Successful First Round Drafts Have Kept Capitals Among League’s Elite

Posted June 19, 2017

(Caps Outsider)

Arguably the most exciting portion of the NHL calendar is quickly approaching. This year, Washington Capitals fans will have to treat at least a small part of that schedule a little bit differently.

For the first time since 2011, and for only the third time since the turn of the century, the Caps will not have a first round selection in the coming NHL Entry Draft. For those who love chaos, however, they have the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft to look forward to this week as the Vegas Golden Knights continue to assimilate themselves into the league.

While the Capitals are virtually guaranteed to lose an impact roster player this week, such as goaltender Philipp Grubauer or defenseman Nate Schmidt, it would take some Brian MacLellan magic to add one back either through the draft or via trade before free agency this year.

With no early picks in this year’s draft, now seems like a good time to dive back into the past. The Capitals are accustomed to some excellent drafting in recent years, be it in the form of first round picks or late round gems. As it stands on this date, there are 12 players on the current roster that were drafted and developed by Washington, with several others waiting in the wings in Hershey.

Eight of those are former first round picks of the Capitals, which is a very high number when you take into account that four of them were drafted 23rd or later. This older piece via TSN breaks down some of the odds by round of a given pick becoming an NHL player in past years.

NHL Draft Odds of Success By Round (via Travis Yost, TSN)

Granted, first round picks obviously have much greater odds of becoming a regular NHL player than, say, a third round pick. The same argument can be made about the first round itself. A player drafted in the top-ten has much greater odds of a successful future than a player drafted later in the first round, even. A consequence of being a top team in the league annually is having later picks in each round. This makes it even more remarkable that Washington has had such strong success drafting in the later half of the first round on a regular basis.

Here’s an even closer look at the expected value of draft picks in each round by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey).

By attaching values to each pick in each round, you can see just how large the gap is in expected value from the first overall pick in the draft to the 30th overall pick. Interestingly, the final pick in the first round is significantly closer in expected value to the final pick in the entire draft than it is to the selection just 29 slots higher.

In total, the Caps have had 23 first round picks since the year 2000, and 15 of those have been in the latter half of the round (16th or below). If you discount the 2015 and 2016 drafts due to the Capitals’ selections not being anywhere close to being ready for NHL duty, 18 out of 21 first round selections (2000-2014) went on to appear in the NHL. Only one of those 18 made their NHL debut with a team other than the Capitals, none other thanĀ Filip Forsberg. Including Forsberg, that’s about 85.7% of Washington’s first round picks that went on to become NHL players, which is decidedly above average.

Early first round picks, namely Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, completely altered the course of the franchise. Karl Alzner was a strong player especially before his injury two seasons ago as well and Alexander Semin had his moments. Where the Capitals scouting department really had to make their money, though, was down the draft board.

14 of those 18 successful first rounders were drafted in the second half of the first round. While remembering the steep decline in pick value after the first ten selections, this is where we see the true impact of the Capitals scouting and drafting ability. The likes of Mike Green, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have all been selected in the final third of the first round by the Capitals, each of whom are or were considered above-average talents in the NHL at their peak.

The Capitals don’t have a first round pick in this year’s draft, and although their most recent championship window has closed, their spectacular ability for the most part to take impact players with most of their first round selections since 2000 and, more importantly, since the Ovechkin era began, means that they will be contenders for years to come.

It always stings to give up your first rounder for a rental and not have a Stanley Cup to show for it, but the Caps picked the right time to take that risk. So in lieu of a real draft pick this year, I went back to every first round pick in the aforementioned time frame for the Capitals and did a short analysis of their impact during their time with the team.

First Round Picks of the Capitals Since 2000

Free agency is quickly approaching, and with a lot of turnover expected in the coming weeks, it’s time to sit back, relax, and try to make these next three months go by as quickly as possible.