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Caps '06 Draft Brings in 10, Grades Well

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
If you’re looking for recurring themes in the Washington Capitals’ 2006 Entry Draft haul, take your pick. There were centers, goaltenders, Europeans and Quebec Major Junior League players aplenty. But don’t overlook a couple of other recurring themes in the 10 players chosen by Washington on Saturday: competitiveness and hockey sense.


Going into the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Eric Johnson of the U.S. NDTP U-18 program was the consensus top choice in the draft. All 30 NHL clubs undoubtedly had Johnson at the top of their draft lists. After Johnson, it was possible that the next four teams could get the No. 2 man on their respective lists, opined one veteran scout before the draft got underway.

Pittsburgh certainly got the No. 2 man on its list picking, right after St. Louis chose Johnson first overall. The Penguins took center Jordan Staal. Chicago then chose center Jonathan Toews, a player that Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon had praised effusively since midseason.

The Capitals were up next, and they chose Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, a player identified by many as the most NHL-ready in the draft. Backstrom not only played among and against men as an 18-year-old in the Swedish Elite League, he led his team in scoring and was named the league’s rookie of the year.

Backstrom was No. 2 on Washington’s list all along, and the Caps were fairly certain they could get their man without making a deal to move up. Washington’s scouts accurately predicted the first dozen or so selections in the draft, but then things veered wildly as the consensus that applied to those first dozen choices completely disappeared over the next 201 players selected.

Washington made a total of 10 picks on the day, bringing five centers, two goaltenders, two left wings and a defenseman into the Capitals’ organization. The Capitals dealt one of their two fifth-round choices (the 137th pick overall, obtained from Vancouver in exchange for goaltender Maxime Ouellet) to the New York Rangers in exchange for the Blueshirts’ fourth-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, to be held in Columbus.

After Backstrom, the Capitals’ next two picks were both goaltenders, and both European. The Caps chose Russian netminder Simeon (pronounced sih-MYON) Varlamov with their second first-round choice, the 23rd overall. Washington then chose Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth with the first of its three second-round choices, the 34th overall selection in the draft. The last time the Caps took two goaltenders in the same draft was 2002 when they chose Maxime Daigneault (59th overall) and Robert Gherson (145th overall).

Varlamov joins Olie Kolzig as the only goaltenders Washington has ever chosen in the first round. Interestingly, the last time the Capitals exercised consecutive draft choices on goaltenders was in 1989 when they took Kolzig with the 19th overall pick and then tabbed Byron Dafoe with the 35th pick.

The selection of three straight European-born and trained players at the top of the draft was unprecedented in Capitals draft history. In the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals chose Europeans Alexandre Volchkov (fourth overall), Jaroslav Svejkovsky (17th) and Jan Bulis (43rd) with each of their first three choices. But although all three were European-born, all three were also playing junior hockey in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.

With the middle pick in the third (the 35th overall), Washington chose Quebec League forward (he is listed variously as a center and right winger) Francois Bouchard, younger brother of Minnesota center Pierre-Marc Bouchard. The elder Bouchard was the Wild’s first pick (eighth overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

The Caps then grabbed defenseman Keith Seabrook, the only blueliner they chose on the day, with the 52nd overall pick and the final of their three second-round picks. Seabrook, who played for the BCHL champion Burnaby Express in 2005-06, is the younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Brent Seabrook, who was the Hawks’ first choice (14th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Washington had no picks in the third or seventh rounds. With its two fourth round selections, it took a pair of OHL skaters. Finnish forward Oskar Osala of the Mississauga Ice Dogs, able to play both left wing and center, came to the Caps with the 97th overall choice. With the 122nd overall choice, the Caps took left wing Luke Lynes of the Brampton Battalion, who is also capable of playing center and left wing. Although he was born in Rochester Hills, Mich., Lynes’ family moved to Maryland several years ago and he resides in Ellicott City in the offseason.

Quebec League left wing Maxime Lacroix joined the Caps with the team’s first pick in the fifth round, the 127th overall. Lacroix is the son of former NHL defenseman Pierre Lacroix, who played for the Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers.

After dealing its second fifth-round choice to the Rangers, Washington chose center Brent Gwidt of Lakeland High School in Wisconsin. Gwidt is slated to play for the Indiana Ice of the USHL next season.

Quebec League center Mathieu Perreault closed out the Caps’ 2006 draft slate. Perreault was the third player Washington selected from the QMJHL in 2006, marking the first time since 1995 the Caps had picked as many as three players from the Quebec League in a single Entry Draft.

In the 1995 draft, the Caps chose Quebec League goaltender Sebastien Charpentier with the 93rd pick, and then picked Quebec League defenseman Joel Theriault with the 95th pick, QMJHL left wing Benoit Gratton at 105, and Quebec League blueliner Frederick Jobin at 147.

Starting with Backstrom and running right down through Perreault, virtually all of Washington’s 2006 choices had the common thread of having good hockey sense and being competitive players, according to various independent scouting reports/services. After establishing a strong work ethic at the NHL level in 2005-06, Washington now hopes to bring along more players in that mold as it moves forward. With two first round selections this season, the Capitals have now had 11 first round choices in the last five drafts, more than any other team in the NHL.

Draft Notebook
Making the Grade – Just days after the conclusion of the 2006 draft, two noted media outlets are praising Washington’s work at the draft table. Sports Illustrated  gave the Capitals an “A” for 2006, while The Hockey News proclaimed the Washington draft worthy of an “A+” grade.

Made in America – A record 10 U.S.-born players were among the 30 players selected in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, surpassing the previous record of eight set in 2005.

Ironically, none of the 10 Americans chosen in the first round in 2006 is from New England, and none of the eight U.S. players taken in last year’s first round is from New England, either.

Four of the American-born first-rounders from 2006 hail from Minnesota, two are from Michigan, and there are one each from New Jersey, New York, Utah and Wisconsin.

Needs in the Net – Four goaltenders were taken in the first round, matching an Entry Draft record. The standard of four goaltenders in the first round was established in 1994 and matched in 1995, 2001, 2004 and 2006. Taking goaltenders in the first round is a relatively recent phenomenon; few were chosen that high in the “old days.” During a seven-year span from 1982-88, only three netminders were selected in the first round. Tom Barrasso went to Buffalo with the fifth overall pick in 1983, Chicago chose Jimmy Waite with the eighth pick in 1987 and Calgary took Jason Muzzati with the 21st choice in 1988.

Don’t You Let That Deal Go Down – There were no picks traded in the first half of the first round. The first deal made involving a first round choice was at No. 16, when Montreal traded that pick to San Jose for the 20th overall choice and the 53rd overall choice.

Euro Trend – Sixty-three of the 213 players chosen in Saturday’s draft played in Europe last season. That figure represents 30% of the total from 2006, up from 21.7% last year. The 2005 draft had the lowest percentage of European players since 1991 when just 20.8% of the players chosen were from Europe.

Develop This – The United States National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. continues its rise. The US NTDP saw 13 of its players drafted on Saturday, including first overall pick Johnson. Eleven US NTDP players were drafted in the first four rounds and at least one player from the program was chosen in each round except the seventh.



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