In addition to trading for a second-line center in Mike Ribeiro and stating that he was finished interviewing candidates for the coaching position, Capitals General Manager George McPhee selected a pair of forwards Friday night in the first-round of the 2012 NHL entry draft.
When the Capitals were put on the clock for the 11th overall selection they were somewhat caught by surprise as several highly rated forwards were still available. This year’s crop of prospects is largely dominated by defensemen and eight of the first 10 picks were blue-liners, leaving players such as center Filip Forsberg on the board at No. 11.
Forsberg, who is no relation to former NHL MVP Peter Forsberg, was the top-ranked European skater by NHL central scouting and at one point was considered to be a top-three selection. The 17-year-old is considered one of the most developed forwards in this year’s draft.
“At the table the scouts were unanimous: ‘We have to take this guy, he’s a fantastic player,’ ” McPhee said. “I tried to give them other options to play devil’s advocate with it but it was an easy one.”
“We didn’t expect Forsberg to be there at all,” said McPhee, who added he received calls about trading both first-round picks. “In most mock drafts that we had done and where our scouts had him was way up high. Sometimes that happens, a good player falls because everybody’s sort of zoned in on a certain guy and people were going after defensemen and drafted a lot of good defensemen. So we focused on mostly defensemen. So when we got there, we thought, ‘Geez, we’ve got to switch gears here a little bit; this guy’s a really good player, let’s take him.’ ”
Forsberg, who recorded eight goals and nine assists in 43 games with Leksand IF, is under contract for one more year in his native Sweden. After the 2012-13 season, though, Forsberg said “everything can happen”. Fellow Swedes and first-round draft picks Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson both played one year in Europe after being drafted before joining the Capitals.
“I’m kind of big-size player and trying to play a bit physical and also taking the puck to the net as often as possible. I guess that’s a bit more North American style of game than European,” said Forsberg, who is listed at 6 feet 1, 188 pounds. “Hopefully I can bring that with me when the time is ready for me to come over.”
Five picks later, the Capitals took gritty winger Tom Wilson from the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers with the 16th overall selection. At 6-3, 205 pounds, Wilson was one of the more sizable prospects chosen at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
In 49 games last season, Wilson led Plymouth with 141 penalty minutes and recorded 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists). Wilson’s combination of snarl and offensive potential caught McPhee’s attention, even if he acknowledged that the Toronto native will need to improve his foot-speed and increase his overall skill level.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to get him where we need him but he plays tough,” McPhee said. “When we’re in the middle of playoffs I made a note after the games: ‘Remember these games when you’re at the draft. Remember how intense they are, how physical they are, how demanding they are and make sure you get someone who wants to play in that kind of stuff.’ ”
In addition to meeting Wilson at the combine, the Capitals sat down with the prospect this week in Pittsburgh. Then on Friday morning, former Capitals coach Dale Hunter, whose London Knights are a chief rival of the Whalers in the OHL, gave Wilson his stamp of approval in a meeting with McPhee.
While Wilson will need to work on his overall game, size and willingness to play a physical game are traits that can’t be taught.
“I think most noticeably for me, it’s my big physical game,” Wilson said when asked about his style of play. “I’m a big power forward and create space for my linemates. I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it but I think I’ve got some offensive potential to come the next few years.”
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