This week's NHL Entry Draft sees the Southeast Division champion Capitals holding the 23rd overall pick, as well as three picks in the second round. The Caps have quite a decision to make in regards to their future with these selections: they can use the draft picks to stockpile young talent for the farm systems and build for the future, or try and assemble a cocktail of draft picks and players to try and trade for somebody who can help them build off of last year's successes immediately.
If they choose to spend their high picks, look for them to take a defenseman with at least one of their selections. With young, talented forwards like Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and (of course) Alexander Ovechkin the Caps look to be set on offense for the immediate future. While Tom Poti and Brian Poithier are capable backliners, and Mike Green is a prospect on the rise, Washington could use a hard-nosed, physical defenseman to anchor the backline. John Carlson, of the Indiana Ice in the USHL, would be a tremendous pick for them, but the odds of Carlson falling to Washington at 23 are long. Washington might be tempted to trade up to take him, but is more likely to pursue other targets if they can't get him with their 23rd pick.
Colby Robak (Brandon, WHL) and Jake Gardinier (Minnetonka HS) are other blueliners that might pique Washington's interest, although both are more offensively minded than Carlson and the Capitals already have several good puck-handling defenders. Tyler Cuma (Ottawa 67s) is another who might intrigue coach Bruce Boudreau. Lucas Sbisa, a Swiss native playing for the Lethbridge franchise in the WHL, has good size and tremendous upside, and might be another target.
If Washington wants to build through trades rather than the draft, one player they would likely pursue would be Anaheim's Mathieu Schneider, a veteran player who would provide Stanley Cup Playoff experience (he won it with the Ducks in 2007) to a team that lacks it. Columbus's Dan Fritsche might be another that the Caps would try to make a deal for. Depending on the asking price, they could trade for one of the aforementioned and still keep a relatively high pick for themselves.
The Caps would probably be best served by trying to use their plethora of draft picks to make a deal for a veteran defenseman or other impact player: this team is ready to win now. After storming into playoffs in 07-08, this young team is ready to take the next step. Loading up for the future is fine, but the window to win a Stanley Cup is short, and George McPhee, the GM in the nation's capital, knows that. Look for the Capitals to try and make a splash in the days leading up to or shortly after the draft.