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Capitals, Ducks lead pack in Top 60 prospect rankings

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals

The Stanley Cup fortunes for the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals might not be the same right now, but they have to like where their futures are headed.

The two franchises each had four players in NHL.com's Top 60 prospect rankings, the most of any team.

The Capitals had two in the top 15, led by center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was No. 3 in voting by three NHL.com staff writers and three NHL scouts. After four seasons of watching and waiting, the 22-year-old showed he was worth the patience with three goals and six assists in 17 late-season games.

"He's a tremendous skater," said Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, who was director of amateur scouting for 16 years prior to a promotion this summer. "He has very good offensive skills. He can score but he's also very unselfish and passes the puck well. Those are probably the main things that attracted us to him: his offensive skill set and his skating."

Kuznetsov likely will be in the NHL full-time this season, and could be joined by 2013 first-round pick (No. 23) left wing Andre Burakovsky, who was No. 14 on the NHL.com list. Left wing Jakub Vrana, the 13th pick of the 2014 draft, was No. 44, and right wing Riley Barber was No. 48.

Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Vrana were first-round picks; Barber was a sixth round pick (No. 167) in 2012.

"When he was in the [United States National Team Development Program] Under-18 team he wasn't always on the power play and he wasn't always on the first line, but our scouts really liked his work ethic and also his ability to score," Mahoney said. "We thought he played really well in his draft year. He maybe at the time wasn't playing as high in the lineup as maybe he would have on other teams."

Barber has played for the U.S. in the past two IIHF World Junior Championships. In 2014, he was team captain and had four goals in five games.

"If you look at Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and Barber and Vrana, they can all skate and they can all score," Mahoney said. "And they can make plays. ... All of those guys showed that they're very gifted with the puck, they have good sense and they skate well."

The same can be said about three of the Ducks players who made it into the Top 60: 2014 first-round pick (No. 10) left wing Nick Ritchie at No. 35; 2011 first-round pick (No. 30) center Rickard Rakell at No. 40 and 2013 first-round pick (No. 26) defenseman Shea Theodore at No. 50.

The top player for the Ducks was goaltender John Gibson, who finished No. 2 in the rankings, and earned first-place votes on two ballots. The 2011 second-round pick (No. 39) gave a glimpse of things to come last season when he had shutouts in his NHL regular-season debut and in his first Stanley Cup Playoff start.

Gibson's selection by the Ducks shows how strong drafting and development are equal parts hard work and good fortune. Anaheim entered the 2011 draft with the No. 22 pick in the first round, but traded it to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for the 30th and 39th picks.

"It was a good draft to look to trade down and get extra picks in the second round," Ducks director of amateur scouting Martin Madden said. "We thought there was some depth to that particular draft and a few of the players we were looking at seriously had a chance to be there in the second round.

"We didn't really want a goalie, per se, but John was at a strong first-round rating from our staff and we debated taking him at 30. ... We were really concerned about one team in particular. They took a goalie but didn't take John. We were ecstatic that he was still there."

The Ducks had two other players receive votes in the Top 60 poll, forwards Nicolas Kerdiles and William Karlsson. Madden said having so many of the team's prospects recognized was a compliment to the scouting staff as a whole.

"Any conversation we have about the success of our scouting staff, it really is a staff effort," Madden said. "I get to direct that, to manage the group, but the guys that do the crossovers, we can't be everywhere. We can't know all the players as well as our area scouts. I rely on my staff to a large extent for many of these players and success would not be possible without the contribution of everybody."

Mahoney said the poll results is a sign of a job well done by the team's scouting staff.

"We've got 10 guys that work on the amateur side and we always try to make sure we have really good coverage on all the players," Mahoney said. "It's a group process. As a group they'll be proud of what they've done. To have that number of prospects in the Top 60, they'll be proud of the work they've done. They're a hard-working group of guys."

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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