NEWARK — General Manager George McPhee said the Washington Capitals tried to move up in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft here Sunday. But when they weren’t able to trade their way into the top dozen picks that held elite players, some of whom could jump to the NHL next season, the Capitals selected six players that appear to be long-term developmental projects.
With the 23rd overall pick — a selection too far back to entice teams at the top of the draft, McPhee said — the Capitals chose rangy forward Andre Burakovsky.
Born in Austria while his father Robert played hockey there after a brief stint with the Ottawa Senators, Burakovsky (6 feet 1, 176 pounds) grew up in Sweden and has progressed through their developmental system. In 2012-13, he played for Malmo in the second-tier professional league.
“He’s going to take a little time to develop,” McPhee said. “I don’t think he’s going to be like a [Marcus] Johansson where you draft him one summer and he’s in the lineup next year. If this kid takes a little more time to develop that’s okay. There’s some indication that he might come over and play junior as well in North America, so that would be good if he wanted to do that.”
While Washington was quiet on the trade front Sunday, save for an exchange of picks that allowed them to move up in the second round, several other teams did opt to make moves that impacted their NHL rosters.
Among the notable trades, Chicago sent Dave Bolland, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal less than a week ago, to Toronto for a second-round pick and two fourth-round selections.
But no trade made as large an impact at Prudential Center or across the league as when Vancouver shipped goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for the ninth overall selection in Sunday’s draft. The move gives the Devils, who will be in the same division as Washington next year following realignment, an heir apparent to Martin Brodeur as their top goalie.
Center Nathan MacKinnon went first overall as expected to the Colorado Avalanche, and as the draft progressed two prospects with ties to former Washington athletes went in the top 10. Defenseman Seth Jones, the son of former Wizards forward and Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones, was taken fourth by the Nashville Predators. The Edmonton Oilers selected Darnell Nurse, the nephew of former Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, with the seventh pick.
After taking Burakovsky at 23, the Capitals selected strong-skating defenseman Madison Bowey (53rd) from the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets in the second round. Not long after, Washington opted to send a third- (84), fourth- (114) and fifth-round (127) pick to Winnipeg for the 61st selection, where they took Eastern Junior Hockey League forward Zachary Sanford (6-3, 168 pounds), a Boston College recruit. Sanford, 18, is “raw” according to Ross Mahoney, the Capitals’ director of amateur scouting, but they see plenty of potential.
“His improvement during the year was tremendous,” Mahoney said. “He’s committed to going to a very good school, he’s got good size and I think we saw a big improvement because he was playing against better players in a better league.”
The Capitals made three picks that plan to spend another year in juniors before joining a college team: Sanford, fifth-round choice defenseman Blake Heinrich (Minnesota-Duluth) and sixth-round pick center Brian Pinho (Providence). Washington’s final pick was used on WHL defenseman Tyler Lewington.
While the Capitals didn’t make a significant splash via trade in the draft, they were one of several teams to meet with impending unrestricted free agent Vincent Lecavalier this weekend. The 33-year-old instantly became one of the most sought-after free agents available once Tampa Bay bought him out earlier this week. According to ESPN, Washington, Montreal, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, Toronto, Boston, Calgary and Detroit are among the teams that have met with Lecavalier and his representatives.
Coach Adam Oates, who worked with Lecavalier as an assistant coach for the Lightning in 2009-10, met with the veteran center Saturday. There’s little question Lecavalier would add to the elite center depth on any team, and given that Mike Ribeiro is expected to test free agency, the Capitals would be in the market for a second-line pivot.
“Vinny’s a guy that, one of the things I really respected about him is, he wanted to play against the best players every night,” Oates said Sunday. “He wanted the responsibility of playing against their best D, every night, handling that pressure, game in and game out. I think he’s a guy that, the day happens when we go four rounds, he’s a guy that will be standing there at the end of four rounds. I think that’s why a lot of teams are after him.”