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Capitals Show Promise in Pittsburgh

AP Photo

PITTSBURGH, PA – For the last four seasons, the Washington Capitals have lacked a center.  Friday night in the City of Bridges, they may have finally plugged the hole.

George McPhee pulled off yet another coup, landing pivot Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for pennies – center Cody Eakin and the 54th overall pick in the 2012 Draft.

Ribeiro, 32, would seem to be the answer to the Capitals’ glaring hole at center.  Standing 6’0”, the Montreal native had 18 goals and 45 assists this past season and has not scored fewer than 63 points in a full season over the last five campaigns.

“We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup,” McPhee said.  “I just didn’t like the way we played in the playoffs.  We got some big, gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another guy in the middle of it to see if it helps.  I think it makes our team immediately better.”

When asked if plugging the second line center hole was the top priority this offseason, McPhee simply responded, “Yes."  

"We think he’s a 1 or 2 center in this league.  I just felt like at some point this summer we wanted to add a skill guy, and if it was at center ice, that would be ideal.”

As usual, McPhee managed to add a player at a lower price than the market would seem to dictate.  Only 15% of 2nd round picks in the last ten years have made a significant NHL impact – and Cody Eakin, who at one point was moved for eight assets in the Western Hockey League – was a small price to pay as his stock had recently fallen.

After making the trade for Ribeiro, McPhee wasn’t done.  Following a number of teams going wild early in the first round and picking players not ranked in the top ten by many, the Capitals were presented with a golden opportunity: take a player ranked in the top five outside of the top ten selections.  And the General Manager delivered, landing what many consider the steal of the draft at this early stage: Swedish winger Filip Forsberg.

“Well, of course it’s a big honor to get to go to the Washington Capitals and to be a part of their great organization,” Forsberg said.  “So yeah, really looking forward to it. This is just the start of hopefully a good career.”

It was a no-brainer pick for the Capitals, who had one of the best players in the draft essentially fall into their lap.  Forsberg was the top European skater ranked by basically every scouting service, and most mock drafts had him being selected in the top five.

“The scouts the table the scouts were unanimous,” McPhee said when asked about his thought process. “‘We have to take this guy, he’s a fantastic player.  We have to take this guy.’”

Read more about Friday night here.

In Forsberg, the Capitals added a 17 year-old who played against men in the Swedish Elite League last season and has shown that he can play at a high level.  With one year left on his contract in his homeland, Forsberg won’t be around next year, but plans to hone his game overseas and work hard to try and make an impact sooner rather than later.

“I have one year left on my contract back in Sweden, so yeah, that’s my plan for next year,” he said.  “Then I’m not sure, we’ll see, hopefully I can have a good season and anything can happen. [I] have to become stronger, if I can make my skating a bit stronger, I’ve been practicing every day, hopefully I can improve it.”

After adding skill with Forsberg, the Capitals added punch with their next draft pick: winger Tom Wilson from Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League.  A large, bruising, physical winger, Wilson is a monster of a man and was profiled by scouting services as the toughest player in the draft.  It adds something that the Caps haven’t had in awhile: snarl.

“Most noticeably more me it’s my big physical game,” Wilson said.  “I’m a big power forward, create space for my teammates and I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it.  I think I’ve got some offensive potential in the next few years.”

“Big, tough kid,” the McPhee concurred.  “It’s going to take a lot of work to get him where we need him, but plays hard, plays tough.  When we were in the middle of the playoffs, we made a note after those games, ‘remember these games when you’re at the draft.  Remember how intense they are, how physical they are.'  We got someone who wanted to play in that kind of stuff.”

Wilson also lit up when asked about being selected by the Capitals, saying he owned Alex Ovechkin’s jersey when he was younger and loves the way Washington’s captain plays.

“I’m thrilled,” he noted. “Never been to Washington. Really looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s a great city.  “They got a great pick in Forsberg.  So, I’m really looking forward to going to camp and getting to know the organization.”

All in all, the Capitals had a brilliant day.  They added a slick center, stole an elite player outside of the top ten picks, and added toughness and potential scoring in the middle of the first round.  At 6 PM on Friday, many were worried that the Capitals would mess it up…again.

But by 11, as Colplay’s “Viva La Vida” blared over the CONSOL Energy Center speakers, there was a new feeling.

And it was hope.

Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the 2012 NHL Draft for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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