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2019 NHL Entry Draft Preview: The Big Five

Kicking off a look ahead to this weekend’s draft with a rundown on five players the Caps could target with their first-round pick

2014 NHL Draft - Round 1

There’s a lot to process and predict with the upcoming NHL Entry Draft - so we’ve brought in our friend and Caps blogger Luke Adomanis to help break it all down with a series of draft preview posts leading up to this weekend’s festivities.

Background

This should be obvious, but I am not a professional scout (though I did attend an ISS Hockey scout class for four months). I essentially follow people a lot smarter than me (and they’ll be credited at the end of the article) and I’ll take note of players they mention over the season that I think will fit well with the Capitals. From there watch as much video on those players as possible, and where video is lacking, work off of other scouting reports. It certainly isn’t a perfect process, but it should give you more insight into players and a look into the draft you wouldn’t know otherwise.

Introduction

Ah the NHL draft. It’s like Christmas morning. You get some new toys that you hope you can play with for years. For many, after the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s the most exciting time of the season.

All drafts are important, but the 2019 NHL draft and the drafts over the next two to three years are very important for the Washington Capitals. Their core of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby is aging, and while most of them are elite talents that will be deadly for years, there’s only so much elite talent can do to hold off the aging process.

This draft is the stepping stone for the Capitals future. The Caps must find high-end talent if they want to continue to be a contender long after Ovechkin and Backstrom get their numbers raised into the Capital One rafters. While the front office has done a good job of finding talent from outside to help complement the team’s homegrown core (culminating with a Cup last summer). But between trading second-round picks like candy and drafting “safe” players in recent years, the Caps are in desperate need of top-end prospects.

We all know the saying “draft the best available”, it’s a mantra just about every General Manager and lead scouts says post draft and that includes the Capitals. But this year, maybe more than any other year, it’s very important the Capitals don’t just stick to that mantra.

A quick history lesson: in the last four drafts the Capitals have used 12 of their 22 picks on defensemen (and just eight on forwards); of those 12 defensemen, seven were left-handed. Going even deeper, of the five right-handed defensemen, NONE were taken before the fifth round.

That blueline-focused drafting has resulted in some potentially great defensive prospects like Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Martin Fehervary. But with that group - not to mention years left with proven NHLers Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Christian Djoos, Michael Kempny, and Nick Jensen - the Caps don’t really need any more defensemen, especially left-handed ones. They are set for at least the next few years on the blueline.

The forward situation is a different story. They’re lacking in top-six skill, mainly because they’ve taken zero forwards in the first round and only one forward in the second round over the previous four drafts. And that one forward pick, Kody Clark, was the safe pick. They don’t need safe anymore; they need home run forwards, and that should be their only focus this draft: high-risk/high-reward, top-six potential, highly skilled forwards... and no one else.

So the focus for these draft articles will mostly be on forwards that the Caps should be looking at in the upcoming draft, although we’ll wrap up the week with a look at a handful of defensemen the Capitals could target if they absolutely must draft a defensemen.

But for now, this is all about the offense.

Tools

  • Two tools in use for evaluating potential picks come from Will at Scouching: the Prospect Profiler and the NHL Prospect Tracker.
  • The tracker uses a metric called NHLeS, which combines the player’s age, position and league adjusted NHLe score weighing INV% (player points-per-game divided by team goals-per-game - basically how much are they involved in their teams scoring) and raw point production. It essentially gives you a number that tells you which round value you’ll get from that player.
  • Based on this metric, a 20+ NHLeS is first round value, 25+ is top half of the first round, and 30+ is a top-10/top-five player. It’s not perfect, like any metric - for example, it isn’t kind to some European players, or a player that doesn’t get a lot of power-play time or ice time in general.
  • Players “ranked among draft-eligible players” are referencing Scouch’s Prospect Tracker, which has the 100 ranked players on it. Not all players mentioned in these previews, especially in the back half of the draft, will be ranked in the Prospect Tracker. So again, it isn’t 100% accurate but should be close enough to give you a decent picture on these players.

So let’s get started.

The Big Five

To me, the Big Five are five semi-realistic forwards that the Capitals could grab at pick #25, or maybe trade up a bit to grab. If the Capitals can walk away with one of these players with their pick in the first round they should be extremely happy.

ARTHUR KALIYEV, LW
OHL
67 games played: 51 goals, 51 assists
6’2”, 194 pounds

For months I had two guys on my list that I really wanted the Capitals to grab but probably wouldn’t be available when they walked up to the podium: Cole Caufield and Arthur Kaliyev. Originally, Kalyiev was going top 10 and Caufield would be around 20. Well, over the last month they completely switched. Caufield probably won’t make it out of 10, and Kaliyev could fall into the 20s. How did this happen?

