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Capitals Fan Draft Primer: 2009 Edition

The season's over, the Cup has been awarded, the Rink Wraps are all but complete and the mind of hockey fans, both on SBN and elsewhere, are turning to the NHL draft. With that in mind, we here at Japers' Rink have put together a draft primer for Capitals fans.  Make the jump for all the information about the organization's strengths, weaknesses, prospects, and targets that you'll need heading in to this weekend's festivities.


Capitals Draft Picks

(1) Round 1, pick 24, 24th overall
(2) Round 2, pick 25, 55th overall
(3) Round 3, pick 24, 85th overall
(4) Round 4, pick 24, 115th overall
(5) Round 5, pick 24, 145th overall
(6) Round 6, pick 24, 175th overall
(7) Round 7, pick 24, 205th overall

Capitals Top Prospects

These are the organization’s top prospects, regardless of position. After their names you will find their position, age, and the team with which they finished up last season.

(1) Karl Alzner – Defense, 20, Hershey Bears, AHL
(2) Simeon Varlamov – Goalie, 21, Washington Capitals, NHL
(3) John Carlson – Defense, 19, Hershey Bears, AHL
(4) Michal Neuvirth – Goalie, 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(5) Anton Gustafsson – Center, 19, Bofors, Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan (second division)
(6) Oskar Osala – Left Wing, 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(7) Chris Bourque – Left Wing, 23, Hershey Bears, AHL
(8) Dmitri Kugryshev – Right Wing, Quebec Remparts, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
(9) Francois Bouchard – Right Wing, 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(10) Mathieu Perreault – Center, 21, Hershey Bears, AHL

Top Prospects by Position

Left Wing
(1) Oskar Osala – 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(2) Chris Bourque – 23, Hershey Bears, AHL
(3) Greg Burke – 19, Cedar Rapids, USHL
(4) Andrew Glass – 20, Boston University, NCAA (Hockey East)

(1) Anton Gustafsson – 19, Bofors, Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan (second division)
(2) Mathieu Perreault – 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(3) Jay Beagle – 24, Hershey Bears, AHL
(4) Joel Broda – 19, Calgary Hitmen, WHL
(5) Jake Hauswirth – 21, Omaha Lancers, USHL
(5) Kyle Wilson – 24, Hershey Bears, AHL
(6) Philip DeSimone – 21, University of New Hampshire, NCAA (Hockey East)
(7) Trevor Bruess – 23, MSU – Mankato, NCAA (WCHA)

Right Wing
(1) Dmitri Kugryshev – 19, Quebec Remparts, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
(2) Francois Bouchard – 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(3) Stefan Della Rovere – 20, Hershey Bears, AHL
(4) Andrew Gordon – Right Wing, - 23, Hershey Bears, AHL

(1) Karl Alzner – 20, Hershey Bears, AHL
(2) John Carlson – Defense, 19, Hershey Bears, AHL
(3) Eric Mestery – 19, Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL
(4) Josh Godfrey – 21, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL
(5) Keith Seabrook – 20, Calgary Hitmen, WHL
(6) Joe Finley – 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(7) Sami Lepisto – 24, Hershey Bears, AHL
(8) Viktor Dovgan – 21, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL
(9) Patrick McNeill – 22, Hershey Bears, AHL
(10) Zach Miskovic – 24, St. Lawrence University, NCAA (ECAC)

(1) Simeon Varlamov – 21, Washington Capitals, NHL
(2) Michal Neuvirth – 21, Hershey Bears, AHL
(3) Brandon Holtby – 19, Hershey Bears, AHL
(4) Daren Machesney – 22, Hershey Bears, AHL
(5) Dan Dunn – 21, St. Cloud State, NCAA (WCHA)

Organization Strengths

(1) Goaltending. It certainly looks like Daren Machesney’s 2007-08 season was a fluke and Dan Dunn isn’t starting at St. Cloud State, but the Capitals still have one of, if not the, best goaltender prospect pools in the NHL.

(2) Defense. What the Capitals have at this position is unique: high-end talent and strength in numbers. Unless something goes horribly awry (knock on wood), both Karl Alzner and John Carlson should be very good NHL defensemen and the word is it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise for either (or both) of them to make the team out of camp next fall. Beyond the two blue-chippers the team has about a half dozen guys who have realistic chances at becoming NHL defensemen. Of course the odds on all of the Capitals’ decent defense prospects panning out are pretty slim, but then the odds on none of them panning out are pretty slim too.

(3) Left Wing. The Capitals are obviously doing pretty well for themselves at the left wing position at the NHL level, where Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have scored a combined 181 points and 343 points over the last two seasons, and the team's not doing too bad at the prospect level either.  Both Chris Bourque and Oskar Osala could be playing regularly for the Caps are early as next season and Stefan Della Rovere has a chance to become the kind of fourth line grit guy you always want on your team.

Organization Weaknesses

(1) Size up front. Francois Bouchard, Stefan Della Rovere, Chris Bourque, and Mathieu Perreault are all legitimate NHL prospects; all are under six feet tall, and Bourque and Perreault are 5’9’’ or smaller. There are exceptions of course – both Anton Gustafsson and Oskar Osala are big bodies, but as a whole it’s not a big group.

