So led the NHL press release on the trade the Capitals made on Monday. While Stephenson will be remembered fondly as a member of the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, a trade involving a bottom-six forward and a mid/low draft pick is not the biggest news item of any particular day. All Caps fans wish Stephenson well in his new city, and his scoring a goal in his first game as a Golden Knight no doubt brought a smile to a lot of Caps fans’ faces.
With Stephenson settled with his new team, our attention now turns to the return on the deal: the fifth-round draft pick in the 2021 Entry Draft.
Now getting any draft pick for a player that had become the 14th forward on the depth chart has to be viewed as a plus, and good on Brian MacLellan for doing so... but if anyone is hoping for much of a return on that return, reality might trump hope.
Since the 2000 Entry Draft, 631 players have been selected in the fifth round of the Entry Draft – 548 skaters and 83 goaltenders. Of the skaters, 150 have dressed for at least one NHL game, a group led by Lee Stempniak, St. Louis’s 148th overall pick in 2003 who went on to play 911 games for 10 franchises (233 for the team that drafted him) through last season. Roughly half of those 150 skaters (74) played less than a season’s worth of NHL games in their respective careers; 24 of them played fewer than ten games.
Only nine of the 150 skaters to dress at least one game in the NHL posted at least 100 goals. Jamie Benn leads that group, taken with the 129th overall pick in 2007 by Dallas and going on to post 286 goals in 774 games so far - all with the Stars. Again, he’s the outlier, as almost 100 of those 150 skaters (97 to be exact) recorded fewer than ten goals in the NHL, and to date, 25 did not or have yet to record that first NHL goal.
Benn is the only one of the 150 skaters to have recorded more than 500 points (663), and only 26 have at least 100 points. At the other end, 20 of those skaters did not or have yet to record a single point in the NHL.
Among goalies, the contributions are even more scarce. Of the 83 goalies taken in the fifth round since 2000, 21 have appeared in at least one NHL game Dallas again found success in that department, drafting Mike Smith 161st overall in 2001. Smith has gone on to appear in 586 games for six franchises (although just 44 for the Stars).
Beyond Smith, it’s not a particularly noteworthy group overall. Of the 21 goalies taken in the fifth round of the draft to appear in at least one NHL game, they have 712 wins among them, but 493 of them are held by three goaltenders – Smith (250), Connor Hellebuyck (131), and Petr Mrazek (112). Only two of the nine goalies to play in at least ten NHL games has a career save percentage over .915 – Hellebuyck (.917 in 234 games played, all with the Winnipeg Jets) and Calvin Petersen (.924 in 11 games, all with the Los Angeles Kings last season).
As for the Caps, even if you go back further over time, the picture of fifth round draft picks does not improve. Washington has had 46 fifth-round draft picks in team history – 43 skaters and three goaltenders. Of the 43 skaters, only 13 have appeared in at least one NHL game. Dean Evason is the only one among them to appear in at least 500 games, dressing for 803 games in his NHL career for five teams (but only 17 games for the Caps); Lou Franceschetti falls one game short of that 500-game mark. Only Evason recorded more than 100 career NHL goals (139), and he and Franceschetti were the only ones to post at least 100 points (372 and 140, respectively).
At the other end of the spectrum, six of the 13 skaters to play in the NHL did so (or in the case of Shane Gersich and Beck Malenstyn, have done so to date) fewer than ten times, and only three of the players getting any NHL time were selected after 1999 – Connor Carrick (137th overall pick in the 2012 draft), Gersich (134th in 2014), and Malenstyn (145th in 2016).
Of the three goaltenders the Caps have selected in the fifth round, only Peter Sidorkiewicz (91st overall in 1981) played in the NHL — but never with the Caps, as he was traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1985 along with Evason. The other two — Rob Gherson (145th overall in 2002), and Daren Machesney (143rd in 2005) never saw the ice in the NHL.
At the end of the day, the return for Stephenson is at best a lottery ticket; there’s a chance they come up with a serviceable player, a la Stempniak or Smith, or even a diamond in the rough like Jamie Benn. At the very least you hope that whoever they take produces at least as much as Stephenson did.
If you want to look for a silver lining, of course, it’s worth noting that the Caps have found a couple of decent prospects recently in Shane Gersich (2014) and Beck Malenstyn (2016), both of whom have seen at least some NHL time already. When you consider that there was a 13-year gap between Caps’ fifth round draft picks who played in the NHL (Roman Tvrdon, a 1999 pick, and Connor Carrick, a 2012 pick), this is some progress.
But even with the incremental progress being made in this round of the draft, and the steep climb any pick in this round has in the NHL, it might be at least five or six years before Caps fans get a glimpse of the true return on the trade made on Monday.
In other words... hope is a good thing, but temper your expectations.