The Washington Capitals have been an above-average to great drafting team during the Alex Ovechkin era in DC despite usually not getting to select very high due to consistent team success. That was on full display when several major pieces of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018 had been drafted and developed over the last decade by the organization. Players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky.
One constant in the team’s drafting has been Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney who has long led the team’s best player available approach.
“There’s always players that slide every year whether they are from a certain country or not,” Mahoney said Wednesday. “There’s always surprises in the Draft. ”
With the 2022 Draft quickly approaching, I wanted to look back at the team’s drafting performance since 2010 to see what worked, what didn’t, and if there are any patterns. There will be no Finns in the making of this production.
Plus, there are grades. [Gets red marker out.] And lots of WHL defensemen.
2021 NHL Draft class
Vincent Iorio, RHD – (Round 2, pick 55)
Brent Johnson, RHD – (Round 3, pick 80)
Joaquim Lemay, LHD – (Round 4, pick 119)
Haakon Hanelt, C – (Round 5, pick 151)
Dru Krebs, LHD – (Round 6, 176)
Chase Clark, G – (Round 6, 183)
The Capitals’ 2021 Draft is the toughest to evaluate. And the lack of a first-round pick only accentuates that. We also have to consider the weird circumstances that this group of players played under considering the havoc COVID-19 wreaked on player game time and scouting in general. So, of course, the Caps went back to the WHL well where they’re very familiar, and took their ninth and tenth defensemen from the league since 2010.
Vincent Iorio is the first of those two, is the closest to NHL-ready, and should spend all of next season with the Hershey Bears so we’ll get a good look at how his game translates to the pro level. Iorio set new career highs this past season in the WHL in both goals (11) and points (44) while finishing tied for 16th in overall scoring by a defenseman. He was also one of the final cuts from Team Canada’s most recent World Juniors team.
Joaquim Lemay is probably the biggest riser out of this group as he had an excellent offensive season in the USHL, finishing tied for seventh in scoring by a defenseman with 48 points from 56 games. His scoring rate left him above US National Development Team products Seamus Casey and Ryan Chesley, who should hear their names called much earlier in this year’s draft than Lemay did in 2021.
Brent Johnson was the youngest player on a deep North Dakota roster, Hanelt was hurt for the majority of the season, Krebs played on a horrifically bad Medicine Hat team in the WHL, and Clark had a real roller-coaster season in the USHL that featured a trade from Tri-City to Muskegon.
Chris’ current grade: D+
2020 NHL Draft class
Hendrix Lapierre, C – (Round 1, pick 22)
Bogdan Trineyev, RW – (Round 4, pick 117)
Bear Hughes, C – (Round 5, pick 148)
Garin Bjorklund, G – (Round 6, pick 179)
Oskar Magnusson, LW – (Round 7, pick 211)
The 2020 Draft Class hinges on what Hendrix Lapierre will become at the NHL level. Lapierre got his first taste of NHL action at the start of last season, which included scoring his first goal in his first NHL game. After that, Lapierre’s success slowed. He seemed a surefire member of Team Canada’s World Juniors squad but was part of the final cuts there. He then had an up-and-down season in the QMJHL with Acadie-Bathurst that saw him deal with injuries towards the end of the year and not really build much on his 2020-21 campaign scoring-wise. The pros were that he shot the puck more and that resulted in more overall goals.
With the question marks the Capitals have at center, Lapierre will likely once again be in some sort of contention to start the season at the NHL level. He most likely will end up in Hershey though as the Capitals like to fully develop their prospects in the minors.
Outside of Lapierre, Bogdan Trineyev and Garin Bjorklund are two other bright spots. The organization seems high on Trineyev given the opportunity he was handed in Hershey during their playoff run: he played on the Bear’s first line. Bjorklund will likely make starts between ECHL South Carolina and AHL Hershey as he gets his first taste of pro hockey in net.
Meanwhile, Bear Hughes was not signed by the team and allowed to become a free agent. Oskar Magnusson played in two games for Team Sweden at the most recent World Juniors tournament.
