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An In-Depth Look at the Capitals’ 2021 NHL Draft

Get to know more about the six new prospects selected by the Caps over the weekend.

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

It’s been a whirlwind week, with barely time to breathe after the Seattle expansion draft before the NHL Entry Draft was coming up right behind it.

While the Capitals didn’t have a first-round pick but made some interesting picks that could pay off - although they did follow their usual method of playing it perhaps a bit too safe, it’s tough to argue with the results they’ve gotten over the years of finding at least one good-to-great NHLer each draft.

The biggest hole in their prospect pool heading into the draft was definitely right-handed defensemen, and they addressed that right off the bat with their first two picks. They also selected two left-handed defensemen with some offensive upside (perhaps the picks where they should have swung for the fences more), an intriguing center from Germany who could be a hidden gem, and an overage goalie who is... big.

Let’s dig in.

Vincent Iorio, RHD
18 years old, 6’3, 194lbs
2nd round pick (55th)
WHL: 22GP - 5G - 7A - 12PTS

When looking at Iorio’s playing style, the first player that comes to mind is Caps’ 2018 first round pick, Alexander Alexeyev. Both are big bodies who may not have one specific area where they excel but are very good in a lot of areas.

Iorio’s best trait, as it should be with all prospects, is his hockey IQ. That combined with his size has made him very good at ending opponents’ time in the defensive zone. What takes him to the next level is that his breakout passes are hard and accurate. He doesn’t need much space to make the pass out of danger, and when the pass isn’t there he isn’t afraid to skate it out. With his size, if he can get a step on the forecheckers, he’s a moving train that’s hard to stop.

And as Mitch Brown shows above, Iorio is very good at exiting and entering the offensive zone. So put that all together: he has the brain to read plays and anticipate, can use his physicality to gain control, and has a quick, accurate pass to get the puck out of the zone (or will skate it himself into the offensive zone). It’s no wonder he’s so good defensively; he does it all, from playing behind the puck to making sure the puck doesn’t stay in the defensive zone long.

The issue is that once the puck is in the offensive zone, he doesn’t really possess the creativity to do much else with it - but that’s perfectly fine. Put him on the ice with the highly skilled players and he’ll make sure that those players spend more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.

And this isn’t to say Iorio doesn’t have the ability to evolve that part of his game, either. In the post draft interview with assistant GM Ross Mahoney, the Caps (and others) believe that Iorio is on the verge of a huge breakout season. He’s been playing behind Braden Schneider, the 19th overall pick last year. Schneider got all the first unit power play, penalty kill, and even strength time - but he’s moving to the AHL next season, which will free up Iorio to take some of those big minutes. It’s in this upgraded role that Mahoney thinks Iorio’s offensive game will pop.

Iorio is on the older side of the draft and with his large frame, maybe his play is more dictated by his maturity over other players, but he’s proven that his brain is top end. He has top-four ability like Alexeyev. If they both can pan out, they’d make a hell of a big shutdown pair that can also pitch in offensively.

Brent Johnson, RHD
18 years old, 5’11”, 165lbs
3rd round pick (80th)

Of all the picks, Johnson is maybe the most intriguing with the highest upside and the only one I watched a handful of games on before the draft. He’s a smaller defensemen but like Iorio he’s got tremendous hockey smarts. Based on his stats he comes across as just an offensive defenseman, but his hockey IQ allows him to be good defensively as well. He’s so good at anticipating and reading plays in the defensive zone - and ending them before they begin.

The fun fact about Brent is he went from 16U AAA hockey to a top pair defensemen in the USHL instantly and was very productive on a bad team (14th of 15 teams). How productive was he? Let’s take a look at his stats among USHL defensemen according to Pick224:

  • ES Primary Points/Game: 3rd (1st among first year draft eligible)
  • Primary Points/Game: 4th (2nd among first year draft eligible, behind Luke Hughes)
  • Total Points/Game: 9th (6th among first year draft eligible)
  • Primary Points/60: 4th (2nd among first year draft eligible, again trailing only Luke Hughes)

That’s all sort of impressive for a kid from Texas who jumped into the USHL as a top pairing defensemen. Hughes was taken fourth overall in this years’ draft and played 28 games in the USHL last year while Johnson was in a 16U AAA league last season. Hughes’ team also wasn’t great (0.481 win percentage), but they were much better than Brent’s team (0.370 win percentage).

