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Caps Add Three Players to Stable on Second Day of '19 Draft

Washington made a pair of trades to turn quantity into quality, choosing three more players on Saturday to fill out its 2019 draft class

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

A day after picking up a forward in the first round of the NHL Draft for the first time in five years, the Caps stayed up front with their next two picks. Washington reeled in center Brett Leason with its second-round pick, then engineered a deal with New Jersey for a third-round pick to take Leason's junior teammate, center Aliaksei Protas late in the third round.

The Caps made another draft deal - this one with San Jose - to move from the seventh to the fifth round for the last of their four picks at the 2019 NHL Draft. With that newly acquired fifth-round pick, they finished off their 2019 draft class by taking Czech defenseman Martin Has.

The Caps chose Leason with their second-round selection, the No. 56 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Leason is a third-year eligible player who is old enough to move directly into the American Hockey League this fall. He celebrated his 20th birthday on April 30 of this year.

Video: All-Access | Second-Round Teammates

Just prior to the start of the second round, Leason was named the 2019 recipient of the E.J. Maguire Award of Excellence. First awarded in 2015, the McGuire Award is presented annually by the League to a candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

"For sure, that was a very special moment," says Leason. "It's a very prestigious award, and to even be considered and to get it is an amazing honor and I'll remember that."

The big (6-foot-4, 201 pounds) right-handed pivot had a huge year with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, more than doubling all of his offensive counting numbers while improving his skating by leaps and bounds. In 2017-18, Leason totaled 15 goals and 32 points in 54 games with the Raiders. This season, he scored 36 goals and led the team - the best club in the WHL - with 53 assists and 89 points despite playing in just 55 games. He added 10 goals and 25 points in 22 playoff contests as the Raiders advanced all the way to the Memorial Cup semifinals.

Passed over in the 2017 and 2018 drafts, Leason was seen as a possible late first-round pick this summer. He was motivated to have a big year after being passed over twice previously.

"It was definitely hard, but I just stuck to it," he says. "It was motivating for me just to continue pushing, so that helped a lot."

Video: Ross Mahoney on the 2019 NHL Draft

Red Line Report ranked Leason at No. 34 overall, projecting him thusly: "Huge scoring winger; potential home run swing," and comparing him to Vegas winger Mark Stone, one of the league's best two-way forwards.

The Hockey News ranked Leason at No. 26 overall, and listed Tanner Pearson as a best case comparable for him at the NHL level.

In adding McMichael and Leason, the Caps added a pair of forwards who each netted 36 goals last season, tied for fifth most among all draft-eligible players.

Late in the third round, the Caps shipped their fourth- and fifth-round picks - Nos. 118 and 129, respectively - to the Devils for a late third-rounder, the No. 91 pick overall. With that choice, they picked Protas, a hulking (6-foot-5, 205 pounds) center who totaled 11 goals and 40 points in 2018-19, his first season in the WHL. Protas added 12 goals and 22 points in 23 postseason contests, aiding the Raiders' run to the Memorial Cup semifinals.

Protas was a frequent linemate of Leason with Prince Albert, so the Caps' scouts saw plenty of both players this season as the Raiders enjoyed a lengthy playoff run. Washington didn't interview Protas at the 2019 NHL Combine, but had him in for a discussion just two days before his name was called, so the interview obviously went well.

Video: Brian MacLellan | 2019 NHL Draft

"It was a pretty good interview," says Protas. "I met pretty good guys, so I was happy to talk to this organization. I'm so happy and so proud to be part of the Capitals."

Red Line Report ranked Protas at No. 80 overall, commenting "Slow-footed third-line power centre," and offering Columbus pivot Boone Jenner as an NHL comparable. The Hockey News ranked Protus at No. 65, saying about the native of Belarus, "Big kid with good hockey sense and playmaking skills. Adequate skater."

"I think I am a smart player with hockey vision," says Protas, asked to assess his own game. "I need to work on my skating and my speed, but I think I'm a smart player with good passes."

