A year after they made five picks without selecting any defensemen in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Caps went for blueliners with each of their first three choices - and four of six overall - in the 2021 NHL Draft this weekend.

"I thought maybe where we were picking, there might be defensemen that were going to be available," says Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, the engineer of the Washington drafts for the last quarter of a century. "We've always said that we'll take the best player, but I think that it was good too to get some defensemen, and the first couple are right-handed defensemen, which I think also helps to fill a bit of a void that we have, as far as young defensemen."
When the draft got underway on Friday evening, the Caps held five picks in this year's draft. They didn't hold a first- or seventh-round pick, but they had choices in each of the other five rounds in between. In the third round of this draft, the Caps made a deal with the New York Rangers, collecting an additional sixth-round pick (No. 176 overall).
With their first choice in the 2021 NHL Draft (No. 55 overall), the Caps selected defenseman Vincent Iorio from Brandon of the WHL. A right-handed shooting blueliner, Iorio has already played three seasons in the WHL. He totaled five goals and a dozen points in 22 games in the abbreviated 2020-21 season. Iorio will turn 19 in November, and he will be eligible to play in the American Hockey League for the 2022-23 season.
At 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds, Iorio has good size and has room to fill out as he develops. He owns a hard, right-handed point shot that helps fuel the Wheat Kings' power play. Iorio sees himself as a two-way defender whose best attributes are his hockey IQ, his poise with the puck, playmaking, consistency and his edges. Iorio lists Washington's John Carlson and Vancouver's Tyler Myers as comparable NHL players.
After gaining an extra pick to move down five slots to No. 80 overall in the third round, Washington opted for USHL defenseman Brent Johnson, another right-handed rearguard who will be playing at U. of North Dakota in 2021-22. With Sioux Falls of the USHL in 2020-21, Johnson totaled 11 goals and 32 points in 47 games. Like Iorio, Johnson is a right-handed, two-way defenseman who can move the puck efficiently, can add to the attack and can play on his team's extra-man unit. A native of Dallas, Johnson stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 161 pounds.
Johnson sees himself as a two-way blueliner whose best attributes are his skating and his hockey IQ. He names Duncan Keith as an NHL comparable.
With pick No. 119 in the fourth round, Washington chose its third defenseman of the day when it selected Joaquim Lemay from Salmon Arm of the BCHL. A native of Quebec who grew up rooting for the Capitals, Lemay totaled 10 assists in a dozen games with Salmon Arm last season. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 178 pounds.
Lemay sees himself as an offensive defenseman whose best attributes are his ability to break the puck out under pressure, his skating, and his ability to join the rush and create offensive chances from the blueline. Lemay will play the upcoming 2021-22 season at U. of Nebraska-Omaha.
Mahoney noted after the draft that the Caps were able to have three different scouts see Lemay play live despite the abbreviated schedule in the BCHL last season.
Washington opted for German center Haakon Hanelt with its fifth-round choice, the 151st pick in the draft. Hanelt played 22 games as a 17-year-old in the DEL, Germany's highest league last season. He sees himself as a playmaking pivot. Hanelt sees his own best assets as his skating, his hockey sense and his stickhandling. The 6-foot-0, 194-pound center lists Caps center Nicklas Backstrom as a comparable.
With the choice obtained from the Rangers at No. 176 in the sixth round, Washington selected another blueliner, Dru Krebs. Krebs is a left-handed shot who skated in 23 games with Medicine Hat of the WHL last season, totaling 11 assists. He stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 182 pounds.
Krebs views himself as a two-way defenseman whose top attributes include his skating ability, his work ethic and his hockey sense. He cites Kris Letang as an NHL comparable.
The Caps concluded their six-pack of selections in 2021 when they chose goaltender Chase Clark with their second sixth-rounder, the 183rd choice overall. A native of Williamsville, NY, Clark is a right-handed catching netminder who stands 6-foot-6 and tips the scales at 202 pounds.
Clark sees himself as a hybrid butterfly goaltender. His best attributes are his size, his athleticism and his puck-playing ability. He has a high compete level, a high hockey IQ and he reads plays well and uses his size to his advantage. Clark names Andrei Vasilevskiy as an NHL comparable.
Last season, Clark played for the New Jersey Hitmen of the USPHL, but he also got into three games for the USHL's Tri-City Storm. Although he absorbed the loss in each of those three games, Washington's scouts liked what they saw in Clark enough to expend the team's final 2021 pick on him.
Aside from its interminable length, this outlier of a draft didn't offer any real surprises to seasoned pros such as Mahoney.
"It was pretty similar to what I thought," says Mahoney. "I thought the first 24 or 25 would probably be the names that we heard, but the order would be different. There were a couple of exceptions that maybe went a little bit earlier than I thought, but for the most part we thought that's how it would go.
"After that, we knew it was going to start to get all over the place because of the way it was with the pandemic. Some leagues had full seasons, some leagues had 24 games, some leagues had 15 games and some leagues didn't have any games. You could see where maybe some teams were maybe leaning a little more heavily to who they knew, and maybe relying a little more on certain scouts who had a really good feel for guys in their area, or some of those areas that played a few more games. And there were maybe more Europeans in the later rounds, but they also had some full seasons in Russia - or pretty close to full seasons - so maybe those kids got seen a little bit more."
As NHL commissioner Gary Bettman noted on Friday night, the NHL Draft is simultaneously the coda of one season and the beginning of the next. This one, conducted virtually for the second consecutive year, will be interesting to follow as the years pass because of its uniqueness; most kids were drastically limited in how much they were able to play because of the pandemic, and that factor in turn limited scouts' viewings of those players.
The 2021 Draft puts a wrap on an extremely difficult and challenging 2020-21 season for everyone, and It does so roughly a month later in the calendar year than usual. That shortens the offseason, but there is no offseason for Mahoney and his staff and their peers around the League. To Bettman's point, the Caps' amateur scouting contingent will depart the District on Sunday for its first assignments specific to the 2022 NHL Draft next June in Montreal.
It's late July, but there's hockey to be watched and prospects to be seen, scouted and evaluated. Canada is conducting a summer development camp for its National Junior Team in Calgary this week, and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is coming up next week, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia Aug. 2-7, a welcome change from last summer when neither of those events took place.
"It'll be nice for all the kids to have a normal season, wherever they are," says Mahoney. "And we hope it will be as normal season for the scouts, too. It's funny, you get into a routine when you're scouting. You have certain tournaments you go to and you have your way of having everything set up, and all of a sudden none of those events were taking place at all. It was the same for every team and every scout, but I'm looking forward to being back and having that normal rhythm."