Before we look at as to why he’s falling, let’s talk about what makes Kaliyev great: he’s a pure offensive threat. He has the best shot in the draft, specifically his slapper. They actually refer to him as the Russian rocket in the OHL (note: he isn’t Russian, just a Russian like name. He’s American). A lot of people focus on his shot, but he’s also an amazing playmaker with great vision. Combine his shot with his playmaking it’s easy to see how he ended up with his stat line this past season.

His 51 goals and 51 assists led all U18 OHL players by a whopping 28 points and 13 more points than any other U18 CHL (WHL, OHL, and QMJHL) player. Speaking of his 51 goals, the only active NHL players to hit 50 goals or more in the OHL as a 17 year old are Alex DeBrincat, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Jeff Skinner. That’s a fine list to be apart of. Granted, none of those players were knocked as hard as Kaliyev was when it comes to his weaknesses.

When it comes to the negative side of Arthur’s game, it’s the reason most high end skilled players are knocked: effort. Sometimes it feels like Kaliyev isn’t even trying. Many scouts even noted that they wouldn’t even notice him some games. It also doesn’t help his defensive game is lacking and he doesn’t use his big body to win enough puck battles. His skating is also average. It’s not that he’s always being lazy or losing battles, it’s just that he doesn’t do it enough on a consistent basis. If he did he’d be a lock for a top five pick.

So yes, it makes sense why a team with a top 10 or maybe even top 15 pick wouldn’t draft Kaliyev, because they need to be certain with their picks. But if Arthur falls to the Capitals, they absolutely must draft him. He’ll be a project that will need a lot of molding, but as stated above, they need to go after every home run swing forward there is. Because if he works out, he’ll be a top line 40+ goal scorer in the NHL. Plus, imagine Ovechkin giving Kaliyev some shooting tips.

Kaliyev’s NHLeS is the best in the draft at 35.44 (only four other players have 30+: Jack Hughes, Bowen Byram, Bobby Brink, and Thomas Harley), yes even larger than Jack Hughes and Kakko Kappo. That number is essentially pegging Kaliyev as a top five pick in terms of value. Again, this doesn’t mean he’s better than those players, but it gives you a sense of just how elite Arthur is offensively. You simply can’t pass on that type of value at pick #25 if he’s available then. Hell, if he falls to 20 the Capitals shouldn’t hesitate to trade up.

BOBBY BRINK, RW
USHL
43 games played: 35 goals, 33 assists
5’8”, 165 pounds

Brink has been one of my favorites for awhile now. He’s already being dubbed the steal of the draft months before the draft even began. His hockey IQ is through the roof, one of the best in the draft, if not the best. He’s thinking the game one step ahead of everyone else. Combining this with his amazing hands and vision, he seems to create something offensively every shift. It’s hard to stop him once he has the puck.

The reason he isn’t a top 10 or top 5 in the draft is because his top speed isn’t great, which is odd for someone his size. But he isn’t a terrible skater in general, he can still pivot and move quickly in small areas, it’s just his top speed is poor, which limits his odd man rush ability. But he is still very young and can work on that part of his game. He doesn’t have to become a burner, but it would be nice if he had some separation speed.

He has a 30.93 NHLeS, making him a top five pick value. So grabbing him with the #25 pick would be the steal of the draft. He reminds me of a more offensively talented TJ Oshie. He might not be as physical but he is great at winning those puck battles and getting the puck into the back of the net. He has the same scoring ability, but is a better playmaker than Oshie, in my opinion.

He also leads all draft eligible players this year with a 52.43Inv%, meaning he had a goal or an assist for 52.43% of the goals his team scored when he was playing. That’s unreal. No other draft eligible player was over 48.32%. Additionally, he also leads all draft eligibles in Goal% with him scoring almost 27% of his teams goal. Just fantastic numbers.

RYAN SUZUKI, C
OHL
65 games player: 25 goals, 50 assists
6’1”, 180 pounds

Suzuki is blessed with high end vision and great passing ability. He consistently has his head up and on a swivel to find his teammates. He can thread needles, make between the leg passes, and find the open man waiting on the backdoor. He isn’t a burner but he has plenty of speed too, which makes him a big threat on odd man rushes. His shot isn’t amazing but it gets the job done.

He isn’t the most physical player, but he’s very smart, which helps him defensively. He even had some PK time. He won’t win the Selke award but he’s responsible enough to trust in his own end (although he can sometimes cheat a bit to try to get up ice).

