Capitals GM MacLellan, assistant GM Mahoney talk NHL draft strategy


General Manager Brian MacLellan (left). (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

They were scouts at their core, Brian MacLellan and Ross Mahoney, evaluating different levels but united by the commonalities: the road, the grind, the games, the lingo. “We’ve had a chemistry that’s been there for a long time,” Mahoney said Monday, after MacLellan promoted him from amateur scouting director of the Washington Capitals to assistant general manager. “We both know where we’re at and what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it.”

Even as MacLellan scouted future NHL opponents and later oversaw Washington’s professional scouting staff, he took notice of the work Mahoney accomplished at the amateur level. This fostered a level of trust between the two, which factored into the decision announced Monday. MacLellan, the rookie general manager, found a successor in his counterpart.

“I think the combination of his expertise at the amateur scouting level and then my background on the pro side complement each other very well,” MacLellan said.

On June 27, one week from Friday, the Capitals will pick 13th overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft, which Mahoney will continue to oversee in his new role. Washington has picked this high just once since 2007 – Filip Forsberg at No. 11 in 2012, thanks to a trade with Colorado. But this comes with the torturous territory of finishing close enough to the playoffs yet far enough from a high lottery pick.

Now, facing a draft pool reputably light on defensemen, a sore need in the Washington organization, how will the new tandem approach the happenings in Philadelphia? Speaking on a teleconference with reporters, Mahoney did not rule out a day-of move, either up or back.

“Every draft class we talk about that,” he said. “We have a look at whether we move up or even move back, depending on who’s there, who might be there when it’s our turn to pick. Those are things we’re still discussing as an organization. We’ve had meetings and we just finished doing the combine up in Toronto. We still some have more meetings to do. That’ll be part of our strategizing, to see if we should move up or we should move back or stay where we are.”

The process of exploring trades, Mahoney said, begins with identifying desired players, projecting where they might come off the board and deciding whether that player’s value outweighs the value of assets necessary to get him. Or, if the situation calls for it, whether the Capitals deem it more worthwhile to pick up an extra selection and still draft the players they want later on.

MacLellan anticipates the top nine (or so) picks drawing from a set pool of nine (or so) players. So what happens after?

“Then it might get a little [scrambling] depending on evaluations of the teams,” MacLellan said. “If anything, you look to move up a bit, if the guy we like, we thought it was worth it.

“In general we want the best player available, but we do weight centers and defensemen a bit higher than we do wingers. There would be a priority on a position, if all else being equal.”

In ESPN.com’s initial mock draft from Corey Pronman, the Capitals draft left winger Kevin Fiala, one spot after defenseman Haydn Fleury. Fleury, it should be noted, is only one of two defensemen in Pronman’s top 19; the other, Aaron Ekblad, is considered the top overall prospect this season.

So if the Capitals value either Fleury or Ekblad– the Panthers, at No. 1 overall, are open to trading the pick — enough to move up, Mahoney was receptive to the move, but said targeting a specific position flies in the face of the draft strategy he has honed over the past 16 seasons with the organization.

“Our philosophy has always been to take the best player that’s available to us,” he said. “You don’t want to pass on a player specifically for a position and then you have that player turns out to be a much better player than the positional player you took. Having said that, all things being fairly equal, you obviously want to try to be strong down the middle. Good defenders, good defensemen, but we’ve always tried to take the best player.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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