, goalie, 23rd overall, Washington Capitals: While it was a bit of a surprise that Varlamov was the top Russian to be selected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, his name being called so early was not by any means a surprise. He is definitely brightest goaltender to come out of Russia since Ilya Bryzgalov and was a great pickup for the Capitals, who lack depth in net after the departures of Maxime Ouellet, Sebastien Charpentier, and Rastislav Stana.
Varlamov has already been the starter for Russia's under-18 squad for two seasons and will inherit the starting role on the under-20 squad for the next two years. He has yet to earn any professional experience in the Super League, but Varlamov has proven his worth on the international arena.
One area for improvement for the young netminder is his positioning. He moves very quickly in the crease and possesses a quick butterfly. Additionally, he possesses a very strong work ethic.
The biggest concern regarding Varlamov's development into a blue chip netminder is the lack of an established hockey school in Yaroslavl and on the Russian national team. While his Yaroslavl counterpart Ivan Kasutin went to Finland to be schooled, Varlamov is completely "home grown" thus far.
At this point it is unclear whether the Capitals will look to bring Varlamov over to the juniors for the 2006-07 season, but if he remains in Russia, he must secure a Super League backup or a High League (Russia 2) starting position to continue his development, as he has already proven all he could at the junior first-league level.
UPDATE (7/4, 7:55 p.m) - Hockey'sFuture:
In a few years, the Washington Capitals may have a Russian as their franchise netminder. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl product Semen Varlamov was the first Russian to have his name called at the GM Place last Saturday in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, becoming only the second Russian goaltender after Yevgeni Ryabchikov to be picked in the first round. Ryabchikov was chosen by the Boston Bruins 21st overall in 1994 but failed to ever make it to the NHL.
Semen Varlamov, G (Lokomotiv-2, Russia-2)
1st round pick, 23rd overall by Washington
Picking a goalie so high signaled the Capitals’ determination to find a long-term solution for their goaltending situation. With Olaf Kolzig’s imminent retirement, the team has no quality goaltenders coming up behind him. In fact, they don’t even have a decent backup with talented but inconsistent Rostislav Stana the best netminder behind the aging Kolzig.
Varlamov has a great potential, but he is yet to be tested in the big leagues as he hasn’t played a game in Russian Super League. However, he posted great numbers for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s farm team posting eight shutouts in 33 games and keeping his GAA below the 2.00 mark. Varlamov’s assets include his mobility, vision, good reactions and quickness. Investing a first round pick in him was a gamble since it’s still unknown whether he’ll remain consistent and develop at same pace as he steps to the next level and goes to play in the Super League. On the other hand, the most recent Stanley Cup Playoffs proved that a goalie doesn’t need to be overly experienced to assume the starting duties right away and lead his team to the very top.
UPDATE (7/19, 6:39 a.m.): Hockey'sFuture's Capitals 2006 Draft Review is up.