By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 21, 2008
For nearly three hours last night, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee patiently weighed his options as trades unfolded all around him during the first round of the NHL entry draft. Then, when the moment was right, he joined the action.
McPhee traded the 23rd and 54th picks to the New Jersey Devils for the 21st choice, which he used to take Anton Gustafsson, the son of former Capitals great and current Swedish national team coach, Bengt.
A short while later, McPhee engineered a second swap, sending seldom-used defenseman Steve Eminger and the 84th pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the 27th selection. The Capitals then used that pick to take puck-rushing defenseman John Carlson.
After a slow start, it turned out to be a busy day for McPhee and the Capitals, after all. The story, however, was the selection of Gustafsson, if for no other reason than his bloodlines.
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound physical, two-way center, who missed much of last season with a lower back injury, is said to possess many of the attributes that defined his father, who averaged almost 22 goals per season with the Capitals in the 1980s.
"It means a lot," Anton Gustafsson said by telephone from Scotiabank Place in Ottawa about getting the chance to carry on his father's legacy in Washington, before adding with a laugh: "I think I'm better than him. I'm a better skater. I have a better shot. He couldn't shoot."
McPhee told reporters earlier in the week that he was only able to watch Anton Gustafsson play once this year because of his ailing back, and that the young Swede was unimpressive while playing through the injury. But the Capitals' scouting staff convinced him in recent days that Gustafsson was "the guy," and when he received word that other teams were poised to select him, McPhee swooped in and moved up.
"He's real competitive," said McPhee, who added that team doctors are not concerned about Gustafsson's back in the long term. "He plays as hard as anyone. But we need to talk to him about scoring more goals. He seems to want to hit more than score."
The Capitals could be busy again today. They own six more picks, including two in the second round (57 and 58).
Tampa Bay, as expected, took Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 overall selection. Stamkos, who netted 58 goals in 61 games for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League last season, is expected to suit up for the Lightning next season -- perhaps on the second line.
The next four picks were all defensemen -- considered to be the deepest position in a strong draft.
Los Angeles selected Drew Doughty (Guelph, OHL), a player most scouts believe to be NHL ready, with the second overall pick. Atlanta chose Zach Bogosian (Peterborough, OHL) third, Alex Pietrangelo (Niagara, OHL) went fourth to St. Louis and Toronto traded up to draft Luke Schenn (Kelowna, Western Hockey League).
The top-ranked European player, skilled Russian winger Nikita Filatov was selected by Columbus with the sixth overall pick.
But last night was as much about new names entering the league as it was about familiar names changing teams.
Several significant trades were completed before the first pick was even made. Among them: In a three-way deal, Calgary acquired center Mike Cammalleri from Los Angeles for the Flames' No. 17 pick. In turn, the Kings sent that choice, and No. 28, to Anaheim for the Ducks' No. 12 overall selection.
Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter, though, was just getting warmed up. He also dealt veteran winger Alex Tanguay and the Flames' fifth-round pick to Montreal for the No. 25 overall choice and the Canadiens' second round choice next season. Tanguay is coming off a disappointing 18-goal season and is due to make $5.25 million in the final year of his contract.
Florida also made a major move, dealing captain Olli Jokinen, a player who has been mentioned in trade rumors for more than a year, to Phoenix in exchange for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, and the Coyotes' second-round pick. Jokinen has scored 173 goals in the past five seasons but his leadership came into question after the Panthers failed to reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
The Blue Jackets acquired center R.J. Umberger, a former Ohio State Buckeye, and a fourth-round pick from Philadelphia in exchange for the 19th overall and a third-round selection. Umberger is coming off his best season, but the Flyers were going to have trouble squeezing him under the salary cap ceiling.
As for Eminger, he probably helped his trade value by playing well during the playoff series against the Flyers. Eminger, a former first round pick, played in only 20 regular season games.
"It didn't hurt that the Flyers were the last team I played against," he said. "If there was one team I wanted to go to, that's it. It's hard to leave the friends that I've made in Washington. But hockey-wise, I needed a new start. And Philadelphia is the perfect place for it."
First-round selections, E4