A stat that always intrigues me is a players box scores compared to the rest of his team. I think that can tell a lot about a player. Suzuki’s production isn’t amazing, but when you consider he led the next forward on his team by 25 points, it’s easy to see why. He was carrying his team on his back.

Suzuki is the fifth best forward among draft eligibles with a 27.58 NHLeS, which is amazing value after the top 10 goes. If the Capitals could grab him they’d finally have a true playmaking center with top six potential since they took Kuznetsov nearly nine year ago. He’d be able to fill in perfectly if the Capitals lose Backstrom or Kuznetsov in the next five years.

PAVEL DOROFEYEV, RW
MHL
19 games played: 17 goals, 14 assists
6’1”, 176lbs

Dorofeyev is one of the more creative players in the draft. He plays wing but seems to dish out the puck like a center. What he does best is slow the play down when he has the puck. In that way he reminds me a lot of Kuznetsov when he enters the zone and just controls the flow of the game. He doesn’t have the same high end speed as Kuznetsov but he can still get up the ice quickly.

Where he has Kuznetsov beat is he’s a better goal scorer. Pavel is so good at acting like he’s going to take his time then burst at full speed into the slot and snipe it to the back of the net. He also leads all draft eligibles with almost 14.5 shots/60. He isn’t a big kid but he’s very good at protecting the puck, then able to use his vision to find an open teammate or spot for a shot.

The concern with him is he’s already 18 years old and he seems to be a big fish in a little pond while playing in the MHL. Is he actually great or is he just really good in the MHL where he finished first in points per game for all U19 players? He did get some KHL time, 23 games, where he had one goal and one assist, but some of those kids in the KHL rarely even see five minutes a game, so it’s unfair to judge just based off of that.

Dorofeyev was third among all draft eligibles this year in 48.22Inv%, so he was a part of a lot of his teams goals when he played. He also ranked second among draft eligibles in Goal%, scoring 26.45% of his teams goals. But again, is he just too good for the MHL? That’s the gamble a team makes when drafting him. He could just flail at the next level, but then again, isn’t that with every prospect you draft? Pavel is very skilled with a lot of upside to become a top six playmaking and goal scoring winger in the NHL, and is definitely worth a #25 pick.

PHILLIP TOMASINO, C
OHL
67 games played: 34 goals, 38 assists
6’0”, 183 pounds

If you want speed, Tomasino is your guy. Maybe one of the fastest in the draft, this center doesn’t just bring pace, but importantly, he makes plays at high speed. That seems to be a skill a lot of people overlook. Sure you could be fast but doesn’t mean you can make plays at top speed. Tomasino can do that and does it well.

He has very good vision and hands to make some sweet passes to his teammates. So when he creates room with his speed he knows exactly where his teammates will be and can get them the puck. He isn’t the most physical player, he can be rubbed out along the boards, but he still does a good job protecting the puck when going to the net.

The reason he probably isn’t ranked higher is because he plays on a stacked team. He started in the bottom of the lineup and had to move his way up so his point totals are good but not great. But he finished the season second in CHL in 5v5 goals per game, fourth in 5v5 primary points per game, and first in 5v5 points per game. That’s extremely impressive. He’ll probably have huge year next season in the OHL.

His NHLeS (22.09%) and Inv% (22.10) are good, not amazing, but again, considering the team he was on was a stacked team and he didn’t get the most ice time, especially on the power play, certainly brings those numbers down for him. But at the end of the day he’s a very good offensive package with a lot of speed, built for the modern NHL. He has second line center potential, and if the Capitals can grab that at the end of the first it would be huge.

Conclusion

There’s just about a zero chance all five of these players are there for the Capitals with the #25 pick, but don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that at least one of them is available. At the very least, one should be there at the start of the 20 pick and the Capitals should really look into moving up for them. And so help me Lord, if the Capitals draft a left handed defensemen with that pick...

If I had to guess I’d say Kaliyev and Suzuki won’t be there at #25. For awhile I thought for sure Dorofeyev wouldn’t be there and Tomasino would, but that seems to have flipped the last couple weeks. A lot of people think Tomasino will be selected in the teens since he’s a center. Dorofeyev has dropped so much I’ve seen him in some second round mock drafts. I think the age and lack of international tournaments are scaring some people away from Dorofeyev, but his skill level is so high it would be a crime if he gets out of the first round.

To me, the mixture of most realistic and best case scenario is Brink. I truly believe he can be a legit top line player in the NHL and people will look back on this draft and wonder why he wasn’t taken earlier. If he’s there for the Capitals, they must select him, unless Kaliyev is available.

Credits

Thanks to the resources below for doing most of the hard work when it comes to creating this list: