Back in July, on the first day of free agency, the Capitals traded Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche in a move that ended several days of speculation about where the young netminder would play this season.
The deal gave Varlamov, who was a first-round draft pick back in 2006, a fresh start in Colorado after injuries beset his time in Washington. In return they acquired Colorado’s first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft along with the Capitals’ choice of a second-round pick in either 2012 or in 2013.*
The trade also meant the Capitals would be inherently interested in the success or failure of the Avalanche, with the latter meaning a potentially higher draft pick in the first round. So when the two teams face off Saturday in Denver for their only meeting this season, a win for Washington means not only two points but also piling on what has been a rough season for the Avalanche, who are 25th in the league at 14-17-1.
While General Manager George McPhee said he simply doesn’t watch the Avalanche’s games this season, so that he doesn’t wind up wishing ill on another team. But Ross Mahoney, the team’s director of amateur scouting said it’s impossible not to watch and try to predict where that pick could come in.
“Now that we have their pick, you’re always tracking to see how they do and see where that pick might be. You have to be prepared for anything,” Mahoney said in a recent phone interview from Germany. “If you do pick up a pick like that and a team doesn’t have a great year for whatever reason, whether they’re rebuilding, all of a sudden that pick might be higher than you thought originally and it could end up becoming a lottery pick.”
Over the course of the franchise’s history, the Capitals have held two or more selections in the first round 12 times, the most recent being 2008, when Washington picked Anton Gustafsson (21st overall) and John Carlson (27th). The 2006 draft was the last time the Capitals had two picks in the first round and it included one in the top 10; they took Nicklas Backstrom (4th) and Varlamov (23rd) that year.
While it is only December, the opinions of Mahoney and McPhee are that the 2012 draft is one with plenty of top-end talent and also a dispersion of good players throughout.
“It’s a very good draft,” McPhee said. “It’s talented, it’s deep, you don’t get these kinds of drafts very often. There are years when you don’t think it’s a good draft and I didn’t think last year was a good draft so we wound up moving picks. This one we’re trying to acquire picks.”
Said Mahoney: “We feel this year is a particularly strong draft, with more depth than some other years. So we’re happy to have the extra pick.”
*The Capitals have up until a week before the draft in Pittsburgh in June 2012 to make a decision on which second round pick they want, whether this year’s or the one in 2013.