Saturday, June 23, 2012

From the Draft: Round 1

Thanks to a bit of fortune, all of which is due to Jen, the woman behind the must-follow @NHLHistoryGirl twitter account, I was able to attend the NHL Draft tonight. I will be back there tomorrow morning, too. As you may have heard by now, the Capitals had a pretty good night. I would go as far as to say that June 22, 2012 might be known to me as "The Night that McPhee Redeemed Himself." If you have paid much attention to me at all over the past year, that should say a lot. Three big points of interest from the evening:

  1. The Trade. You know that whole second line center issue that has plagued Washington for years? That's settled now. In a steal of a trade, Cody Eakin and this year's second round pick were sent to the Dallas Stars in exchanged for Mike Ribeiro, their top scorer over the past five years. The second rounder was not much of a loss, since we only technically got it a couple weeks ago. Moving Eakin may hurt for a lot of people. He has grown to be a fan favorite, the ginger call-up, the Caps organization's answer to Ron Weasley. On top of that, he was one of the top prospects in the system, a kid with a lot of potential to make an NHL roster. Unfortunately, he seemed slated for a third line role in DC, and that particular line was facing a logjam, especially at center. Luckily for him, Dallas can use someone with his talents, and they will. While it may be sad to see him go, this is ultimately the best thing for him, because he will get a lot more playing time with the Stars, and that's what he needs to fully develop his skills. In return, McPhee was able to steal Ribeiro away. Why do I keep saying steal? Because Ribeiro is consistently good for 18-20 goals, at least 60 points, and about 150 shots on the season. Because his now former teammate tweeted this. Because he is 32, and he can be a bit of an agitator. Because he makes those around him better players. Just ask James Neal and Loui Eriksson. In short, he is a top-notch second line center, and precisely the kind of player the Caps can use at even strength and on the power play. Well done, McPhee
  2. The Unexpected Pick. With the 11th pick in the draft, the Caps chose Filip Forsberg, a winger that was the consensus pick as the top European forward player. He hails, as you may have guessed, from that hockey wasteland called Sweden (I mean seriously, has anyone good ever come from there...?). So why was it unexpected? Because damn near nobody had him making it out of the top ten, if not the top five. Seriously, as I sat there, fans in person and on Twitter kept predicting Forsberg would be picked next from about the 4th pick on. McPhee himself admitted he did not expect the young Swede would be available, so he had not really talked to him much prior to drafting him. It might also explain the lengthy delay the Caps team caused while deliberating their pick, a delay that apparently caught the ire of Bettman, who felt the need to rile up the yinzers by reminding Washington that they were on the clock. Drafting, especially in the first round, takes a lot of prep work, a lot of resarch, and just because someone of Forsberg's potential caliber is available does not make it a sure thing that he is the sort of player that fits into your team's plans. Look no further than him falling to 11th, and to the fact that the top ten picks were absolutely dominated by defensemen. McPhee's squad had to go through the unexpected, but pleasant, surprise of having to reevaluate their plans when Filip and supposedly-top-three pick Grigorenko (he would be chosen immediately after Forsberg) were still available. He is expected to be a top six forward within three years, if not two. 
  3. The Tough Guy. During the Finals, I mentioned to my friend Meesh (@HockeyMeesh, writer of CrosbyFTW and Kings blogger for The Hockey Writers...kid knows hockey and writing) that I wish the Caps would just play the same style as the Kings. He laughed, because obviously everybody wanted to play like the Kings, given their postseason rampage. Of course I knew that, and that it sounded stupidly obvious, but I believed the Caps had the roster ready to roll if only a coach would implement the system. He countered that the Kings had size that was severely lacking in Washington. Well, the Caps have a little more in the system now than they did yesterday. With the 16th overall pick, McPhee and company went with Thomas Wilson, a 6' 4", 203 lb. winger that was the consensus "toughest player" in the entire draft. The guy even won an award for best body checker! Toward the end of the season, he started to show a bit of a scoring touch, as well. Numerous comparisons were made to Milan Lucic, though some cautioned he might not have quite as much upside as the Bruin's notorious pest. Still, he is expected to be a top-level third liner, possibly a second line player. Even better? Wilson says he still has to fill out. This after a highlight reel was shown that drew a couple "oohs" from the crowd as some of his hits were shown.
Forsberg and Wilson will not have an immediate impact, and no matter what you think of a pick, they can surprise you. Here is hoping the two end up more like Backstrom and Lucic than Anton Gustafsson and Todd Ford. If so, McPhee just went a long way toward building an absolutely fearsome team in 2014-2015 in one night, and that is no small feat. Not to mention making a move that solves the 2C problem, starts to alleviate a crowded group of third line quality players, and gives one of those players the chance to flourish with a good team that claims to have wanted him for quite some time... it was a great night. The right players were moved and acquired, and with nary any controversy... and that is the kind of thing McPhee has not done for about two years now. I was impressed, I did not think he had it in him anymore. On to Rounds 2-7, where I'm sure more work will be done.

Oh, and this happened:

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