Heading Into Draft, McPhee Still Coy on Caps' Intentions

Caps General Manager George McPhee, right, calls the depth in this year's draft "great."
Caps General Manager George McPhee, right, calls the depth in this year's draft "great." (By Bruce Bennett -- Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

In three of the past four NHL entry drafts, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee and his scouting staff possessed one of the top five selections -- and a solid sense of whom they would choose.

But when this year's draft begins tonight at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, the Southeast Division champion's first-round picture will be considerably more murky. They own nine picks in all, including three in the second round, but McPhee isn't scheduled to step to the podium until No. 23, the latest the Capitals have made their first selection since 2001.

McPhee said this week that he would entertain the idea of making a trade to move up in a draft widely considered one of the deepest in years. But if a deal doesn't materialize, he said, the club will adhere to its long-standing philosophy of selecting the best player available, regardless of position.

"It's better than pretty good," McPhee said of the draft's depth. "It's great."

"The difference between picking in the top four or five and picking at 23 is you have a lot more players to focus on. You're not sure who you will get at 23 [because] you've got a broader base to look at."

The Capitals also owns picks 54, 57 (from San Jose), 58 (from Philadelphia), 84, 93 (from Los Angeles), 144, 174 and 204.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, which holds the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in franchise history, is expected to choose consensus top pick Steven Stamkos, a projected franchise player who could eventually replace star center Brad Richards, who was dealt at last year's trade deadline.

Although the Lightning has not announced its choice, the team prominently features Stamkos -- who tallied 58 goals for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League and is one of the fastest skaters in the draft -- on its Web site, complete with a biography and highlight videos.

Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis own the next three picks and will have their choice of highly touted defensemen Drew Doughty (Guelph, OHL), Zach Bogosian (Petersborough, OHL) and Alex Pietrangelo (Niagara, OHL). That trio is followed closely by Russian winger Nikita Filatov (CSKA-2) and defenseman Luke Schenn (Kelowna, Western Hockey League).

The Capitals figure to be mere spectators in the opening minutes tonight -- unless McPhee makes a bold and unexpected move. With a trio of second-rounders and a stockpile of young players and prospects, McPhee has the leverage to put together a package and make a deal.

But he remained coy about his intentions earlier this week.

"There are a lot of guys worth moving up for," McPhee said. "But you have to have a team willing to move back. Would we do it if the opportunity were right? Yeah."

McPhee was equally evasive about the specific prospects he covets. The sentimental pick, though, would be center Anton Gustafsson, the son of Bengt Gustafsson, who starred for the Capitals during the 1980s. Gustafsson is projected as a late first-round pick. But McPhee said injuries limited the Swede's exposure to scouts last season and that one time he saw him play, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound center was unimpressive while playing hurt.

Capitals Notes: Oskar Osala, the team's fourth-round pick in 2006, signed a three-year, entry-level deal yesterday. The 20-year-old left wing had 18 goals and 17 assists for the Blues in Finland last season.

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