After my recent 2019 draft grades and the start of Development Camp, I decided to take a look back at my work from this time last year and see if my thoughts on the Caps 2018 draft selections have changed.
Take a second to get acclimated with my previous 2018 draft grades and let’s get this thing on the road.
As always, below are the grades, thoughts, and perhaps-totally-wrong amateur scouting opinions of Chris Cerullo.
I was very excited about Alexeyev pre-draft in 2018. He was actually my top want for the Capitals in the first round. Boom, the first round comes and goes and, what do you know, the Caps picked up the big Russian defenseman that we now affectionately know as quite possibly RMNB’s biggest Instagram supporter, “Alex Alex”. What made me such a fan of him going into the draft was his combination of size and ability to skate with the puck. He adds to that an above average defensive intelligence, which was on display a lot during this past World Junior Championship where he was forced to cover up frequently for his uber-aggressive partner Alexander Romanov (Montreal Canadiens).
In his third and final season with Red Deer, I think he proved even further that he is a legitimate top-four defense prospect in the NHL. He has nothing left to prove at the junior level and arguably could be playing in the NHL this next season for a worse team. He was leaned on heavily to soak up a ton of minutes at any and all strengths and really became the Rebels team backbone. He started off the season red hot offensively, being named the WHL’s player of the week in early October, won a bronze medal with Russia at the aforementioned World Junior tournament where he tied for second in defensive scoring (six points), and finished fifth in team scoring with the Rebels despite missing 19 games due to injury. I am even more bullish on his offensive ability than I initially was in the grades from last year. Dude’s got a cannon of a shot and an offensive mind to master a power play. Everyone please forget that I once compared him to Josh Manson, even though I still think they share a few commonalities.
Now regarding the well-known injury, in a March game against the Brandon Wheat Kings, he went knee-on-knee with an opposing player and had to be stretchered off the ice. That was the last game that he played with Red Deer, getting his season cut short to 49 games in which he tallied 43 points. He spent the final portion of the season rehabbing that injury with the Hershey Bears where he will likely be assigned next season barring a surprise training camp that earns him a spot with the big club. That injury doesn’t change my grade though as he has been a full, healthy participant at this year’s development camp. The Caps still hit a home run here as far as I am concerned.
2018 Grade: A
2019 Grade: A
Fehervary was a player that I initially did not love as I think I got hypnotized by the more well known North American defensemen in his class ranked around him. I watched a ton of the WHL playoffs, I’m sorry (I still do really like Calen Addison). That initial reaction has completely changed and I think the Caps did really well here. The Slovakian-born defensemen shone brightest in his trip to this past World Junior Championship, where he was not only captain of the Slovak team, he was voted a top three player for them in the tournament. He then went on to play with the senior Slovakia team in this past World Championships, tallying an assist in seven games played and recording the fastest skating top speed of any player in the preliminary round. He has now played in multiple seasons and tournaments against men and is ready to make the jump across the pond. Like Alexeyev, he’s arguably already ready to crack an NHL roster, but the Caps have the luxury of letting him simmer in Hershey as they’ve put together probably their best NHL defense corps in the Ovechkin era.
Fehérváry is very much a defenseman in the mold of Michal Kempny, who on draft day Fehervary said mentioned he molded his game on. Like Kempny, he has great speed for a defenseman, is responsible in his own zone, and has more offensive potential than I initially thought. He was one of the best defensemen in the entire SHL during the playoffs, even playing 43 minutes for HV71 in the second longest game in the league’s history. I think the major thing that jumped out at me during the World Juniors is just his absolute confidence not only with the puck on his stick, but in his physical game as well. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s an NHL defenseman in the future, it’s just the growth of his offensive side that will determine how far he shoots up a lineup. He seems like someone that works really hard to improve and has captained more than a few teams he has been on, including a stint with Swedish pro side Oskarshamn IK when he was only 18. My original grade is almost embarrassing at this point; Caps did well here again.
2018 Grade: C-
2019 Grade: A
I was puzzled by this selection last year, and that really hasn’t changed all that much. Akil Thomas, who is younger than Clark, was the player I wanted the Caps to take at this spot. He ended up with 102 points in 63 OHL games compared to Clark’s 46 points in 57 OHL games. Benoit-Olivier Groulx is the other big name I had highlighted who was also available at this pick, and he had 80 points in 65 QMJHL games. Scoring in junior though isn’t the end-all-be-all of any prospect though, so Clark still might prove to be the better pro prospect. I don’t know if the Caps just fell in love with taking size at the forward position, or if his pedigree was really that attractive that they couldn’t pass it up. He seems like a really great, funny kid, so he may have just wowed them in the interview stage at the combine.
