The pandemic shifted the 2020 Draft into the middle of the week, and after a smooth first round on Tuesday night, the 31 NHL teams reconvened remotely to finish the task on Wednesday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. It took nearly twice as long as usual to get through those final six rounds, but by 8 p.m. or so, the 2020 draft was in the books and four more players matriculated into the Capitals' system, a day after Washington chose Chicoutimi center Hendrix Lapierre with its first choice (22nd overall), in Tuesday night's first round.
By all accounts, Lapierre is an offensively skilled player with excellent hockey sense, and one who projects as a top line or top six player in the NHL. He also plays center, which makes him even more desirable. But Lapierre's stock fell last season because of some lengthy absences from the Chicoutimi lineup because of injuries, originally believed to be a series of concussions.
Lapierre's last game of the 2019-20 season was nearly a year ago, on Nov. 21. He was limited to only 19 games last season, but shortly after the turn of the calendar, his injury was re-diagnosed as a neck ailment. He received treatment and was nearly ready to return when the pandemic hit. The Caps did their homework on the medical reports and were sufficiently convinced to deal their third-round pick (No. 80 overall) to Calgary in order to move up two slots to 22, where they chose Lapierre.
Fans might wonder why a team would give up a third-round pick to move up two spots, but the reality is that none of the other players available at that juncture had the skill or the upside of Lapierre, and he plays one of the most coveted positions in the game. In terms of sheer skill and talent, it's more as if the Caps had traded away a third-rounder to move into the top 10 or 12, which is where many projected Lapierre to be selected before the injuries.
Video: Brian MacLellan | October 6
The Caps have never been shy about being aggressive on the draft floor, and had they not been able to get Lapierre, they would likely have been able to draft a good player and a player they liked, but that player almost certainly would have been a winger with a middle six NHL projection. Those type of players are far more common than Lapierre.
"Our scouts identify guys that they really like and have the potential to be [NHL] players," said Caps executive vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan shortly after adding Lapierre on Tuesday night. "It's part of my job to try and put them in a position that we can get those guys. I sit in on the meetings, and we have a good plan going into it and we know the guys they like. If it becomes an option for us to be aggressive and get their guys, we try and do it. The last couple [drafts] here we've got guys that they liked and guys with good upside, and we're pretty happy about it."
Washington's medical staff checked out the reports on Lapierre, and the hockey operations group was confident enough to take it from there.
"We were aware of the injury," says MacLellan. "We weren't sure if he was going to fall to us. We thought he might get picked a little higher, but we got to the point where we felt we had a shot at him, and I think probably a couple teams behind us were trying to do the same thing. Fortunately, it worked out for us."
Both McKeen's Hockey and Red Line Report put out an excellent draft guides every year at a reasonable price, and those who are interested in the NHL Draft should always pick up copies of both. Both have been around for many years and are consistently informative and packed with good information for those of us who typically aren't able to see these players prior to the draft. With that in mind, here's a portion of McKeen's report on Lapierre, whom it ranked at No. 20:
"Lapierre is also a terrific two-way player who excels in all three zones because of his high-end hockey IQ. His way of moving his opponents to give himself space or open a passing line reminds one of a chess player who prepares his shots in advance. He shows great understanding of how to position himself without the puck on the backcheck too, using anticipation and a quick stick to force turnovers. This in turn allows him to quickly transition the other way where he can use his quickness and shiftiness to create off the rush. As he gains more strength, Lapierre will likely develop further as a defensive stalwart, who can be more successful at separating attackers from the puck, especially along the wall.
Where Lapierre needs to take a step forward, is as a goal scorer. It is certainly acceptable to be a pivot who looks to, and draws inspiration from, setting up their teammates. However, in order to take that next step as a player overall, he will need to gain more confidence in his shooting ability, and work to increase the velocity of his wrist shot. His game became too predictable at times this year, with defenders challenging him to shoot rather than distribute. To keep the opposition on their toes, he could stand to become a more well-rounded offensive player."
