Breaking Down Experts' Picks for Washington Capitals' 2014 Draft
And that's not because the Caps are coming off a year in which they missed the postseason for the first time in seven years. Nor is it due to the team's changes behind the bench and in the boardroom.
Instead, Washington should see the event in Philadelphia as a valuable opportunity to add a top-tier prospect to the organization.
Since the Capitals first made the postseason during the Alex Ovechkin era in 2008, Washington's had just one selection inside the first half of Round 1 (Filip Forsberg at No. 11 in 2012), and with a top-heavy class of prospects up for grabs, GM Brian MacLellan will be looking to make the No. 13 pick count.
Heading into an all-important weekend for a franchise in transition, here's a look at the latest expert projections for who the Capitals will take in Round 1.
For the Capitals, the biggest immediate need within the organization is a blue-chipper on the back end—beyond Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green, Washington's defensive unit doesn't exactly strike fear in the eyes of opposing teams.
And while there's an abundance of youth on the Washington blue line, if this team hopes to re-tool rather than rebuild, getting a potential top-four rearguard with size, mobility and offensive instincts would be a big step in the right direction.
That's why if Red Deer Rebels standout Haydn Fleury, the second-ranked North American defensive prospect available, is still on the board at No. 13, the Caps have to take him.
As NHL.com's Adam Kimmelman recently discussed, the rangy yet agile Fleury has all the makings of a franchise rearguard:
Big, strong defender (6-2, 208) has talented offensive game. Has the look of a cornerstone defenseman.
Though it remains to be seen whether the high-scoring defenseman drops far enough for MacLellan to snatch him up, TSN's Craig Button has projected that Fleury will be taken by Washington.
Up front, the Caps' biggest need is clearly down the middle, particularly if pending free agent Mikhail Grabovski isn't re-signed, and though Dylan Larkin has spent a lot of time on the wing, his versatility could provide more options for Barry Trotz when constructing lineups.
At 6'1" and blessed with athleticism and a solid frame, Larkin's got the tools to be a power forward with scoring potential in the mold of current Cap Troy Brouwer—the 17-year-old posted nearly a point per game with the U.S. Under-18 team.
As of now, Larkin's slated to skate for Michigan in the fall, but as always, that could change if there's a strong preference from the team that ultimately drafts him to play major junior. Either way, Larkin's physicality, skill, speed and defensive awareness are all traits that should be targeted by MacLellan and his staff, and according to Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino, the Detroit native should be on Washington's radar:
A versatile player that marries skill and competitiveness to play a solid two-way game. Larkin is difficult to play against and was lauded by his USNTDP teammates.
Larkin will be a first-rounder, but whether teams believe he can play center at the next level may play a role in when his name's called in Philadelphia.
As stated before, the Caps desperately need help at center, and Robby Fabbri of the Guelph Storm appears to have what it takes to eventually occupy the No. 2 role behind Nicklas Backstrom.
Despite his 5'10" frame, Fabbri has quickly put together an extremely impressive case to be taken early in Philadelphia, as the Mississauga, Ontario product was a clutch performer for the Ontario Hockey League champs.
In fact, due to his incredible 13 goals and 28 points in just 16 games during the OHL postseason, Fabbri earned the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the most valuable player of the playoffs—an award that's also been captured by current NHL stars such as Taylor Hall, Marc Staal and Corey Perry.
Fabbri's clearly got the potential to be a top-six forward at the NHL level, so if he's still on the board, he's a possibility for Washington. That being said, as The Hockey News highlights, there's a very real chance that Fabbri won't make it to No. 13—and even if he does, Washington may well take a blue-liner instead:
Fabbri is one of the big risers up the draft charts, after his terrific performance at the 2014 Memorial Cup. Therefore, he may not make it to Washington's pick here. If he does, the new regime may decide he's too good to pass up. They may want a D-man, though.
His 87 points in 58 games put him tied with 2013 Washington first-rounder Andre Burakovsky for No. 14 in league scoring in 2013-14, and if Washington does choose to go for an offensive weapon with flair, Fabbri would fit the bill perfectly.
If the Caps aren't able to grab Fleury at No. 13, one of the team's best consolation prizes could be Travis Sanheim—who has quickly become one of the most highly regarded blue-liners available in this year's crop.
At 6'4", Sanheim's got the size that the Caps are rather obviously missing on defense, and assuming that he continues to develop at the rate he has over the past year, the Calgary Hitmen standout should be a reliable two-way presence as a professional.
As Yahoo! Sports' Gus Katsaros points out, Sanheim's a bit of a wild card because of how quickly his stock's risen, but there's at least a remote possibility he'll end up in Washington:
Exploded with a stellar World U18 Championships vaulting him to the top of the draft class. Size, athleticism and improving game make him an extremely enticing pick sporting a high development curve. Sanheim had five goals and 29 points for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.
The Caps do need an injection of experience and leadership in their own end of the rink, but adding a big, mobile defenseman with an increasingly high upside would certainly help Barry Trotz implement his relatively conservative defensive scheme.