NHL Draft 2014: Final Look at Washington Capitals' Best Options in 1st Round
The Washington Capitals haven't had many chances to pick early at NHL drafts as of late, as the team's upcoming No. 13 overall selection will be just the second time the club has chosen within the top half of Round 1 since 2007.
Of course, that's because Alex Ovechkin and the Caps were riding a six-year postseason streak until 2013-14.
Despite missing the playoffs last season, new general manager Brian MacLellan has a golden opportunity to bolster a roster that remains similar to the ones that captured five division championships in six seasons from 2008-2013.
This Washington team has been built through the draft, as virtually all of the franchise's cornerstones—Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green—are former Capitals first-rounders.
So, with Washington in need of reinforcements on the back end, in net and down the middle, and a crop of prospects that features few surefire superstars but an abundance of high-end young talents, here's a late look at the Capitals' best options in Round 1.
Depending on whether the Caps intend on re-signing unrestricted free agent Mikhail Grabovski to an extension, Washington may be in dire need of an offensive pivot to occupy the No. 2 spot down the middle.
If that's the case, Washington will be keeping tabs on William Nylander, the son of former Capital Michael, as he may well be the prospect with the greatest upside available when MacLellan and company are on the clock.
Though he's played both in the middle and on the right wing, Nylander's hockey sense and dynamic skating suggest he has the potential to follow in his father's footsteps and become a quality NHL second-liner at center.
As Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager discussed, scouts have to be impressed by the steps Nylander's taken over the last year:
He tallied, as a teen facing full-grown pros, 15 goals and 27 points over 35 combined games while on loan to Rögle and Södertälje in Sweden's second division, the Allsvenskan. The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander capped off his season by averaging more than two points per game for Sweden at the world under-18 championship in April.
Like fellow Swedes and former Washington first-rounders Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, Nylander will likely remain in Sweden for another season. While he didn't look out of place with Modo of the Swedish Hockey League, he may benefit from another year of development in the SHL.
A quick, creative forward with solid vision and hands, Nylander has the tools needed to develop into the type of productive No. 2 center the Caps have lacked for years.
Despite his lack of size (5'11", 181 lbs), the 18-year-old would be a coup for MacLellan at No. 13.
The Capitals need help defensively, and assuming Aaron Ekblad goes early, Haydn Fleury of the Red Deer Rebels will likely be the most promising blueliner in the field when MacLellan approaches the podium.
According to The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy, Fleury's impressive showing at the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament—where he was named the best defenseman—reaffirmed his status as a potential top-10 pick.
He's a big, mobile rearguard with puck-moving ability, as shown by his 46 points in 70 Western Hockey League contests in 2013-14. As NHL Central Scouting's ninth-ranked North American skater, the 6'2" Fleury stands a good chance of slipping into Washington's grasp.
Like the aforementioned William Nylander, Finnish product Kasperi Kapanen is set to follow in his father's footsteps.
Sami Kapanen was a two-time All-Star and earned two Olympic medals with the Finnish national team, and his son certainly possesses some of the same traits that made him such an effective two-way presence during his 12 seasons split between the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers.
While the 5'10" 18-year-old has been listed as a winger with KalPa of the SM-Liiga, NHL.com's Mike Morreale noted that Kapanen has the ability to play in the middle as well and projects to be the sort of versatile forward coaches love:
Son of former NHL player Sami Kapanen can play center or wing; smooth, fast skater with tricky puck skills and a quick release. Good hand-eye coordination and a steady competitor who won't shy away from the tough areas.
Like Sami, who was twice named the NHL's fastest skater, the younger Kapanen has the acceleration to both push the pace offensively and thwart rushes on the defensive side of the puck.
Those are two areas the Caps could undoubtedly use improvement in.
By all accounts, such as the one provided by NBCWashington.com's Adam Vingan, the Capitals are planning on staying the course with Braden Holtby as the team's starting goaltender.
With that being said, given that this draft is one that features a bevy of good rather than great prospects, trading down could be of interest to MacLellan.
Hypothetically, the Caps may be able swap the No. 13 pick with a team on the hunt for a specific player and move further toward the end of Round 1 while gaining a third-rounder in the process.
If that's ultimately what ends up happening, Washington may be in the position to grab a franchise goaltender late in Round 1, as Thatcher Demko should still be awaiting the call.
Ranked by Central Scouting as the best North American netminder available, Demko projects to be an elite starting stopper at the NHL level. Considering how quickly his stock has risen, he may be worth a late Round 1 selection if the Caps were to trade down.
He gained a lot of valuable experience while suiting up for both Boston College and the U.S. World Junior squad in 2013-14. At this point, the San Diego native is by far the NHL-readiest prospect out there.
While it'd be nice for the Caps to grab a two-way pivot or a minute-munching defenseman at the No. 13 slot, would anyone really be complaining if Washington ended up with an elite franchise stopper instead?
Ideally, the Caps would have a rearguard aside from Fleury to consider with such a high pick, but this talent pool is loaded with promising young forwards and rather light on projected franchise defensemen.
As a result, assuming Ekblad and Fleury are gone, taking a do-it-all center like Jared McCann could be an intriguing option for MacLellan and company.
A 6'0" pivot out of Sault St. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, McCann has all of the characteristics of a prototypical No. 2 center. Most importantly for Washington, he's sound defensively.
While the 18-year-old didn't exactly take the league by storm on the scoreboard, McCann did post a respectable 62 points in 64 games for the Greyhounds. With proven abilities on the penalty kill and in his own end, he'd be a perfect fit for D.C. at No. 13.