Red Line Report had Lapierre at No. 23, and compared his playing style to that of Carolina's Sebastian Aho:
"We love everything about his game, but his breakout showing at last August's Hlinka tournament was overshadowed by injury woes all season. With a clean bill of health, he'd be in our top 10. Only appeared in 19 games because of concussions, which have since been re-diagnosed as a neck problem. Outstanding playmaker with great vision and passing ability, especially when running the PP from the half-wall. Spreads out the ice as a high-end distributor. Makes pinpoint passes. Has extremely soft, fast hands and shows terrific puck control at top flight, regularly dangling through double or triple coverage. Cradles even the toughest passes and can shoot on the fly, getting great torque and wrist snap on his release. Great changes of direction - can stop on a dime and instantly cut in another direction. Exerts relentless puck pressure. Plays with intensity and not afraid to battle for pucks."
Once the dust was settled on Wednesday night and the draft was in the books, we were also able to get the opinion of Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney on Washington's quintet of picks.
"He's back playing and off to a great start," says Mahoney of Lapierre. "He's played a couple of games and he's so talented. Had he not missed a portion of the year like he did, we would have had to trade up really high to get him. I think it's really fortunate for us to be able to what we think is going to be your exceptional player."
Video: Ross Mahoney | October 6
The Caps are accustomed to drafting in the mid-20s, but players with Lapierre's upside aren't always available at that juncture.
"We've been fortunate with some players [in that range], like Mike Green I guess and John Carlson and [Evgeny Kuznetsov]," says Mahoney. "But when you're in that 23 to 31 kind of range, you're not so sure you're going to get a first-line player, or who you think could be a first line player - or at least the top six, at worst - so a lot of times you think you're going to get more of a bottom six guy or maybe a second or third pair defenseman. But we really believe he's got the potential to be a first line player."
Having dealt away their second- and third-rounders in 2020, MacLellan and Mahoney endured a few hours of waiting before they were able to make their second choice in 2020, right wing Bogdan Trineyev of Dynamo Moscow. Trineyev is a big-bodied winger whom Red Line Report listed as one of its annual "mid-round sleepers worth a look:
"Big, strong, physical tank with good hands. Some scouts knock his skating, but they must not have seen him recently, 'cause his boots improved dramatically."
Red Line Report projects Trineyev as a "crease crashing, 3rd line power winger," comparing his playing style to that of James vanRiemsdyk:
"Big power winger was written off by most scouts after last August's Hlinka Cup, where his boots appeared heavy and ponderous. But he has vastly improved his skating since last summer, and he's always been a horse down low around the net. Nobody can stop him from getting wherever he wants to go as he just runs over any defender in his way. Sets up shop in the crease, causing traffic and screening goalies - impossible to move. Makes great wide drives on the rush, cutting hard to the net while dropping the leg to protect puck. Has a long reach on spins and wrap-around shots. Adjusts hands well to receive tough passes in tight. Understands who he is as a player, and plays to his strengths. Does excellent work stationed down beside the net on the PP, getting cross-crease feeds through and creating havoc. Powerful horse doesn't get enough credit for his finesse skills."
"He's a big kid," says Mahoney of Trineyev. "He's 6-3, 6-3 and a half, and I think sometimes with those guys it takes a while for those guys to get their skating going because they grow so fast at such a young age. He showed really well at all the international tournaments, played very well in the Hlinka tournament; I think he might have had three goals in five games. A big, strong guy, a power forward, not afraid to go to the net. He is hard to handle for defensemen in the corners and in front of the net, and we're happy to get him."
On the surface, Trineyev sounds a bit like a Tomas Holmstrom/Patric Hornqvist type of player.
"That's a real fair assessment," says Mahoney. "He is smart, and he can move the puck well also, but he does have the big body and he does have good hands. So he is tough to handle in the corners and in front of the nets and he has that ability to create some havoc for the goaltender also when the shots are coming in from the point."
In the fifth round with pick No. 148 overall, Washington opted for center Bear Hughes of Spokane in the WHL. A native of Post Falls, Idaho, Hughes is an interesting story in that he has not played the game at a high level for very long. Hughes, whose given first name is Cassius, is from a large family of 10 children, and he basically made the Spokane team as a walk-on after playing in the Kootnenay International Junior Hockey League in 2018-19, skating for the Spokane Braves and earning KIJHL Rookie of the Year honors.
