Special guest contributor Luke Adomanis is back with Part 3 of his draft preview (and if you missed Part 1 and Part 2, well, get to reading!). Today’s focus shifts away from forwards with a look at some defensemen and goalies who might be worth an early look for the Caps.
Given their lack of high-end prospects at forward, the Caps really should keep their focus on building up their depth in that department (particularly with their earlier picks). That said, it’s unrealistic to think that they won’t be looking at any defensemen or goalies... so here are a handful of options that they should target if they absolutely have to.
Starting with defensemen, we noted back in our look at The Big Five how the Caps are stacked with left-handed blueliners right now, both in the pipeline and on the current roster — so if they decide to pick some defensemen in this year’s draft they should really focus on right-handers. The only reason to make an exception would be if they found the next Nick Lidstrom... and there probably aren’t any of those in this draft.
Along with rightys, the Caps should focus on defensemen who are offensively gifted; they have plenty of two-way defensemen, but not enough guys who can jump into the play and balance out those more inclined to stay at home.
ANTTONI HONKA, RHD
27 games played: 3 goals, 8 assists
5’10.5”, 178 pounds
After being ranked as a top fifteen pick for most the season, Honka’s draft numbers have been falling all season. He suffers from what his brother, Julius Honka, suffered from: lack of consistency in his defensive game. Honka is a pure offensive threat. His skating is high end, his vision is amazing, and he’s one of the best passers in the draft. He makes high dangers though high risk plays, but sometimes too much that can get him into trouble. As a whole his offensive game is one of the best in the draft, but his defensive game still needs a lot of work (although it was getting better as the season was coming to an end).
So if the Capitals draft him they will have a project on their hands — but if they help him round out his game, then stick him next to a defensively reliable partner like Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler, or Martin Fehervary, then they could make a top-end top-four pair. Honka will probably fall out of the first round but may not be around long enough for the Caps’ second-round pick. If the Caps are able to grab another second-round pick and use it on Honka (if they MUST get a defensemen that is), that would be ideal. His NHLeS is third best among all defensemen with a 24.46, which is very, very good, near top 10 pick value.
LASSI THOMPSON, RHD
63 games played: 17 goals, 24 assists
6’0”, 186 pounds
If the Capitals draft any defensemen, it’s probably this guy. Why? Because he’s a WHL defensemen and it seems like Caps pick one every freakn year. And Thompson plays for the Kelowna Rockets, a team the Caps have selected two defensemen from recently: Madison Bowey and Lucas Johansen. Thompson isn’t crazy offensively talented as Honka but he’s still high end. If Johansen was mostly defensive with good offensive skills, Thompson is mostly offensive with good defensive skills. He has a cannon for a shot, a very good first pass, and a great vision in the offensive zone. His IQ is probably his best attribute, which helps him all over the ice. His main drawback is probably development. He played in Finland his whole life, then came over this past season to play one WHL season, and now he’s going back to Finland next season. Definitely not the smartest way to develop. His NHLeS 21.81 (fourth best among draft eligible defensemen), which is first round value. But again, their first round pick should be an offensemen, if they want Lassi they’ll need to find an early or mid second round pick.
JORDAN SPENCE, RHD
68 games played: 6 goals, 43 assists
5’10”, 177 pounds
Spence’s best quality is his smarts. He knows what to do with the puck at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t just throw the puck away when he feels pressure. He has a rare confidence as a young player that makes him very reliable. He has good offensive capabilities that are driven by his smarts because he knows where his teammates are going to be. His skating is okay not great for a player his size. Unlike the first two players on this list, he should be available at the end of the second around the Capitals pick. He was a rookie in the QMJHL this season and played as well as a Sophomore if not better, making people believe he has much bigger upside than most. His NHLeS is a good 19.51, which is almost first round value.
RONNIE ATARD, RHD
48 games played: 30 goals, 34 assists
6’3”, 207 pounds
Atard is a big boy that absolutely massacred the USHL this past season. In his first two seasons combined he had 20 points in 96 games. In just 48 games this past season he had 64 points. So he tripled his points in half the time. He’s just the third USHL defensemen in USHL history to hit 30 goals, the first time in 25 years. He isn’t a lock to be a top five pick because he’s a double overager, like Brett Leason. It doesn’t mean he’s bad but there’s always cause for concern when someone isn’t just drafted once but twice. His turn around is mainly due to his much improved skating and hockey sense. And as you can see from his analytics, he was an absolute beast this season. He should be available in the back half of the draft, which is a good place for the Capitals to draft him since they need to focus on offense early in the draft. You can do a lot worse than picking a big boy that can skate fairly well and help put pucks in the net.
The Capitals are set the next ten years in net with their Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek duo, and even though MItchell Gibson had a tough season I wouldn’t count him out either. Basically, it isn’t necessary the Capitals grab a goaltender this draft but here are a few that would be worth taking in the later rounds.
ILYA KONOVALOV, G
45 games played: .930sv%, 1.89GAA
6’0”, 194 pounds
Konovalov is a very smart goalie that reads plays and shots very well. And he needs to because he considered small for most goalies. He had an amazing year in the KHL and one won the rookie. The last KHL goaltender to do that in the KHL was Andrei Vasilevskiy. So pretty good company to be apart of. Yes he’s a double overager but for European goalies it really doesn’t mean much. He is very much worth a late pick in the draft.
AMIR MIFTAKHOV, G
33 games played: .919sv%, 2.40GAA
6’0”, 172 pounds
Amir was a goalie I really wanted the Capitals to draft last summer. Lucky for them no one drafted him. He had a decent not great year in the VHL this past season. But he still has a great toolkit. He’s incredibly quick and athletic, reminds me a lot of Juuse Saros. Obviously, his biggest issue is size, but I think his speed and smarts more than make up for that. He could easily be grabbed very late in the draft.
LASSI LEHTINEN, G
38 games played: .903sv%, 2.21GAA
6’0”, 176 pounds
Another small goalie, Lehtinen is a double overage. He quick, smart, and has a great glove hand. He didn’t have an amazing season recently but he’s on a similar track record as Veini Vehviläinen, who is going to be a very good NHL goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He will be a late round pick, if he’s picked at all, so no reason Capitals shouldn’t take a shot at him if he’s still there and they are in need of another goalie.
Again, the Capitals shouldn’t really be drafting any defensemen or goalies, but if they can find another second or third pick they should be able to find some right handed defensemen. As for goalies, there’s no need for them to spend an early pick on a goalie. There are some great ones out there like Spencer Knight, Pyotr Kochetkov, and Mads Søgaard, but with Samsonov and Vanecek nearly NHL ready the Capitals don’t need to go early for a goalie, there are ALWAYS a plethora of great goalies available late. Granted, it’s hard to ever get mad at the Capitals when they draft goalies, because when they do they tend to work out very well.