(2) Two way forwards. One of the team’s weaknesses last year was addressed with the selection of Anton Gustafsson but it's still the case that a number of the team's better forward prospect are either defensively minded grinder types (Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque) or offensive talents with defensive question marks (Francois Bouchard, Mathieu Perreault)

Draft Strategy

Year in and year out, and in every sport, the question is whether it’s smarter to draft based on need or choose the best available player. That debate goes beyond the Washington Capitals and the 2009 NHL Draft and it’s not really the matter we’re here to discuss, but there are a couple of notes to that are worth making in that regard. One is that the Capitals have to very happy with their current situation with regards to goaltending and defense, while they’re probably not as happy with their prospect depth, both in quality and quantity, at the forward positions. The other is that when you’re in a position, like the Capitals are, where your NHL team is successful and your prospect depth is for the most part solid, you can afford to draft players based on overall talent rather than position. With where the Capitals are as an organization right now, a pick that ends up being a second pairing defensemen is more valuable than on that ends up being a third line wing, despite the team’s relative depth at each position. For that reason we favor a general best-player-available strategy, with slight preference for forwards.

However we also think it’s important that the Capitals address needs in the organization in terms of player types and attributes, rather than just by position. For the Capitals that means players who are physical and tenacious enough to battle through adversity and to wear down opponents and who are also skilled enough to take regular shifts. As it stands right now the Capitals have, both at the NHL level and in their prospect pool, plenty of players (Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, Francois Bouchard) who are young, cheap, and generally solid and a fair number of guys (Matt Bradley, John Erskine, Joe Finley, Stefan Della Rovere) who bring physicality and a grinding mentality. What they don’t have enough of are guys like Brooks Laich -- guys who can contribute with their skill at times but are willing to play hard enough and do "the little things" well enough to be significant contributors even when they’re not producing offensively or shutting down quality opponents.

Thus we’d like to see the Capitals go with players who project to be good, if not great, contributors at the NHL level even if their ceiling isn’t as high as some other guys who might be on the board. With where the Capitals stand at present there’s no need to roll the dice on a player who might wind up being either a top line talent or a bust if there are guys who project as second and third line players but have very little downside.

Names to Know

Carter Ashton - The question with Ashton is going to be 'how much stock should we put in one season?'  Make no mistake about it, Ashton's 2008-09 numbers (50 points; 30 goals in 70 games) were impressive but his 07-08 season (nine points; five goals in 40 games) and the fact that he's more physically mature than a lot of the guys he's play against mean Ashton might just be producing because of an advantage in sheer athleticism.  Someone out there will fall in love with his production and frame and draft him in the first round.  Whether they're getting a steal or bust is something we won't know for several years.

Zach Budish – Budish is an enormous (6’3’’, 229 pounds) right wing who hasn’t played competitive hockey since 07-08 due to a torn ACL he suffered while playing football last fall.  Still, Budish, who will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall, is ranked 22nd among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau and should be a first round pick.  If he’s still there at 24, he’s another guy the Capitals would consider, which is great considering that his favorite NHL player is Alexander Ovechkin.

Matt Clark – No player’s stock has risen as quickly as Clark’s has this year -- he went from being ranked 23rd among Ontario League skaters at the beginning of the season, to 58th among all North American based skaters at the midpoint, to 31st among North American skaters on the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s final list.  Clark’s selection may not make a big splash right away, but he’s a name to remember going forward.

Jared Cowen – The 6’5’’, 225 pound blueliner is generally regarded as the second-best defenseman in his own end (behind Victor Hedman); how much he can contribute offensively remains to be seen.  The most important thing for fans of the team that drafts Cowen to realize that despite his talent level, it’s probably going to be a little while before he’s a shutdown defender in the NHL, and that he should become a solid player a few years down the line.  Also his favorite movie is "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", so we have to give some him credit there.

Matt Duchene – The consensus third overall pick, Duchene has a ton of skill, a great shot, and is one of the fastest and most fluid skaters in this year’s draft.  Because of his size (Duchene is both under six feet tall and under 200 pounds), speed, and shooting ability that surpasses his playmaking skills, it’s possible Duchene ends up as a wing in the NHL, but solid two-way centers are so rare it’d only happen in the right situation.

Brian Dumoulin - He's 18 years old, 6'3'', 197 pounds, has a body fat percentage of six, an eighty inch wingspan, and will be headed to college (Boston University) in the fall, giving him ample time to develop before he has to be signed.  Sound like someone the Capitals might be interested in?  Yeah, we think so too.  Dumoulin is currently ranked 61st among North American skaters and the Capitals could make a move on him in the late second or early third round.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - A smooth skater with a ton of offensive potential, Ekman-Larsson has been climbing draft boards around the league all season long and should be snapped up in the first half of the first round, perhaps even in the top ten picks.  There might not be a ton of fanfare around Ekman-Larsson's selection, but he's a guy everyone could be looking at in a few years finding themselves wondering how he fell as far as he did in the same way people do with Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards.

