Over the last four Entry Drafts, no NHL team has had more first-round selections than the Washington Capitals’ nine. The Caps own two more first-rounders and three second round picks in Saturday’s 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver. The odds of Washington actually exercising all five of those selections in the first two rounds is long. If the team's recent draft history is any indicator, deals will be made involving some of those selections on Saturday.
Washington has had nine first-round choices in the last four drafts, the most by far of any club in the league. (Edmonton and Florida have had six each.) The Capitals head to Vancouver with two more first-rounders and three second-round choices this year, giving them five picks in the top 52. That’s why Capitals general manager George McPhee’s phone is ringing with regularity and will keep ringing through the weekend.
Washington currently owns its own first round choice (fourth overall) and the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Nashville in the Mar. 9 trade that sent defenseman Brendan Witt to the Predators. In the second round, Washington holds its own choice (34th overall), Boston’s choice (35th overall, acquired as part of the trade that sent center Michael Nylander to the Bruins on Mar. 4, 2004) and Anaheim’s choice (52nd overall, obtained from the Ducks for winger Jeff Friesen on Mar. 9).
In addition to their nine first-round picks in the last four drafts, the Caps have made three choices in the second round and have added two players (Jakub Klepis and Jonas Johansson) taken in the first round by other clubs and one (Tomas Fleischmann) taken in the second round via the trade route. Going back to the 2001 draft, the Caps currently have 13 players selected in the first round and four in the second round from the last five drafts.
The days leading up to the 2006 draft were quiet until Friday evening, when the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers consummated a blockbuster swap that finds goaltender Roberto Luongo and defenseman Lukas Krajicek headed to the Canucks in exchange for winger Todd Bertuzzi, defenseman Bryan Allen and goaltender Alexander Auld. That deal figures to be the first of many this weekend as draft picks and players move from one team to another just days before the start of the free agency season.
Several more goaltenders could be on the move on Saturday. A handful of teams are in need and a handful of teams have unsettled netminding situations. The Caps are all set and well fortified in goal, but could be active swappers in other areas.
“Things really haven’t started to heat up yet with regards to talks with other teams,” said McPhee earlier in the week. “Some clubs have called, but I expect more of that on Thursday and Friday.”
Most observers figure McPhee and the Capitals will keep and exercise the fourth overall choice, but might try to package some or all of the team’s next four choices in an effort to either move up higher in the first round or to obtain an established NHL player.
“The top six or seven are really darn good players, but after that it’s really tough to predict,” says McPhee, of the 2006 draft class.
“There may be one or two [players who can step in right away], but even they would probably need more seasoning before they could make a meaningful contribution and develop at the right pace.”
As is usually the case in the NHL, when players typically take four to six years to mature after being drafted, the Caps generally opt for the best player available, regardless of position. The NHL draft is much more about the accumulation of assets than it is drafting for need.
“We always try to draft the best player available,” declares McPhee. “We’ve always tried our best to make sure you get, say, a left wing who can play rather than a center who can’t. It’s hard to draft for need in hockey because most players will need time to develop, and in that time your needs may change.”
The combination of the 11 picks available to Washington in the 2006 draft, the five picks in the first two rounds, and the increase in the league’s salary cap gives McPhee and his scouting staff a lot of options on draft day. The Capitals’ payroll is bound to increase in 2006-07; it must. The league cap has increased from $39 million to $44 million. Although the Caps don’t figure to approach the cap anytime soon, the floor is also rising, and at a rate of 33%, from $21 million to $28 million.
“We will spend some more money – we’ll have no choice but to spend some more money,” says McPhee. “And that’s good.”
Saturday’s draft will be followed in short order by the issuance of qualifying offers to the team’s restricted free agents, and then the onset of the free agent shopping season.
Beginning on Saturday, the next month should prove to be very intriguing for the Capitals and the rest of the NHL.
Below is a list of where the Capitals’ picks fall in this year’s draft, along with a list of notable players drafted with those picks in previous drafts, or players taken by the Capitals with those same choices in previous drafts:
1st round (fourth overall): 1970 – Rick MacLeish, Boston; 1972 – Steve Shutt, Montreal; 1973 – Lanny McDonald, Toronto; 1974 – Clark Gillies, NY Islanders; 1979 – Mike Gartner, Washington; 1980 – Larry Murphy, Los Angeles; 1981 – Ron Francis, Hartford; 1982 – Ron Sutter, Philadelphia; 1983 – Steve Yzerman, Detroit; 1984 – Al Iafrate, Toronto; 1989 – Stu Barnes, Winnipeg; 1990 – Mike Ricci, Philadelphia; 1993 – Paul Kariya, Anaheim; 1996 – Alexandre Volchkov, Washington; 1997 – Roberto Luongo, NY Islanders; 2000 – Rostislav Klesla, Columbus; 2001 – Stephen Weiss, Florida; 2002 – Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia; 2003 – Nikolai Zherdev, Columbus; 2004 – Andrew Ladd, Carolina; 2005 – Benoit Pouliot, Minnesota.
1st round, 23rd overall (from Nashville):1978 – Paul MacKinnon, Washington; 1984 – Craig Billington, New Jersey; 1989 – Travis Green, NY Islanders; 1990 – Jiri Slegr, Vancouver; 1991 – Ray Whitney, San Jose; 1992 – Grant Marshall, Toronto; 1993 – Todd Bertuzzi, NY Islanders; 1995 – Mikka Elomo, Washington; 1997 – Scott Hannan, San Jose; 2001 – Tim Gleason, Ottawa; 2002 – Ben Eager, Phoenix; 2003 – Ryan Kesler, Vancouver; 2004 – Andrej Meszaros, Ottawa; 2005 – Nicklas Bergfors, New Jersey.
2nd round, 34th overall: 1982 – Paul Gillis, Quebec; 1984 – Stephen Leach, Washington; 1987 – Jeff Hackett, NY Islanders; 1990 – Doug Weight, NY Rangers; 1995 – Jason Doig, Winnipeg.