Chris’ current grade: B
2019 NHL Draft class
Connor McMichael, C – (Round 1, pick 25)
Brett Leason, RW – (Round 2, pick 56)
Aliaksei Protas, C – (Round 3, pick 91)
Martin Has, RHD – (Round 5, pick 153)
The Capitals went three-for-three with their first three picks in this class becoming NHL players. You literally cannot ask for much more than that. When you consider the upside McMichael has shown in DC, it’s easy to say the Capitals nailed this draft. As things currently stand, Connor “McJesus” McMichael will be the team’s second-line center on Opening Night and both Aliaksei Protas and Brett Leason figure to feature in battles for bottom-six roles given the injury situations surrounding Carl Hagelin and Tom Wilson.
Martin Has unfortunately missed basically a full year of development due to the pandemic but just recently won the QMJHL championship with the Shawinigan Cataractes. He is without a pro deal but seems like a player ready to make the jump to Hershey.
Chris’ current grade: A-
2018 NHL Draft class
Alexander Alexeyev, LHD – (Round 1, pick 31)
Martin Fehervary, LHD – (Round 2, pick 46)
Kody Clark, RW – (Round 2, pick 47)
Riley Sutter, RW – (Round 3, pick 93)
Mitchell Gibson, G – (Round 4, pick 124)
Alex Kannok-Leipert, RHD – (Round 6, pick 161)
Eric Florchuk, C – (Round 7, pick 217)
The 2018 Draft Class has ended up a disappointment as things currently stand with one rather bright spot. Martin Fehervary clearly jumps out as the best player of this group. The Slovak rearguard spent the entire 2021-22 season skating with John Carlson on the Capitals’ first pairing and figures to be a key part of the NHL blueline for the foreseeable future. There aren’t really any question marks about Fehervary’s game other than if we’ll see an uptick in overall offense in the future.
Alex Alexeyev was an impactful, two-way defenseman with the WHL Red Deer Rebels, but his stock has dropped somewhat since arriving in the Capitals organization — though he did make his NHL debut last season. Over the summer, Alexeyev underwent shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear and will miss the start of next season. Alexeyev seems destined to be an NHL player, but his top-four upside has become questionable.
Kody Clark was a massive reach when the pick was made and he hasn’t done anything to prove that wrong. He turns 23 in October and his career high in goals in an AHL season is eight. Unless Riley Sutter can develop into a true, shutdown defensive option, he may not have NHL upside. Mitchell Gibson seems to be far down the Capitals’ depth chart in goal.
Chris’ current grade: C-
2017 NHL Draft class
Tobias Geisser, LHD – (Round 4, pick 120)
Sebastian Walfridsson, LHD – (Round 5, pick 151)
Benton Maass, RHD – (Round 6, pick 182)
Kristian Marthinsen, LW (Round 7, pick 213)
None of these players are signed with the Capitals. In fact, Benton Maass is the only one still in the organization, but is only signed to an AHL deal with the Bears for next season. You can’t expect a lot from four picks from Rounds 4 through 7 so it’s not the end of the world.
Tobias Geisser moved on to the Swiss league after parts of three seasons in Hershey and both Sebastian Walfridsson and Kristian Marthinsen now play in Sweden professionally.
Chris’ current grade: F
2016 NHL Draft class
Lucas Johansen, LHD – (Round 1, pick 28)
Garrett Pilon, C – (Round 3, pick 87)
Damien Riat, RW – (Round 4, pick 117)
Beck Malenstyn, LW – (Round 5, pick 145)
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, LW – (Round 5, pick 147)
Chase Priskie, RHD – (Round 6, pick 177)
Dmitriy Zaitsev, LHD – (Round 7, pick 207)
This draft provided many depth players for a veteran team that needs cheap depth options every season. Five out of seven picks have played NHL games. That’s a major success even if no top-end talent sprouted. Lucas Johansen appears to have the inside track on an NHL roster spot next season and outplayed Alexeyev in Hershey last season. That felt like something that would never happen after Johansen had three straight injury-plagued years in the AHL. Johansen was the last player selected in this draft’s first round to get into an NHL game.