Ryan Ellis - Skill with a lack of size seems to be the theme of this draft and there's no player that empitomizes it better than Ellis.  What he's done in terms of production is simply amazing for a defenseman: through 120 career Ontario Hockey League regular season games Ellis has recorded 152 points (37 goals), and he notched eight goals and twenty-three assists in twenty playoffs games this past spring.  Yet Ellis' 5'10'', 175 pound frame is making people wonder just how effective he'll be in the bigger, strong NHL.  Unspurpsingly because of his size and offensive skills, Ellis has drawn comprison's to Brian Rafalsi.  Ellis should be selected in the first half of the first round, and a top eight selection isn't out of the question.

Victor Hedman – John Tavares, the slick center who finished last season with Dale Hunter’s London Knights, might be the sexy number one overall pick, but Hedman may end up being the more valuable NHL player by virtue of his position.  A boy in a man’s body at 6’6’’, 227 pounds, Hedman was second in the Swedish Elite League in plus-minus, tenth in goals among defenseman, notched 21 points in 43 games and played 21:16 a night as a seventeen year old and frankly if the top two prospects in the this draft were defenseman Victor Smith from Regina and center Johnny Karlsson from Malmo, the conversation leading up to this draft might have been very different.  On June 26th, fans of whichever team winds up with Hedman may not be as excited as those who wind up with Tavares but they might just be better off five years down the road – big, physical defensemen who can play in all situations and play 28 minutes a night in the NHL are a very rare commodity.

Evander Kane - Kane scored an impressive 48 goals and 48 assists for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League this past season, doing it mostly with his soft hands and skating ability, including his lightning-quick speed.  The biggest knock on Kane is his size: he's listed at just 160 pounds on the Giants' official website.  Still, Kane has what they call a "projectable frame" and his talent will make him a top five pick.  Atlanta is the most likely destination and if Kane ends up going there an interesting off-ice story will be what impact a black marquee player could have when it comes to raising the Thrashers' profile.

Zack Kassian - At age 18 Kassian is already 6'3'' and over 200 pounds and he uses the size well, winning pucks in corners, hitting opponents, and opening up space in the offensive zone.  As is so often the case with power forward prospects, there are some questions about how well his skill will translate at the highest level.  Nonetheless, whomever drafts Kassian should be confident they're getting a guy who will one day at the very least be a solid NHL player.  Kassian's been projected to go anywhere from top-ten to early twenties and if he's still on the board at pick seventeen or eighteen the Caps might be enticed enough by his position and style of play to move up and get him.

Robin Lehner – Lehner’s  been regarded as the best European goalie prospect all season and could be the first goalie taken this year.  In a class that’s not regarded as all that strong in net, it will be interesting to see where exactly the top goaltending prospects, Lehner included, go.

Ryan O'Reilly - Here's what (by way of had to say about O'Reilly: "This young player showed an incredible drive to achieve on a team that lacked much talent and direction. He possesses excellent on-ice vision and has a nice set of hands. He has worked himself from a poor skater, to an average skater with a lot of effort. He is very smart without the puck for a young player and is quite reliable defensively. Is one of the OHL’s most effective penalty killers....He is definitely a character kid with a great attitude, who is a very hard worker. Erie is hoping he can rub off on many of its other players. Has excellent intangibles and top shelf leadership qualities....We like him a lot and think he has a lot of future upside."  The bottom line on O'Reilly is that, barring injury, he should be come a productive NHL player in the mold of Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and Mike Richards.  Just what his ceiling is at the NHL is something people aren't quite sure of, but whomever drafts O'Reilly should be getting someone who will contribute to their roster some time in the next few years.  The relatively low risk, work ethic, and style of play make O'Reilly perhaps the single player most likely to be selected by the Capitals with the 24th pick (barring trade) - and probably the best bet among players still left at that spot.

Brayden Schenn - The younger brother of former fifth overall pick and current Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Schenn is a center who brings offensive talent, physicality, a large frame, and solid defense to the table.  He's probably not going to come in and play as big a role as his brother did in his rookie season, although it's possible given that he should be a top-eight pick.  The best odds are on Los Angeles (picking fifth) and Phoenix (picking sixth).

Jordan Schroeder - Like Kane, Schroeder, who currently attends the University of Minnesota, has a ton of talent but his small stature (about 5'8'', 165 pounds) is making some scouts uncomfortable.  Don't be surprised if a team or two pass over Schroeder only to end up regretting it down the line a la Zach Parise.

John Tavares
– Tavares’ name is widely expected to be the first one called when the Islanders' front office brain trust steps to the podium to kick things off on the 26th and the funny thing is, he might be even better than a lot of people realize.  Tavares has had a high profile for a while now, dating back to 2005 when he was granted an exemption and allowed to join the Ontario Hockey League a year early.  That, coupled with a 2006-07 season that saw Tavares break Wayne Gretzky's OHL record for goals in a season by a sixteen-year-old and the Canadian sports media’s obsession with finding the next great young player, mean Tavares has been in the limelight for a long time.  So long, in fact, that people have moved away from praising his immense skill level and have begun to focus on his flaws.  Make no mistake about it, they exist – Tavares isn’t a great skater and doesn’t have outstanding size – but he’s an immense offensive talent.