“I like to say I’m a two-way centerman, but when I have the puck on my stick in the [offensive] zone, I’m always creating plays,” McMichael told reporters in Vancouver. “I’m always able generate chances when it looks like there’s no chances to be made, but I’m also responsible in my end.”
American center Jack Hughes was the first overall pick, to the New Jersey Devils, followed by Finnish right wing Kaapo Kakko, selected second by the New York Rangers. It was an especially successful draft for the U.S. National Development Team, which had a whopping seven players selected among the first 15 picks.
The night also was notable for what didn’t happen. After an uptick in trade activity in the week leading up to the draft, Friday was unusually quiet, perhaps because next season’s salary cap won’t be set in stone until Saturday. After it was initially projected at $83 million, the cap is now expected to be somewhere between $81.5 million and $82 million, a devastating reduction for teams such as Washington that annually use up every bit of it. Among the big-name players rumored to be on the trade block are Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk, Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel and Colorado’s Tyson Barrie.
On a conference call Thursday, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said the team has fielded interest in forward Andre Burakovsky, a pending restricted free agent and the organization’s 2013 first-round pick. To retain his negotiating rights, Washington has to tender him a $3.25 million qualifying offer by Tuesday’s deadline, which is high for a player who finished with 12 goals and 13 assists last season. He could be dealt for a draft pick Saturday, when the Capitals have four selections over the final six rounds but none in the third round.
The Capitals have used their past three first-round picks on a goaltender, Ilya Samsonov, and two defensemen, Lucas Johansen and Alex Alexeyev, and the team’s last first-round forward selection was Jakub Vrana in 2014. As a result, Washington’s goaltending and defense pipelines are organizational strengths, but the Capitals are deficient in prospect forwards with top-six skill and potential. MacLellan acknowledged that, barring an exceptional blue-liner being available, Washington’s intention was to select a forward in a draft class deep in them.
“If the decision is close, I think we’re going to go with the forward,” MacLellan said Thursday. “There seems to be a section in that draft right after those forwards where there’s quite a few good defensemen that the scouts really like. Overall, I think it’s a pretty deep draft. A lot of guys are going to play, and there’s quite a few defensemen in the middle to late first round that guys like. There’s also a group of forwards that our guys like a lot, and we’re going to balance that decision between the two.”
Eight of the first 20 picks were surprisingly defensemen, which helped some quality forwards fall into the bottom third of the draft. Notable forwards Washington passed on include Arthur Kaliyev and Ryan Suzuki, who went to the Carolina Hurricanes with the 28th selection. Some draft analysts projected McMichael as a high second-rounder, with skating the biggest knock on him.
The Capitals “were kind of a team that I talked to a lot during the year, and I got good impressions from them,” McMichael said. “Obviously, when they went up on the stage, I kind of had a little bit of a feeling, but it’s kind of tough to tell where you’re going to end up. I’m really excited to be a Capital.”