The Best Fit at Each Position for Washington Capitals in 2014 NHL Draft
Like many other NHL organizations that have consistently iced competitive rosters since the 2004-05 lockout, the Washington Capitals’ six-year postseason streak was made possible through solid prospect evaluation and an impressive track record in drafting in the years prior.
And now, with The Washington Post reporting that former Director of Scouting Ross Mahoney will be moving up to take over assistant general manager duties, Caps fans should know the franchise’s developmental branch will be in good hands for seasons to come.
But as the Caps try to rebound from a stunning campaign that saw them miss the playoffs entirely after five divisional crowns in six years, the 2014 NHL draft will be arguably this club’s most important summer since Alex Ovechkin heard his name called at No. 1 in 2004.
Heading into a crucial draft day for Washington, here’s a look at which prospects would best suit the team’s current and future needs at each position.
Goaltender: Ville Husso
Despite the team’s continuous struggle to find a long-term solution in goal (with all due respect to the incumbent in Braden Holtby), Washington has done a fantastic job at identifying future No. 1 netminders in recent drafts, particularly when it comes to Europeans.
Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Philipp Grubauer have all been taken outside of the first 22 picks in their respective draft years, and in 2014, the Caps have a good shot at getting a potential star in between the pipes with one of their many picks during Day 2 in Philadelphia.
That’s because despite going unselected in 2013, Ville Husso appears to have all the tools to be the next quality Finnish stopper to grace the NHL.
Following last year’s disappointment, Husso rebounded to post a sparkling 1.99 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage during his first season as HIFK’s No. 1 goaltender in Finland’s top league.
A backup on Finland’s World Junior Championship-winning squad, Husso will likely spend the next two or three seasons being groomed for NHL duty. But given his solid 6’0” frame and vast improvements over the last 18 months, Husso is a name to remember if the Caps are looking at taking a goaltender in the third or fourth round.
Defense: Haydn Fleury
To be clear, the chances of Haydn Fleury, regarded by NHL Central Scouting as the second-best North American rearguard in this year’s pool of prospects, slipping all the way to Washington at No. 13 aren’t great.
That’s because 6’2” blueliners with the level of offensive abilities that Fleury possesses simply don’t come around often.
Blessed with solid mobility, vision and puck-moving skills, Fleury is the type of defenseman who can jumpstart an attack with a crisp outlet pass, and with Washington’s top-end speed up front, he’d be a nice fit on a rather pedestrian defensive group.
Yeah, he dropped from No. 6 in Central Scouting’s rankings to No. 9 over the course of the spring, so there’s a possibility that he’ll still be waiting to hear his name called when the Caps are on the clock.
However, to better their chances at securing the Red Deer Rebels standout, moving up a couple of spots in Round 1 would certainly save Brian MacLellan and company some nervous moments.
Winger: Nicholas Ritchie
A big power forward with an impressive scoring touch, Peterborough’s Nick Ritchie is undoubtedly one of the most coveted wingers available in 2014.
This season, Ritchie upped his production from 35 points in 41 games during 2012-13 to 74 points in 61 contests. But perhaps what’s most impressive about his performance this past season is that the 6’2” Orangeville, Ontario, native potted 39 goals while also registering 136 penalty minutes for the Petes.
Though he may need another season or two to develop before taking on a top-nine role in the NHL, Ritchie’s got the size, shot and strength to be a contributor on both the scoreboard and in the corners.
A little more than two years younger than brother Brett, a 2012 Dallas Stars second-rounder, Ritchie is much more developed offensively than his sibling, and he should be more of a consistent scoring threat professionally.
Center: Alex Tuch
If Fleury’s off the board and Brian MacLellan’s staff opts to take a forward with the ability to play either in the middle or on the wing, Syracuse, New York, native Alex Tuch would be a great fit for this team.
By now, the common theme among the skater prospects that would best fit the Caps’ needs seems to be size, and that’s especially true for Washington at center and on defense.
At 6’4”, Tuch has the build to create space for his teammates (and would figure to be able to do so as a pro), and he has all the physical tools to make an immediate physical impact the way Tom Wilson did as a rookie in 2013-14.
In addition to his frame, Tuch proved during his second season in the USHL with the U.S. National Team Development Program that he can put up big numbers as well, potting 64 points in 61 games.
And, in the eyes of the Capitals, the most encouraging thing about his scoring numbers from 2013-14 has to be that he led the U.S. Under-18 team in both game-winners with seven and plus-minus at a whopping plus-35 rating.
He'll head to Boston College in the fall, so he's more of a project than some other potential first-rounders, but if he stays on this trajectory, Tuch will be a steal at No. 13.