Garrett Pilon, Beck Malenstyn, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby will all be in contention for the few bottom-six and maybe extra forward roster spots that look to be available during 2022’s Training Camp. All three players got some NHL action last season and all three scored their first NHL goals.
Damien Riat looked to have some two-way ability with a little offensive flair but never seemed too committed to playing professional hockey in North America. Chase Priskie did not sign with the Caps out of college and went on to play in four games with the Panthers last season. Dmitriy Zaitsev has played in the second and third tiers of Russian hockey since 2018.
Chris’ current grade: B+
2015 NHL Draft class
Ilya Samsonov, G – (Round 1, pick 22)
Jonas Siegenthaler, LHD – (Round 2, pick 57)
Connor Hobbs, RHD – (Round 5, pick 143)
Colby Williams, RHD – (Round 6, pick 173)
Some draft analysts are quick to say that teams should never take a goaltender in the first round. That doesn’t work as a blanket statement for me. In Ilya Samsonov’s case he was viewed as a surefire future superstar. That draft pick wasn’t a mistake — he’s been brilliant at times– but it’s still unclear what the team actually has consistently in the Russian netminder. The “good” thing is for the Caps that no other goaltender from 2015 has really separated themselves from the pack, so it’s not like they missed on a huge talent in net to grab Samsonov. The major miss actually came in the form of Canes forward Sebastian Aho who fell to pick number 35 which means basically the entire rest of the league also missed to some degree.
Jonas Siegenthaler was a phenomenal selection and was sacrificed to the New Jersey Devils because the Caps wanted to play two older guys (Dillon and Chara) that probably were not even as good as he was. Siegenthaler was recently named the best defensive defenseman in the NHL.
Connor Hobbs retired from professional hockey and played college hockey in Canada last season. Colby Williams is still in the AHL but no longer in the Caps organization.
Chris’ current grade: C
2014 NHL Draft class
Jakub Vrana, LW – (Round 1, pick 13)
Vitek Vanecek, G – (Round 2, pick 39)
Nathan Walker, LW – (Round 3, pick 89)
Shane Gersich, LW – (Round 5, pick 134)
Steven Spinner, RW – (Round 6, pick 159)
Kevin Elgestal, RW – (Round 7, pick 194)
Three of these players played a part in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory. If you can get that from one draft, it’s a success all day, every day. I think we all know by now that Vrana is a true difference maker and budding superstar in the league. That was a great pick and he’s an excellent fit in the modern-day NHL.
Vitek Vanecek should be a quality backup goaltender wherever he plays and that’s better than a lot of goaltenders that get picked around where he did. For example, the Calgary Flames grabbed Mason McDonald five spots higher than Vanecek in this draft and he has yet to play an NHL game.
Nathan Walker is the first Australian player to do most things and is a quadruple A player for the St. Louis Blues. Shane Gersich remains in the organization but will likely never feature for the Caps again. Steven Spinner doesn’t play hockey anymore and Kevin Elgestal looks like he’ll be in the third tier of Sweden next season.
Chris’ current grade: B
2013 NHL Draft class
Andre Burakovsky, LW – (Round 1, pick 23)
Madison Bowey, RHD – (Round 2, pick 53)
Zach Sanford, LW – (Round 2, pick 61)
Blake Heinrich, LHD – (Round 5, pick 144)
Brian Pinho, C – (Round 6, pick 174)
Tyler Lewington, RHD – (Round 7, pick 204)
There are five NHL players out of the lot here and three of them have played over 150 games. Two-time Stanley Cup champion Andre Burakovsky leads the list of talent and we will always remember the nightmare he is for Andrei Vasilevskiy. Burakovsky is another hit for the Caps at the latter parts of a first round.
