Capitals 2015 Draft (Or: We Want To Be Happy For You, But…)
As a hockey writer who specializes in the draft and prospects, it is very difficult to be critical of a team’s draft picks. Ultimately, these are 18-year-old kids. There is a great deal of projection made concerning their development and future potential, and each of the 30 NHL teams rank players in their own unique way.
That being said, the Washington Capitals completely blew it at the the 2015 draft.
Their stellar netminder Braden Holtby is fresh off a remarkable breakthrough season which saw him turn just 25 years old. He backstopped a very good team which is just a few paces behind Eastern Conference powers Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers. The Rangers have defeated Washington in the Caps’ past three playoffs, with all three series going seven games.
Led by the best winger in the world in Alex Ovechkin, the Caps are stocked with a great deal of high-end talent. They have a stud top center in Nicklas Backstrom and a solid blue line led by the underrated but absolutely sublime John Carlson. What they need is greater scoring depth, a bit more punch in their supporting lines, and some more young talent to infuse their defense with in the near future.
Then, with the No. 22 overall draft in a 2015 draft which scouts were calling the strongest and deepest class in years, the Capitals drafted… a goalie.
What was Washington GM Brian MacLellan possibly thinking? The Caps lucked into a situation where, needing secondary scoring in their prospect pipeline, a pair of dynamic right wings fell to them in Travis Konecny and Brock Boeser. If they wanted to supplement the future of the blue line, the highly regarded Noah Juulsen and Jeremy Roy were both still on the board. Any of those four players would threaten to make a major contribution at the professional level in two short years.
Instead, MacLellan and company decided to go with Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov.
We think very highly of Samsonov’s potential. In five years when he comes to the United States, he should be a terrific back-up option to then-30 and still in his prime Braden Holtby. But was this the best decision to make in regards to the Capitals’ future chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Final?
This was a long-term investment made by people that should have had their eyes focused on next month’s rent, but were more concerned with the far-off possibility of their mutual funds.
We at TSS are firm believers in taking the “best available player” in the draft. That being said, the New Jersey Devils drafted a goaltender in Mackenzie Blackwood exactly 20 picks after the Samsonov selection whose upside is very similar to Samsonov’s. With a total of four picks, no team had fewer selections than the Capitals in the 2015 draft.
They could have easily have traded down 10 to 20 spots, still taken Samsonov (or at the very least, Blackwood), and received more valuable picks as part of the return. We believe the Caps’ brass would be lying if they tried to convince us that no team was willing to move up to the No. 22 spot to get Travis Konecny, a dazzling two-way talent routinely ranked as a top-15 selection.
To prove our point: the Philadelphia Flyers dealt the No. 29 and No. 61 pick to move up to Toronto’s No. 24 pick and get Konecny. The Caps could certainly have had Samsonov at No. 29, and the No. 61 pick (traded to Toronto) turned out to be a highly regarded right wing with big scoring upside in Jeremy Bracco.
MacLellan did not maximize his assets. He did not judge his team’s needs. Instead, he fell in love with a specific player at the expense of his team’s immediate future. It shows a stultifying lack of vision.
Will Samsonov become a good player? We think so — we think he and Blackwood were head and shoulders over the other goaltenders in the 2015 draft. We are not claiming omniscience or calling for MacLellan’s head. We are simply saying that MacLellan’s job at the draft was to maximize his assets and to improve his team in the foreseeable future. And we are saying that, at the 2015 draft, MacLellan did neither.
Capitals Updated Top 5 Prospects
- RD Madison Bowey (8.0) An outstanding offensive weapon, absolutely tore up the scoresheets for WHL champion Kelowna this past season. Tremendous puck-mover and skater, has a terrific shot and is also can play crucial defensive minutes. We love this kid — if he can beef up his physical game, he can be a first-pairing star at the NHL level.
- G Ilya Samsonov (8.0) After reading the opening of this column, you might think we are not especially high on him. We are. He is amazingly competitive and athletic, he has the upside of a perennial all-star between the pipes. We simply think the Caps have several needs, and a starting goaltender five years down the line is far from foremost among them.
- RW Jakub Vrana (7.5) Blistering skating speed, top-tier creativity and skills with the puck, this kid is a scoring machine. As with many players who fit this description, Vrana is a tick undersized and lacks commitment to the defensive game or the dirty areas of the ice. If he can focus his overall style to at least suitably fit the rigors of the NHL game, he has the talent to become a genuine star. He just needs to solidify his play without the puck, or he will be more of a fixture in Barry Trotz’s doghouse than on the scoresheets.
- LD Jonas Siegenthaler (7.0) As much as we maligned the Caps’ first-round selection, we loved Siegenthaler in the second round (#57 overall). A rock-solid defensive defenseman with ideal size and excellent skating ability, he’s the kind of defenseman you never notice because he always seems to make the safe, smart play. Makes tape-to-tape outlet passes and does not get beaten one-on-one. This Swiss-born gem should be a mid-pairing fixture on the Washington blueline for several seasons into the future.
- G Vitek Vanecek (7.0) The Czech-born netminder is a bit small by today’s NHL goaltending standards at 6’1″, but is extremely agile and boasts a lightning-quick glove hand. He plays with an infectious energy and exuberance. Would be the ideal candidate to back up Holtby a half-decade down the line but, well… the Caps decided to spend their 2015 first-round pick on Samsonov.
It’s been an intriguing off-season for the Capitals. They lost Joel Ward and Mike Green to free agency, but gained Justin Williams in free agency. They made a headline-rattling trade for a superlative RW in T.J. Oshie, but it meant parting with the underrated Troy Brouwer, a third-round pick and a prospect. We feel that, all in all, they are a slightly better team then they were a season ago — Ward and Williams are a wash, while Oshie can score 70-plus points skating a regular shift alongside the sublime skills of Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Though we would rank their 2015 draft at the bottom of the NHL, we still feel strongly about Samson’s long-term upside and we think Siegenthaler was a terrific selection. Their final two picks were defensemen, Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams. Hobbs is big and tough, while Williams is more of a puck-mover.
The Capitals again look to be a major Eastern Conference force entering the 2015-16 campaign. People forget that Ovechkin and Backstrom are in the midst of their primes at 29 and 27, respectively. It is just also worth noting that those ages will be 34 and 32 by the time the Caps’ 2015 first-round pick is ready to don a Washington jersey.
Perhaps all four 2015 Washington draft picks will become great players and prove our low regard for their draft haul wrong. This writer took some heat for saying that Vrana was the wrong choice in 2014 with Sonny Milano and Dylan Larkin still on the board, and maybe Vrana will prove us wrong as well.
MacLellan inherited a stunningly talented team nucleus and prospect pool from the his oft-maligned predecessor, George McPhee. We are now quite curious what MacLellan’s vision is for the future of the Washington Capitals. Judging by his recent draft record, we still cannot figure out exactly what it is.