PHILADELPHIA — Ross Mahoney sat behind Podium 1 inside the Wells Fargo Center interview room, smiling as a reporter recapped the 2014 NHL entry draft without a true question for the assistant general manager tacked onto the back end. The Washington Capitals had entered the weekend’s festivities holding nine picks, tied for the most of any team. They left with six prospects, the reduced number a product of three separate trades, a franchise record for swapping.
Mahoney nodded at the reporter, still silent. Yes, he confirmed. The Capitals were indeed busy.
“You target different players, and [if] you don’t think a player’s going to be there when it’s your opportunity to pick, you’ve got to be able to try to maneuver yourself up to try to get players you like,” he said.
After selecting Czech winger Jakub Vrana at No. 13 on Friday night, the Capitals returned with a flurry of action the following morning. They moved up in the second round and traded back into the third round. They obtained a backup goaltender for Hershey, packaged with another advancement in the sixth. For better or worse, the new regime under rookie General Manager Brian MacLellan had its targets clearly identified. The necessary moves were made to get them.
“It enables Brian, as a general manager, to make the moves he would like to make,” Mahoney said. “It’s pretty hard if you don’t have extra picks and you’re scrambling around trying to find more. If you know that going in that’s part of your strategy, you know you have those extra picks [that] could be valuable as the draft goes on. In our case, it was.”
Twenty minutes into Saturday morning, Washington flipped the No. 44 and No. 74 picks to Buffalo for the No. 39 pick. Three goaltenders had been taken in the five picks prior to Buffalo’s, which Mahoney said the Capitals anticipated, “so we had to be prepared to get one of the ones we targeted.”
The answer was Vitek Vanecek, a teammate of Vrana’s on the under-18 Czech national team who was graded the eighth-best European netminding prospect by NHL Central Scouting. It may be dubbed a reach based solely on pre-draft rankings, but Mahoney and his colleagues have proved themselves adept at choosing goaltenders in recent seasons. In 2010, for instance, the Capitals moved up in the fourth round to draft Philipp Grubauer.
“We didn’t think he’d be there later,” Mahoney said of Vanecek. “You target certain players and do everything you can to try to move up to take them. We’re really happy to have the opportunity to take him.”
Later, the Capitals shipped two fourth-rounders to the Rangers to move back into the third round so they could draft Nathan Walker. The winger, who spent last season with the Hershey Bears, was eligible for the 2014 draft because of a contract technicality that forced him to sign a one-year deal with Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate. He became the first Australian ever picked in the NHL draft.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mahoney said. “When he comes up and says, ‘Hey mate, how are you?’ it’s a little bit different. You don’t usually get that from the hockey players.”
Washington closed its haul with forward Shane Gersich (134th overall) from the U.S. National Team Development Program, Minnesota high school winger Steven Spinner (159th) and Swedish winger Kevin Elgestal (194th). Spinner was the product of the third and final trade, which sent a sixth-rounder, seventh-rounder and 2015 seventh-rounder to Winnipeg in return for the rights to goaltending prospect Edward Pasquale and the 134th selection.
Note: Speaking shortly before the conclusion of the draft, Coach Barry Trotz said he plans to keep Alex Ovechkin at right wing. Ovechkin recently won his second straight “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer with 51. “We’re going to balance it out,” Trotz said. “I told Alex, I said, ‘I know you can play both sides, but right now I’d probably say I’ll start you out on right.’ ”