Madison Bowey looked to have all the tools to be a top-four defenseman but it’s all gone downhill since his rookie season. He’s arguably been the worst “regularly playing” defenseman in the entire league when you look at his game analytically. But hey, he’s still getting games in the top level of hockey in the world and you cant take that away from him. Zach Sanford and his potentially pierced nipple have worked their way up into becoming a regular NHLer and even scored 16 goals for the Blues during the 2019-20 season.
Brian Pinho has been reliable forward depth for the Caps for what feels like five years but may be moving on this offseason. Tyler Lewington has been up and down from the AHL for two NHL teams since making his debut with the Caps in 2018-19 but is headed to Austria next season. Blake Henrich does not play hockey anymore.
Chris’ current grade: C+
2012 NHL Draft class
Filip Forsberg, LW – (Round 1, pick 11)
Tom Wilson, RW – (Round 1, pick 16)
Chandler Stephenson, C – (Round 3, pick 77)
Thomas Di Pauli, C – (Round 4, pick 100)
Austin Wuthrich, RW – (Round 4, pick 107)
Connor Carrick, RHD – (Round 5, pick 137)
Riley Barber, RW – (Round 6, pick 167)
Christian Djoos, LHD (Round 7, pick 195)
Jaynen Rissling, LHD (Round 7, pick 197)
Sergey Kostenko, G (Round 7, pick 203)
This is the “Oh, what could have been” draft. Those first three picks would be quite the line right now if the Caps had kept them all together. You could very easily argue they picked three of the top 20 players in that entire 2012 class with those selections. We all know how good Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson are but Chandler Stephenson has blossomed beyond what many expected with the ice time Vegas has been able to give him.
Christian Djoos is the big surprise of this group. He played in 22 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup victory in his rookie season and the Caps got that from a seventh-round selection. That alone should give this entire class five stars.
Thomas Di Pauli became a Penguins traitor out of college and is now retired. Austin Wuthrich is also retired. Connor Carrick has gotten into 241 NHL games over his career and is also just a really cool dude who has maximized his career. Riley Barber has scored a whole lot in the AHL but doesn’t look like he’ll ever stick in the NHL. Jaynen Rissling isn’t in professional hockey anymore. Sergey Kostenko plays in Turkey – a place I didn’t even know had a league until just now.
Chris’ current grade: A+
2011 NHL Draft class
Steffen Soberg, G – (Round 4, pick 117)
Patrick Koudys, LHD – (Round 5, pick 147)
Travis Boyd, C – (Round 6, pick 177)
Garrett Haar, LHD (Round 7, pick 207)
Well, this draft is what happens when you’re a team really trying to win a Stanley Cup every year. Travis Boyd is obviously the highlight and also featured once in that Cup run. He has carved out a nice career for a guy who got picked in the sixth round, getting rewarded recently by the Arizona Coyotes with a two-year, $3.5 million contract.
Soberg has played professionally in Norway since he was drafted. Koudys and Haar are both retired.
Chris’ current grade: D+
⭐ You tried.
2010 NHL Draft class
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C – (Round 1, pick 26)
Stanislav Galiev, LW – (Round 3, pick 86)
Philipp Grubauer, G – (Round 4, pick 112)
Caleb Herbert, C – (Round 5, pick 142)
Samuel Carrier, RHD – (Round 6, pick 176)
The Capitals hit a few home runs here. It took a bit, but Kuzy eventually came over to the NHL and without him, the Caps do not have a Stanley Cup. He is a number one center in the league and will be fondly remembered, even with some of his shenanigans, for as long as the franchise exists.
Philipp Grubauer is the other winner here as not only did he develop into a number one starter in the league but he also allowed the Caps to get future draft stock in return for him when he outgrew his role. He was a Vezina finalist in 2021.
Stan Galiev was a great AHL player but flamed out and went back to Russia where he is a top player there. Caleb Herbert is recently retired and Samuel Carrier plays professionally in a league in Quebec.
Chris’ current grade: A
What are your thoughts on how the Caps have drafted over the past decade? Let us know in the comments your ratings for each of these classes.
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