Draft 2014 – Where are the Canadians?!?

Posted June 29, 2014

(Draft Event Logo courtesy of the NHL)

Despite the departure of now-former GM George McPhee, the Capitals left this year’s NHL Draft with their reputation for wheeling and dealing solidly intact.  They entered the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with nine picks, and by the time they left they’d dropped that down to six in order to grab a few specific names, handed off one of their 2015 picks, and also snagged the rights of veteran AHL goaltender Edward Pasquale.  What they didn’t do is draft a single Canadian, which is sure to offend the hockey gods on some pretty basic levels.

But this is the draft, and that means serious speculation and analysis in areas that don’t involve minor little superstitions.

Whenever a team misses the playoffs, the main consolation that comes to mind is a good position in the upcoming draft.  The Washington Capitals being who they are, they landed 13th in the draft rankings. So while they tanked, they didn’t do it badly enough to get a top-10 pick. That was also the area where trading failed to work in the Caps favor, despite an attempt at moving into the number seven slot.

The Prospects

In the end, the Capitals welcomed the following players to their official family:

Overall Selection (Name; Last team, Nationality):

  • 13th (LW/RW Jakub Vrana; Linkoping (SEL), Czech Republic)
  • 39th (G Vitek Vanecek; Liberec Jr (Czech Junior), Czech Republic)
  • 89th (LW Nathan Walker; Hershey Bears (AHL), Australia)
  • 134th (C/LW Shane Gersich; USNDP, MN – USA)
  • 159th (RW Steven Spinner; Eden Prairie HS, MN – USA)
  • 194th (RW Kevin Elgestal; Frolunda Jr (SEL), Sweden).

With the basic stats out of the way, it’s time to move onto the logistics of how each and every one of these players is going to magically win the Capitals the Stanley Cup in 2015.  Here’s the awkward truth – they probably won’t.  With a few exceptions, the 2014 draftees won’t even see the inside of an NHL locker room for another few years, and that’s as it should be.

The draft is a time of eternal optimism, and ten years ago Caps fans saw their hopes rewarded in the form of Alex Ovechkin.  But high picks are never going to the be only component in surviving and thriving in the bloodsport that is the 82 game regular season, and as fans it’s important to remember that.  With one exception, all of the Caps’ 2014 draft picks are going to need some heavy seasoning before they’re ready for the NHL.

One would expect that Vrana will be the first to make the transition, but he’s seen consistently low amounts of ice time during the past year in the Eliteserien, so he’ll need time to finish maturing.  The same applies to his fellow Czech U-18 teammate Vanecek, whose international competition experience will need to be tempered with maturity and a chance to get used to playing on NHL-standard ice surfaces.

In contrast, twenty year old Nathan Walker has the pro experience and maturity to take a shot at the NHL, but his size is going to be an obstacle when it comes to landing more than a cup of coffee in Washington.

One For the Record Books

On the topic of Walker, a quick note of congratulations to the NHL’s first Australian draft pick!  Caps fans will remember him from Development Camp last summer, and also from his time in Hershey during the 2013-14 season.  It’s also worth a mention that while his passport is Australian, Walker’s birthplace was Cardiff, Wales.  He’s been full of surprises and an impressive determination since first coming onto Washington’s radar, and there’s every reason to expect that will continue.

Another first happened at the Capitals trading table, where their three separate trade agreements resulted in the most transactions by the team in a single entry draft.

As mentioned above, this is also the first year in which the Capitals have been involved in the NHL Draft and not selected a single Canadian (certainly since 1992, we’re having trouble tracking down anything earlier than that on short notice).  Blasphemy!

International Notes

The Caps pushed their Swedish Streak to three years with Elgestal’s selection in the seventh round, making it the third most common nationality on Washington’s prospect roster (a Swede has been drafted by Washington five out of the last seven years, putting it behind the US and Canada, but ahead of Russia).

The Czech Republic also did well by the Caps, with the team’s top two selections coming from Tomas Kundratek’s homeland.  The six-pack that fans can expect to see at D-Camp in a few weeks was rounded out by two boys from the Minnesota High School and USNDP programs.  Perhaps just as notable as the absence of any Canadian talent is the lack of blueliners joining Washington’s stockpile of talent.  It’s an unusual mix for an NHL draft.  Time will tell if the unconventional approach pays off – we can always hope!