The issue for Johnson is he needs to get much bigger and more consistent on his defensive second efforts. Usually his first effort of a poke check or getting his body in front of a player will work, but when it doesn’t he sometimes gives up on the play. If he can figure that out, take a leap forward, and continue to grow as he gets into the college ranks he could very much be a highly skilled top-four player.

There’s actually a bit of Mike Green in him - perhaps not in sheer talent level but in terms of how everything offensively seems to come so easy to him. It looks like he puts in minimal effort as he skates around the offensive zone.

The two videos below are great primers on what Johnson has to offer:

Joaquim Lemay, LHD
19 years old (on 7/28), 6’1”, 172lbs
4th round pick (119th)

There isn’t much out there on Lemay, which can sometimes mean most people didn’t really see a reason to put him on their radar at all - but if the Caps are willing to take him mid-draft, there’s something they must really like about his game.

From what little video there is of his game, it seems that his best asset by far is his skating. He’s very agile, can turn on a dime, and moves up and down the ice smoothly. Lemay also titled himself an offensive defensemen (though the points haven’t started clicking for him just yet).

He’ll be 19 on 7/28, making him an overager, and he comes from the BCHL, which isn’t a league that develops a ton of NHL players. He’s slated to go to the University of Nebraska-Omaha this upcoming season, though, so we’ll see what he can do in a good hockey program.

Haakon Hanelt, C
18 years old, 6’0”, 183lbs
5th round pick (151st)

The Capitals found some great value in Hanelt with their fifth-round pick. Originally a kid who probably should have gone as early as the second or third round, it’s possible Hanelt’s value dropped due to the pandemic. Instead of playing top minutes with kids more his age, he had to play in Germany’s top league against men while getting fourth line time.

That resulted in just one goal and zero assists, and was probably what scared off most teams... but those stats are misleading. He’s a quick skater with great vision and hands. He’s good on the forecheck and in the defensive zone, though he needs to be harder on his man, which should come with getting bigger. He plays center, wing, and is even listed as having played some defense (though he didn’t do that this year). He’s known as a possession player, which is always a good thing to hear.

Hanelt just signed on to play in the QMJHL in Canada next season and will get to test out those skills playing kids closer to his age. He needs to be seeing top-six minutes, hopefully as a center but winger will work as well.

Between Hanelt’s age (just turned 18 June 1st), his possession play and skill, and the fact he was hidden in the men’s league when he shouldn’t have, it might given the Capitals one of the steals of the draft in terms of where the player was selected. It wouldn’t be surprising to see after his first season in the QMJHL people question how the heck Hanelt fell past the second, maybe even the first round.

Dru Krebs, LHD
18 years old, 6’0”, 181lbs
6th round pick (176th)

There are a lot of comparables between Krebs and Lemay. Both are left-handed defensemen with great skating abilities and offensive upside, but neither has taken a step forward offensively just yet (although Krebs is believed to get more power play time next season as well, which should help).

It’s a fine pick for the sixth round, and the positive with both Krebs and Lemay is that both lefthanded defensemen are offensive-minded. Both will need to have big seasons next year to show they are just more than late-round picks.

Chase Clark, G
19 years old, 6’6”, 218lbs
6th round pick (183rd)

There isn’t too much to say on Clark. He’s an overage big goalie that had a great year in the NCDC followed by a tough three-game run in the USHL. Whatever his stats, it’s usually best to just assume the Capitals know what they are looking for when it comes to drafting goalies... they’ve certainly had a huge amount of success in that department over the years.

It’s unknown where the right-catching goalie will land next season, but wherever it is he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a big body.