General manager George McPhee and his scouting staff have done a terrific job in recent years of stocking the organization with top prospects, even though they routinely pick late in the first round.
While their franchise has been built around 2004 first overall pick Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who was selected fourth in 2006, the team has surrounded them with talent plucked later in the draft. Key players like John Carlson, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson and Michal Neuvirth were all picked outside of the top 20 in their draft years, which is a big reason why the Capitals have been among the best teams in the league for the last four seasons.
McPhee and the Caps hold just one pick inside the first three rounds, but it's a first-round selection, so there's a reasonable shot the player they select will be destined for the NHL. In addition to the 26th pick in the draft, the team has selections in the fourth through seventh rounds, so they'll try to uncover a late-round gem at one of those slots.
Looking ahead, the team would like to add a center for the future, preferably one capable of playing on Capitals' top three lines at some point down the road. In addition, with the potential departures of Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin within the next year, the team could use a top-nine winger for the future.
However, after another disappointing postseason that saw the Capitals get out-muscled, the team may opt to take a stay-at-home defenseman with the size and grit that the team currently appears to be in need of.
If the team can acquire a player who can play any of those roles with the 26th pick, they'll have filled one of the holes in their roster. Here's a look at seven players the Capitals would love to get their hands on at Friday's NHL draft.
Seeing as the Capitals are likely once again looking to improve their team defensively, Scott Harrington is a player the team should be eyeing with their fourth-round pick, at 117th overall.
Harrington is a solid, two-way defenseman with decent size who plays for former Capitals captain Dale Hunter with the London Knights. Hunter has demonstrated an uncanny ability to prepare young players for the physical style of the NHL, so teams trust him when it comes to developing prospects.
As a member of the Knights, Harrington led all blueliners in scoring with 22 points, but his stock dropped as the team underperformed. However, he was a versatile player for the Knights, playing in all situations, and played well as a member of Team Canada at the Under-18 Championships.
There's a good chance Harrington will be gone by the time the Capitals approach the podium for the second time at the draft, but if he's still available, he'd be a steal for Washington.
After being passed over 210 times in the 2010 NHL entry draft, right winger Jonathan Parker has emerged as a middle-to-late round prospect for the 2011 draft.
Prior to 2010-11, Parker posted two campaigns of less than 40 points in the Western Hockey League, before breaking out in a big way this season. In 71 games, Parker lit the lamp 45 times and tallied 86 points, putting himself in a much better position to get selected this year. He has another two years of eligibility to play Major Junior, but he may need a bigger challenge in order for the California native to keep developing as a player.
As the NHL Central Scouting's 186th-ranked prospect entering Friday's draft, Parker will undoubtedly be available by the time the Capitals' fourth and fifth-round selections roll around, and he may be worth taking a flyer on. At 5'10" and about 195 pounds, Parker has the frame to play at the next level, and players who put up numbers like he did last season don't come around often.
Seeing as the Capitals have the depth up front to let a guy like Parker develop, which would be ideal for a player who is clearly not done growing as a player.
The Capitals have grown to be very fond of Swedish forwards, primarily because the ones on Washington's roster have proven to be both responsible defensively and capable of contributing offensively.
After drafting Nicklas Backstrom in 2006, the team picked Marcus Johansson with their first-round pick in 2009, and this summer lured 23-year-old free-agent forward Mattias Sjogren away from the Swedish Elite League.
With that in mind, George McPhee and the team's brain trust should consider using one of their later picks in the draft on overaged Swedish forward John Norman. Norman, a 20-year-old, has blossomed into one of the better young players in Sweden's top league, as he tallied eight goals and 17 points for Djurgarden, one of the top teams in Sweden.
While he's not huge at 5'10", he's a swift skater and is capable of playing any position up front. Norman is a late bloomer as far as prospects go, and he may be two or three years away from fully developing. Seeing as the Capitals have a soft spot for smooth-skating Swedish forwards, Norman may be worth a late-round pick in the draft.
With the Capitals picking near the end of the first round, it's unclear how many of the top defensive prospects will be available by the time the 26th selection rolls around.
If he is indeed still unclaimed by the time Washington approaches the podium on Friday, David Musil is a player who could help the team immensely in the long run. Though the Capitals blue line is stocked with offensive rearguards like Mike Green, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman, the still team lacks a true shutdown defenseman.
David Musil could be the player who fills that hole in the Capitals roster, as he's big (6'3") and pretty mobile for his size. He's also demonstrated an offensive upside as he's posted back-to-back seasons of 25 or more points for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.
Ranked 13th among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting, Musil may or may not be available by the time the Capitals are on the clock. But if he is, the Capitals may be able to acquire the big, skilled, stay-at-home defenseman they've coveted for quite some time.
As likely the smallest forward who will hear his name called at the draft this weekend, Rocco Grimaldi is a bit of a wild card at this stage. He's demonstrated a high level of skill, determination and strength that have compensated for his small stature, but will that continue at the next level?
Most scouts believe it will, as Grimaldi has the potential to be a productive two-way center at the NHL level. Though Grimaldi is only 5'6", he's strong on his skates and very difficult to knock off the puck, which is why he scored 62 points in 50 games for the U.S. National Development Team. He's projected to be a late first-round or early second-round selection, so there's a good chance he'll be around when the Capitals are on the clock with the 26th pick.
On a team that has size up front, Grimaldi could be the spark plug the Capitals need, especially up the middle. If he doesn't materialize into an offensive player at the NHL level, Grimaldi's got an edge to his game so he could find a role as an energy player.
The Washington Capitals are a red machine when it comes to selecting and developing talented Russian players. In addition to the two Russian stars on Washington's roster, they found blue-chip prospects outside the top 20 in consecutive drafts with the selections of Dmitri Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
In a weak draft for Russian players, the best available is likely Alexander Khokhlavec, a skilled but small center from the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Unlike Orlov and Kuznetsov, Khokhlacev has honed his skills playing in North America and he's adapted well to the more physical style of hockey played on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 67 games with the Spitfires, Khokhlacev put up an impressive 34 goals and 76 points, but the talented young Russian has much more to his game than just offense. He's responsible defensively, and is a tireless forechecker, so he'd be a nice fit on the Capitals' top-three lines.
Whether or not he blossoms into a scorer at the next level remains to be seen, but Khokhlacev could be the next in a long line of talented Russians who call Washington home.
The Capitals roster is loaded with skill from top to bottom, but still continue to fall short in the postseason. One major reason behind this appears to be a lack of grit and toughness, especially down the middle.
That's why the Capitals would love to get their hands on Boone Jenner, a 6'1" center playing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. Jenner is a complete package, who competes hard at both ends of the rink. He's capable offensively, as he put up 66 points in 63 games in 2010-11, and plays with energy and intensity every night.
After dealing David Steckel to New Jersey, the Capitals are in dire need of a top faceoff man, which is another reason why Jenner is a great fit for Washington. He's among the best on the draw in this year's draft class, and his willingness to play the body will make him a good fit on one of the Caps' top three lines.
Jenner's projected to be a late first-round pick in this year's draft, so there's a good chance he'll be available when Washington approaches the podium at No. 26.