Washington went into the draft with McMichael and Leason both on their radar at No. 25 overall, and they were able to get both players without sacrificing assets to move up.

"We had the [first] two forwards there pretty close," says Caps general manager Brian MacLellan, "and then Protas pretty close behind them on our list. We've got a chance to get Leason, which we thought we wouldn't get. We thought we would get either McMichael or Leason, and it worked out we got them both. And then we didn't think Protas would last until our [next] pick [at 118], so we tried to move up to get him."

As the second day wound down, the Caps swapped their seventh-rounder in 2019 (No. 211 overall) and their seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft to the Sharks for pick No. 153 overall. The used that pick for their only defenseman of the class of '19, Has. A Czech native who played in the Finnish Jr. league last season, Has was ranked No. 100 by Red Line Report. RLR sees him as a depth defenseman whose style compares to that of NHLer Greg Pateryn.

Has switched from forward to defense three years ago, so he may have more upside than other blueliners his age. A right-handed blueliner, Has sees himself as a two-way defender with good skating ability and an excellent point shot.

Video: Martin Hugo Haš | 2019 NHL Draft

"My thoughts are great," says Has. "It was kind of a long wait, but I think that all now is gone because I got drafted because now it's a new beginning, and we'll see how that goes."

The last time the Caps used each of their first three picks in a draft on forwards was 2012 when they chose Filip Forsberg (No. 11) and Tom Wilson (No. 16) in the first round and Chandler Stephenson with their next pick (No. 77) in the third round.

"There was intention - yeah - to draft some forwards," says MacLellan, "but I don't think we stretched for it at all. It kind of fell that way for us this year. We were going to have a decision to make if it was a defenseman that our guys really liked or the next forward, but it never really laid out that way. We just picked our forwards that we liked."

McMichael is listed at 6-foot even, making him the smallest of the Caps' quartet of 2019 draftees. Each of the other three players stand at least 6-foot-4.

"They're all big guys; they're all good athletes," says MacLellan. "There is some work to be done with a few of them, but we like the potential for all of them."

Video: Aliaksei Protas | 2019 NHL Draft

In the wake of winning the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2018, Washington became the first Cup champion in 35 years to have a first-round pick and three of the 50 picks overall in the subsequent draft. This spring, they were able to take three players in the top 91, giving them a much-needed injection of young, skilled players.

Washington has made seven picks in the top three rounds and top 93 picks overall over the last two drafts. Prior to the '18 and '19 drafts, the Caps had drafted only seven such players in the previous four drafts combined.

Last year's crop included four players - the first four players they drafted - who were late birthdates, and as such are able to turn pro this fall if they show themselves worthy of the jump. That could give Washington's AHL Hershey affiliate a strong first-year class for 2019-20, in terms of both quantity and quality.

"It wasn't by design, but it's still very good," says Caps assistant GM and longtime draft guru Ross Mahoney, "because we have had not as many picks in the last five or six years because we've had a good team and have been making a run for it. But we've had a lot of late birthdates, and then we have [Leason] who is a 19-year-old, so there will be quite a few kids going into Hershey for their first year pro. So that's good for us. It speeds up our development; there won't be as big of a gap there, I think."

Video: Brett Leason | 2019 NHL Draft

Twice this decade - in both 2011 and 2017 - the Caps have gone home with just four players, tying for the smallest draft class in franchise history. They will tie that mark again in 2019, but with a significant difference. In both 2011 and 2017, the Caps didn't make their first pick until the fourth round, after well over 100 names had already been called. This time around, three of their four picks were in the top 91 of the draft, and for the first time in franchise history, they made no picks after the fifth round.

"Obviously we made some trades to be able to move up and got players that were a lot higher on our list," says Mahoney. "So overall, we're really, really excited about our draft. [We had] one less pick [than we had when the draft started], but the quality of the players we drafted with those picks is very high."

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