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NHL draft: Capitals nab Russian Ivan Miroshnichenko with 20th pick

Ivan Miroshnichenko was drafted by the Washington Capitals with the 20th pick in the draft. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On a busy NHL draft day packed with trades and surprise picks at the top of the first round, the Washington Capitals swung big Thursday and selected Russian winger Ivan Miroshnichenko with the 20th pick.

Miroshnichenko was considered a top-10 pick before he received a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis in March. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward subsequently underwent treatment in Germany and was cleared for practice in early June.

Before Miroshnichenko, 18, had his 2021-22 campaign interrupted after his diagnosis, he posted 10 goals and six assists in 31 games with Omskie Krylia of the Supreme Hockey League. In the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, he captained Russia to gold with four goals and five assists in five games. Miroshnichenko was the first Russian-born player selected in the 2022 draft.

“Just a tremendous feeling — such a great organization. There are so many great players, Russian players that played for the organization, so to join them is a tremendous honor,” Miroshnichenko said through an interpreter Thursday night.

When asked how he was feeling, Miroshnichenko’s response to reporters in Montreal was simple: “Super.”

He said he had “a feeling” the Capitals were going to draft him at No. 20. The plan for him is to stay in North America before going to the Capitals’ development camp next week. He then expects to rejoin his team in Russia.

Rounds 2-7 are Friday.

On a conference call Wednesday, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said there were discussions about dealing the 20th pick for an established player who could help the team immediately. Instead, the Capitals chose a young, powerful skater with a booming one-timer that will bring needed skill to the Capitals’ prospect pool.

“He’s a really good player,” MacLellan said, “[The scouts] liked the personality. They liked the character. Like what he’s battling through right now. Hopefully it works out and we got a really good player on our hands.”

Washington did its due diligence on Miroshnichenko’s medical reports and interviewed him in-person Wednesday in Montreal.

Slovak forward Juraj Slafkovsky was selected No. 1 by Montreal, the draft’s host city, followed by Slovak defenseman Simon Nemec, selected second by the New Jersey Devils. It was the first time in NHL history that Slovak players went 1-2 in the draft.

Canadian center Shane Wright was projected on several draft boards to go No. 1 but fell to the Seattle Kraken with the fourth overall pick. The Arizona Coyotes picked flashy American center Logan Cooley with the third pick. Wright, 6-foot, 191 pounds, put up 94 points in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

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After two years that were held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday’s draft was an in-person event, drawing coaches, scouts, general managers and agents to the draft floor in Montreal.

Wright’s drop was just one of a handful of surprises in the first round, but the first splashy move came earlier in the day when the Chicago Blackhawks dealt star forward Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators for the seventh overall pick, plus two other picks.

The Canadiens made two trades early in the first round, trading Alexander Romanov and the 98th overall pick to the New York Islanders for the 13th pick. Montreal then traded the 13th pick and the 66th pick to the Blackhawks for center Kirby Dach.

The Capitals have not been coy about their goaltending needs. MacLellan said the Capitals are looking for a veteran goaltender either through the trade market or free agency, which opens July 13. The Capitals have five selections over the final six rounds.

Capitals goalies Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are both restricted free agents. Unless they are traded, MacLellan said the Capitals intend to extend qualifying offers to both. The deadline to do so is Monday.

Washington is not the only team seeking to improve its goaltending situation.

On Thursday, the New York Rangers made the first major move in the goaltending market, sending netminder Alexandar Georgiev to the Colorado Avalanche. The trade signaled the end of Stanley Cup-winning goalie Darcy Kuemper’s time in Colorado. Kuemper, who has been linked to Washington, is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to receive significant contract offers during free agency.

Right before the first round of the NHL draft, the Minnesota Wild re-signed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract through the 2023-24 season, taking another veteran goaltender off the market.

The 20th pick was the earliest Washington has drafted since it took Jakub Vrana with the 13th pick in 2014. The Capitals did not have a first-round pick in the 2021 draft after dealing that selection in their blockbuster deal with the Detroit Red Wings to acquire Anthony Mantha in April 2021. Washington took center Hendrix Lapierre at No. 22 in the 2020 draft and center Connor McMichael at No. 25 in the 2019 draft.

Capitals assistant GM Ross Mahoney acknowledged that Washington had its eyes set on four or five players at the 20th spot and varied in position. Washington’s typical approach to the draft has been to choose the best player available, no matter position. Mahoney said Wednesday that he felt the draft held some uncertainty in the early selections but that there were several names that looked promising after the first round.