Washington Capitals' New Regime Making Few Changes to Draft Strategy

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Washington Capitals' New Regime Making Few Changes to Draft Strategy
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan and Asst GM Ross Mahoney (l-r) at the 2014 NHL Draft.

The 2014 NHL draft was the first, best chance for the Washington Capitals new general manager Brian MacLellan to prove that he is indeed a "new voice" in the team's front office. 

I asserted as much in my June 3 column, predicting that he would lead the team in a manner different from his predecessor George McPhee

However, if MacLellan's draft strategy is any indication, I was dead wrong about Mac. 

MacLellan and the Capitals made six picks on June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia, the number of total selections being reduced by multiple draft-day trades. 

Review the picks for yourself to see if the pattern appears different from the one established by McPhee in the 16 drafts he presided over: 

2014 NHL Draft: Washington Capitals' Selections
RD PK OVERALL PLAYER POS CTY HT WT LEAGUE
1 13 13 Jakub Vrana LW/RW CZE 5'11" 185 Sweden
2 9 39 Vitek Vanecek G CZE 6'0" 180 CzRep-Jr.
3 29 89 Nathan Walker LW GBR 6'0" 180 AHL
5 14 134 Shane Gersich C/LW USA 5'11" 175 USHL
6 9 159 Steven Spinner RW USA 5'11" 196 High School (MN)
7 14 194 Kevin Elgestal RW SWE 6'1" 176 Sweden-Jr.

NHL.com

Hmm, that drafting strategy looks oddly familiar. 

J.P. of Japers' Rink thought so, too. While analyzing the pick, J.P. wrote, "with his first pick as general manager, Brian MacLellan selects... a wing?" 

Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington provided more background information to support that assertion: 

Under former Capitals general manager George McPhee the Capitals drafted with a European flair. That trend continued Friday night in Philadelphia when new general manager Brian MacLellan selected center Jakub Vrana with the 13th pick overall of the NHL draft. ... The Capitals have taken a European with their first pick of the draft in seven straight years, with five of them coming from a Swedish league – Anton Gustafsson in 2008, Marcus Johnansson in 2009, Filip Forsberg in 2012, Andre Burakovsky in 2013 and Vrana this year.

This trend was an easy one to spot while McPhee was in control, and it seemed easy enough for MacLellan to overcome. And yet, he proved otherwise. This is an ominous sign as to whether or not MacLellan can guide this franchise in a new direction. 

It turns out that Vrana proved to be an excellent barometer for determining whether or not MacLellan was copying his old boss. As the Capitals' first pick in the draft, Vrana understandably attracted the most pixels of all the Capitals' selections, providing a preponderance of evidence at this embryonic stage of his career. 

Here are the positive pixels: 

 

 

 

And now the negative pixels: 

 

 

The second group of tweets are much more telling. Capitals fans who watched this draft could have traveled back in time to one of several draft years to watch GMGM quickly call out the name of any number of players who Vrana closely resembles. 

Further evidence of MacLellan and the Caps failing to build a new draft strategy presented itself with the Capitals' second pick, although the verdict may not be as damning. 

First, a scouting report: 

Now, an interesting trend: 

As far as the other picks went, it wasn't so much who the Capitals selected but rather who they didn't select: There were no natural centers, and there were no defensemen

This wasn't lost on cartoonist Chris Bradford, who published the following cartoon on June 28, after the draft ended: 

Now, this was a general to-do list for the entire offseason. But, it does include one incomplete task from the draft itself, and that was the drafting of defensive prospect Haydn Fleury. To be fair to MacLellan, he tried to make this deal happen, as reported by Chuck Gormley.

The completing of this deal (and the subsequent drafting of Fleury) would have signaled a significant change in the Capitals' previous draft strategy. Since McPhee's first draft in 1998, the Capitals have selected only two defensemen while using the 13th pick of the draft or higher: Karl Alzner in 2007 at No. 5 and Steve Eminger in 2002 at No. 12 (Hockey-Reference.com). 

As for the other items on Bradford's list, MacLellan is doing his best to complete both of those tasks as well. 

Talks with Grabovski were initiated but have since stalled. Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post quoted MacLellan on June 27 as saying that, “the money is a little bit prohibitive right now.” 

But MacLellan did take care of the first item on the list in question, bolstering the defense with the dual signings of former Pittsburgh Penguins defenders Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik on July 1. MacLellan may not have bolstered the D in time for Bradford's cartoon, but he still got it done. 

Perhaps Capitals fans should also allow MacLellan some time to install his own draft strategy. 

 

Note: All transaction details courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

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