After seeing his team clean up at the NHL Awards Show earlier this month, Washington Capitals
General Manager George McPhee
hopes to reap additional treasures when the 46th NHL Entry Draft is staged June 20-21 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
McPhee, who has emphasized scouting, drafting, coaching and building from within throughout his 11 years as vice president and GM, is no stranger to plucking first-round gems.
Most notably, of course, was the 2004 draft when the Capitals struck gold with their three first-round-selections. In addition to tabbing Alex Ovechkin
with the first pick, he chose defensemen Jeff Schultz
and Mike Green
at No. 27 and No. 29, respectively.
Ovechkin (65 goals, 47 assists, 112 points in 2007-08) was center stage at this year's Awards show, winning the Maurice Richard
Trophy as the NHL goal-scoring leader, the Art Ross
Trophy as the top point-producer, the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the top player as voted by members of the NHL Players' Association.
This year, the Capitals own four picks in the opening two rounds, including the 23rd choice in Round One.
"It's harder to prepare when you're picking low in the Draft, but really, it doesn't matter where you're picking because it's always hard," McPhee said. "If you're picking in the top four or five, you better get the right guy because it's not often you get to pick that high and, if you are, then someone else will be making the picks pretty soon anyway. The difference between picking top five and picking at No. 23 is that you have a lot more players to focus on. You're not sure who is going to fall to No. 23, so you have a broader base to look at."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
, who won the Jack Adams
Award as the NHL's best coach for 2007-08, is looking forward to picking up where his team left off last season when it won its last seven regular-season games to take home the Southeast Division title.
"Obviously, I don't know the 18-year-olds as well as our scouts, but from everything you hear, (Steven) Stamkos is as good as there is," Boudreau told NHL.com. "There are also five or six guys who are great defensemen and, as we know, you can never have enough good defensemen in hockey. It's such a hard position to play and to master, but if these young guys can come out and be as good as a Schultz was for us in his second year, Green in his third and, we're hoping, Karl Alzner
down the road, then it's going to be a good draft class for sure."
Schultz had five goals and 13 assists with a plus-12 rating in 72 games in 2007-08. Green finished third on the team with 56 points while leading all NHL defensemen with 18 goals. He also chipped in with seven points in seven Playoff games.
Alzner, the Capitals' first-round choice (fifth overall) in 2007, played for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League last season. He received the team's Scholastic Player of the Year award in his first and second year playing for the Hitmen and, in 2006–07, received the Coaches' award and Defensemen of the Year. He had seven goals and 29 assists in 60 games this past season and has signed with the Caps.
"It's harder to prepare when you're picking low in the Draft, but really, it doesn't matter where you're picking because it's always hard." -- George McPhee
McPhee, who also owns the 54th, 57th and 58th picks in the Draft, prefers choosing the best player available over filling a need.
"I feel that those teams owning a top-three or -four pick may be able to address a need, but you have to understand that most of these kids won't even play for a while," McPhee said. "That's why I feel it's important to take the best player available — because you'd rather have a left wing that will come in and play than a center that doesn't. The danger in drafting for a specific need is sometimes you make the player that fills that need to be better than he actually is."
McPhee was present at the NHL's Draft Combine in Toronto last month, taking in the fitness tests and enjoying the opportunity to interview many of the young draft-eligible prospects.
"The players seem to be far more mature these days," McPhee admitted. "They seem to be more worldly, and maybe that has something to do with the Internet, but they know so much more about what's going on in the world and in life and they are trained better — playing in tournaments that players weren't involved in 20 or 30 years ago.
"During my time in the front office in Vancouver (five seasons) and, now, Washington, interviewing these kids has really been something special because they are inherently great kids," he added. "They are all articulate, smart, well-dressed, well-groomed and from all over the world. We're lucky to be working in this sport because these kids are humble and I often walk away from the interviews thinking that if my kids could grow up like these kids, that would be a good thing. If you interview 100 kids, there might be only three or four you would want to stay away from, and even that's a high number."
Of all the prospects McPhee has interviewed over the years, Ovechkin still stands out.
"I got to Alex early, before he was schooled by any agents, so I really got to see him before he was being coached in what to say," said McPhee, who first caught up with Ovechkin while he was staying at a hotel in the Czech Republic during a national tournament. "He was walking through the lobby and I introduced myself and asked if he had a few minutes and he did. I was so impressed; he was comfortable and very mature and spoke English pretty well. When we interviewed him again at the Combine, he lit up the room as he normally does, so he was pretty impressive."
As usual, McPhee is prepared to take plenty of notes at the Draft in order to make future evaluations.
"At our January meetings, we take a three-year approach and discuss who we drafted three years prior since I take notes after each Draft," McPhee said. "I jot down what we're thinking going into each draft, what we're thinking each round, what we're thinking each pick, what did we want to do and, ultimately, what we did and what was said. I'll pull those notes out three years later and talk to our scouts about it. If you do it right, it's very helpful and you could learn a lot. We've been able to process this information a lot better in recent years."
McPhee is hoping his 2011 review of the '08 draft will present a jackpot.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com