The Washington Capitals hold a league-high 11 selections heading into Friday’s NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. It is the most picks in a single year for the organization since 2004, and the volume presents General Manager George McPhee with plenty of options.
While an abundance of prospects could help replenish the organization’s overall depth, the Capitals have several key needs at the NHL level. That may lead McPhee to part with some of his stockpile of picks in trades to acquire players who can help the Capitals win in 2012-13, not an unspecified date in the future.
Among the items on Washington’s wish list this offseason are a playmaking center to anchor the second line; at least one top-six winger who can help carry the load offensively; and possibly a top-four defenseman.
Unsurprisingly, McPhee wasn’t tipping his hand when he spoke with reporters about his plans for the draft, but he acknowledged that there has already been plenty of discussion between the league’s general managers.
“What you find is general managers are far more forthcoming [in the offseason] in terms of talking about what they want to do with other clubs,” McPhee said. “Guys are much more open about what they want to do, to get the message out there to other clubs because this is the time to deal.”
Last summer, there were 18 trades involving 28 different players in seven days prior to July 1. With a shallow free agent pool this year, teams will likely turn to trades even more to tinker with their lineups. It’s already clear there will be a new look in Washington.
Veteran unrestricted free agents Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern confirmed they won’t be brought back this season, and Tomas Vokoun was traded to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, soon-to-be free agents Alexander Semin and Dennis Wideman figure to be highly sought after on the open market and may sign elsewhere. Those departures leave the Capitals with plenty of high-profile vacancies:
●A consistent second-line center presence seems to be a perennial need in Washington, or at least it was in each of the past three seasons.
Although a rotating cast of players, from Brooks Laich to Marcus Johansson to Mathieu Perreault and others, saw time in that role, the lack of a steady offensive presence behind Nicklas Backstrom on the depth chart at center was shown to be a true vulnerability when the star Swede was sidelined by a concussion for 40 games in the 2011-12 campaign.
● Regardless of how one views the Capitals’ depth chart, another top-six forward who can provide scoring depth is a necessity.
In the regular season, only three players — Alex Ovechkin (38), Semin (21) and Jason Chimera (20) — recorded 20 goals. Then in the playoffs, the offense dried up to an average of 2.07 goals per game (11th of 16 teams that qualified).
●Should Wideman sign elsewhere, the Capitals will be without one of their workhorse top-four defensemen and their leader in ice time (23:54).
Washington has five defensemen under contract for next season, along with restricted free agents Mike Green and John Carlson, who have received qualifying offers and can be brought back into the fold. Still, bolstering the defense in the event of injury — a regularity in recent seasons on the back end, specifically for Green — is hardly a bad idea. Adding another blue-liner, who can add some everyday snarl to the lineup in addition to significant minutes, would give the group a different dimension.
It remains to be seen whether McPhee will jump into the trade market, but if not, he expressed confidence in the ability of the Capitals’ scouting staff to restock the organization’s cupboard with difference-makers. In addition to two first-round picks (11th and 16th overall), Washington holds picks in the second (54th), third (77th), fourth (100th and 107th), fifth (137th), sixth (167th) and seventh (195th, 197th and 203rd) rounds.
“The plan is right now to make picks; we’ll see what develops,” McPhee said. “This draft, I think, is stronger than last year’s draft. . . . That’s the way we’re looking at things right now. We’ll see how things develop as things move forward. You just never know what’s going to develop.”