Listed at 6-0 and 171 pounds, Hughes is a right-handed pivot who posted 16 goals and 47 points as an 18-year-old in the WHL in 2019-20.
Video: Bear Hughes | October 7
"He really kind of just came on the radar this year," says Mahoney of Hughes. "Where he was playing last year wasn't a league that is really scouted very heavily. He was a walk on at training camp I think for Spokane, and ended up making the team. I thought he got off to a tremendous start, and then I thought a little bit later on in the year that maybe as little bit of fatigue set in. I'm not so sure he was used to playing that many games with the amount of travel that they do out in the Western League.
"But he's a smart player, not just with the puck but away from the puck also. We think he is really going to make big strides just because of where he is playing now and where he came from. It's a huge jump from the league he was in to where he is now, and he'll be playing strong minutes for Spokane next year. He'll be top six, he'll be used on both the power play and the penalty kill, which he was off and on this year, too."
Red Line Report ranked Hughes at 230, and McKeen's had him as an "honourable mention" beyond its list of 217 ranked players. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau rated him at No. 40 among North American center and at 102 among all North American forwards.
In the sixth round with pick No. 179 overall, the Caps chose goaltender Garin Bjorklund from Medicine Hat of the WHL. As a 17-year-old in 2019-20, Bjorklund acquitted himself well in 28 games, posting a 20-5-4 record with a 2.91 GAA and an .897 save pct. Ranked fifth among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting, Bjorklund stands 6-2 and weighs 192 pounds.
Red Line Report ranked Bjorklund at 142, noting: "Quick feet and reflexes with a strong glove hand."
McKeens had Bjorklund at 203 overall:
"Playing in a platoon, Bjorklund didn't have the kind of year that scouts hoped of him as consistency issues plagued him. Part of that may have come from not playing consistently as part of a routine. He still has the size (6-2") and quickness to be an NHL netminder and the potential to turn it around."
"Our scout Darrell Baumgartner really likes him a lot," says Mahoney. "Darrell kept pressing us to draft him, and Darrell is a former goaltender."
Bjorklund was sharing the crease with Danish goaltender Mads Sogaard last season, and Sogaard was the third goaltender drafted in 2019; he went to Ottawa in the second round (No. 37 overall). Sogaard is able to turn pro this season, which could lead to Bjorklund taking over as the No. 1 netminder for the Tigers.
"He was a backup this year," says Mahoney of Bjorklund. "There was a drafted goalie - already drafted - that was playing ahead of him, so we expect him to get a lot more ice time. But he was also a first-round pick in the Western Hockey League bantam draft, which is pretty high for a goaltender. So we think he'll get more playing time, but he has good athleticism, reads the play really well, and is a smart, smart goaltender."
At that point, the Caps should have been done. They didn't own a seventh-round pick when the draft got underway, but since there were players they still liked on the board, they made a call and shipped their seventh-rounder for 2021 to Pittsburgh for the Pens' seventh-rounder this year, the 211th pick overall. With that choice, the Caps selected winger Oskar Magnusson, who plays for Malmo in the Swedish League.
Video: Ross Mahoney | October 7
"We had a couple players that we were still targeting that we would really like to get a chance to draft," recounts Mahoney. "We talked it over and then Brian made the made the call and got us a pick, and we got one of the guys that we still had on our list."
Magnusson was ranked at 11 among European left wings and 29th among forwards from overseas. He is listed at 5-10 and 166 pounds, and he notched 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games with Malmo's junior team as a 17-year-old last season, while also skating in four games for the big club. Magnusson has played in three games for the big club early in the 2020-21 season.
McKeen's ranked Magnusson at 138 and Red Line Report had him at 235.
"Smaller player, but good skater," says Mahoney. "Pretty good point producer, and a real hard-working player. He had 48 or 49 points in the Swedish Junior League, which is a lot. In that league, they don't give out second assists all the time so those are pretty good numbers. Mats Weiderstal - our Swedish scout - kept pushing his name again as a later pick, so we're glad we had the opportunity to step up and take him."
Typically, the Caps would have their draft class into MedStar Capitals Iceplex for summer development camp within days of being drafted, but the players and the team will have to wait until summer of 2021 - at the earliest - for that experience.