The Capitals took another skilled, fast winger in the first round Sunday. (Washington Capitals)
NEW YORK – Sunday afternoon and evening in Newark, New Jersey, the Washington Capitals made six selections in the NHL Draft. All of them bring different things to the table and could potentially have different impacts for the big club down the road – but three in particular stand out to me. So let’s get right to it and take a look at the big framework of this draft for Washington and what Sunday meant.
First off, it’s important to know that the Capitals worked very hard to move up in the draft and get in to the top 10 or 12 picks. George McPhee said so on Sunday evening and given the Capitals’ clear attempts to “win now,” it makes sense that they would be willing to spend assets to get a player who would be able to help them in the short term instead of the long term. However, no team in those draft spots was willing to move as far back as 23rd with what McPhee had to offer, so the Caps held pat.
This was the predicted course of action for Washington, because despite the fact that they wanted to move up, McPhee doesn’t have many tradeable assets other than picks and roster players that he has deemed untouchable as part of the core of this franchise. A club like Philadelphia or Carolina isn’t going to take a bunch of lower round picks to move back ten or 15 spots in the first round.
At 23rd overall, the Capitals selected Austrian-born Andre Burakovsky, who plays his hockey in Sweden. Burakovsky is a typical pick for McPhee and director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney – he is a high-upside, flashy, European winger with high-end skill and skating ability, though he struggles when he doesn’t have the puck. I was initially not a fan of this pick, as I really want to see the franchise begin to build for the future from the center position out and Washington left several center prospects on the board to draft another winger. But at that position in the first round, I guess you take the best available player. According to both McPhee and Mahoney, that was Burakovsky on their board; that could simply be PR or it could be the truth. But this pick was certainly not a “reach.”
I began to like the Burakovsky pick even more when Washington traded three draft picks to move in to the final spot of the second round, no. 61, and select Zach Sanford, an American pivot who is 6’3” and already 185 pounds. Sanford is a good center prospect and a good value pick as he is viewed as a late bloomer by many scouts, and a former coach of his texted me after the draft that he is a “complete player, but needs to work on his offensive game some more.” Mahoney echoed that sentiment, saying that Sanford has a lot of development in front of him and has high offensive potential. Another powerful skater, Sanford is a project and after playing one more year in the United States Hockey League, will move on to play for legendary coach Jerry York at Boston College. This is a good center prospect, but he is a ways away.
The Capitals’ other second-round pick, at no. 53, was defenseman Madison Bowey from Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. Another good skater, Bowey adds to Washington’s already impressive core of prospects on defense and was another value pick, as he was predicted to go in the earlier stages of the second round but instead fell to the end of the round. It’s by no means a “steal” at this point, but a stable, smart defenseman is always something that an organization should draft if he falls in to their lap. Bowey also seems to have some offensive upside.
The bottom line with this draft was that the Capitals wanted to move up to try and get better now, but eventually realized that it wasn’t an option and decided to add to the stockpile instead, drafting players with upside and a lot of room for growth. I fully endorse this course of action, though I would have liked to see the Caps find a way to shed some salary on the draft floor.
None of these prospects are anywhere close to the NHL, it seems, which is pretty much what you expect when you draft in the later stages of the first round. But the first three selections in particular are guys who will really benefit from some seasoning away from professional hockey and will likely be with the Capitals in three or four years’ time. I like the selections and I like the balance. And most of all, I like that Capitals brass stressed they will give these guys time to develop and not force them to North America a bit early, like they may have done in the past.
Overall, it was a solid but unspectacular day for the organization.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR and also interns at USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter here.