I believe the Caps probably wanted him to take another step in terms of scoring in the OHL this season. He sort of did, topping his 2017-18 season total by seven points, but that’s not really enough for me to change the initial grade on the selection. Some positives are that his foot speed has definitely improved, he’s a strong kid and only getting stronger, and he has the will to compete in all three zones. I just don’t see the offensive game to justify this high of a selection. Still a pretty big reach for me, let’s hope he shows out in Hershey this season and makes me look like a fool.
2018 Grade: D
2019 Grade: D
I really liked this pick when it was made, and I think Sutter has backed it up with his play in Everett this last season. A major lower-body injury robbed us of a full season for evaluation, but the games he did play had impressive results. In the initial grades, I mentioned that I think he has some untapped offensive potential, and that was on display in the 38 games he played in last season. In those games he scored 14 goals and recorded 41 total points, while also being tasked with tough defensive assignments each night. Was that a true step up in his game or just a couple of hot scoring streaks? Due to the injury, we won’t get to figure that out until this next season that he plans to play in Hershey.
As Everett’s number-one center, he was their go-to faceoff guy, played a huge role on their power play, got involved in the physical game, and also killed penalties. His skating still needs work, but it’s better than it was when he was drafted. He might be the player I am most intrigued about in terms of how he looks in Hershey this upcoming year and where on the ice they play him. Still really like the pick and think he has definite NHL potential.
2018 Grade: A-
2019 Grade: A-
Gibson had a pretty up-and-down, roller-coaster-type year in his first season playing in the USHL with the Central Illinois Flying Aces. There were stretches where he was dominant, like the week in March that he was named USHL goaltender of the week, but just before that week he gave up 11 goals on 47 shots. He finished the season outside the top 20 among qualified USHL goaltenders in terms of goals against average (3.50) and outside the top 15 in save percentage (89 percent). The Capitals draft goaltending well, so I have faith they know what they have in Gibson. His next career step comes with Harvard University in the NCAA next season.
By all accounts and with my own observation, Gibson is an intelligent, well-spoken, great kid. And when it comes to goaltending he seemingly fits the mold of what the Caps look for in their netminders. He’s a very mobile, flexible, and athletic goaltender that comes with a degree of Mitch Korn guru-ness through a past coach who was a disciple of Korn’s. For now, his grade will take a small hit due to the season he just had, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reshape that opinion in college hockey over the next couple seasons.
2018 Grade: B
2019 Grade: C
The Thai-born, Regina product was someone I really knew nothing about when it came to doing these grades last year. Since then, he was promoted to the Giants’ first defensive pairing and had a stellar WHL playoffs on the scoresheet. He’s never going to really be someone to lean on when it comes to racking up points, but his 12 points in 22 playoff games was a step up from the regular season that saw him net 19 points in 67 games.
Kannok-Leipert has a ton of snarl to his game, isn’t afraid to drop the mitts with really anyone, and is a dependable, right-handed, defensive defenseman. He will likely be returning to the Giants for this upcoming season and hopefully continuing his development rise. Small grade bump for him.
2018 Grade: C
2019 Grade: B-
I thought Florchuk was a great find for the Caps with the literal final selection in last year’s draft, and I think his 2018-19 proved that suspicion correct. His 50 points for Saskatoon were good for fifth on the team and he pairs good size for a forward (6-foot-2-inches, 180 pounds) with a knack for finding good scoring areas on the ice.
I assume the plan for him is to return to Saskatoon for a final year of junior hockey, before a decision needs to be made regarding his pro future. I would love for the Caps to maybe utilize their ECHL squad more often for players like Florchuk in the future. The Toronto Maple Leafs had success actually taking the league seriously as a prospect development ground this past season and I think that should be copied.
2018 Grade: B-plus
2019 Grade: B-plus
After a year of observation, I clearly like this draft more than I did just a year ago. I’m normally very tough to please when it comes to drafting, and there are one or two spots still here that confuse me a little, but overall I think this class is going to turn out better than I expected.
Let’s hope all of them are future all stars.
2018 Overall Grade: C+
2019 Overall Grade: B+
Photos: NHL, Cara Bahniuk, Saskatoon Blades, Vancouver Giants
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