The 2014 NHL entry draft has come and gone. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Capitals scouts had some work to do to get back to their winning ways. The NHL draft is everyone’s favorite time of the year. It is what the players spend their whole lives training for and what teams spend the whole year preparing for. Fans want to see the future of the NHL and who may become their team’s next star. Just one pick can change the fortune of your franchise. When it was all said and done the Caps ended up with picks: 13, 39, 89, 134, 159, and 194. Washington went European heavy in an effort to restock an already strong system.
Jakub Vrana(13th overall), RW, Linkoping
Vrana adds another high skilled winger to the Capitals system. He possesses a heavy shot and has a knack for scoring goals. Vrana played against men for a good portion of the season and he led the World Under-18s in goals with 8. His scouting report follows:
Has been on the radar for several seasons as his skill level has always been evident. He was selected to the roster for the World Junior Under-18 Tournament in April. A dynamic player who despite his smaller size, is an impact player capable of getting dirty and competing against all comers. Displays great vision, IQ and feel for the attack. A flyer with first step quickness, who plays strong on the puck, and excellent puck-handling skills and lateral mobility. Will need to get even stronger but he has deceptive array of shots, and excellent set-up skills, and goes to the battle areas with reluctance at his present size and strength. A very creative offensive generator who can find a teammate or bring the fans out of their seats with his sudden offensive forays. The question might be can he stay focused and give 100% effort for sixty minutes. Again being a elite player in Czech, he hasn’t developed the strong defensive commitment he will need in the North American game. It just isn’t there yet.
Overall, I think this was a good pick. Washington has a great track record when it comes to Europeans and it is clear the Caps need more skill on the roster. You could say it was somewhat of a reach given where Vrana was generally ranked, but as it has been said all year, rankings are all over the place. There was not much separating picks 10-30 and if Vrana was the Caps guy, you take him and ask questions later. He compliments the likes of Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Wilson, Barber, etc. well and he can develop at his own pace. Vrana has a good shot to develop into a second line offensive player, possibly on a line with Kuznetsov and Wilson some day?
Vitek Vanecek(39th overall), G, Liberec Jr.
Washington traded up to 39, sending picks 44 and 74 to Buffalo to select Vitek Vanecek. I have to admit, this was a bit of a head scratcher for me. Vanecek was ranked 8th amongst European goalies, yet was the 4th goaltender taken, as well as the first European goaltender taken. One thing about goalies though, is that it is a crapshoot. Look at where some of the top goalies in the NHL have been drafted, as well how many 1st round goaltenders have busted over the years. Again, I trust the Caps scouts here. They have done extremely well drafting goaltenders in the recent years, selecting Varlamov, Neuvirth, Holtby, and Grubauer. Vanacek is raw, but has good upside, and his issues are definitely correctable. His scouting report:
Vaněček is an athletic, 6-foot-1 and 181-pound goaltender who uses his reflexes, a quick glove and blocker to stone the opponents. He’s been able to make big saves all season long, relying on his reflexes and athleticism. On the other hand, he’s been suffering from inconsistency as he sometimes just has a bad day. Not only has Vaněček been an efficient netminder in junior hockey, but he’s also made the first couple of steps towards the professional leagues.
I think that it is generally a good idea to take a goaltender every year given the unpredictability of the position. Was this good value for the Capitals? Maybe, maybe not. But again, if he is your guy, you take him and ignore the “value”. Like Vrana, Vanecek can develop at his own pace. It is clear that the Capitals see something in him, time will tell if this was the right move.
Nathan Walker(89th overall), LW, Hershey
The Capitals again traded up, sending picks 104 and 118 to the Rangers in exchange for 89 to select Nathan Walker. If the Vanecek pick wasn’t enough of a head scratcher, this selection certainly was. Walker is a 1994 born who is coming off a season where he put up 11 points in 43 games playing for the Hershey Bears.
The consensus would seem that he would still be available with a pick in a later round, but Washington must have felt someone was going to take him before the 104th pick. It is good to keep a player like this in the organization and the Caps know what they are getting with this pick.The positives are that he has proven he can play at the AHL level and is only going to get better. On the other, he has been passed over in two drafts now and there were players left on the board that have higher upside. Again, time will tell if Walker proves worthy of a 3rd round selection.
Shane Gersich(134th overall), C/LW, USA U-18
I like this pick. I feel Gersich has a lot of untapped upside offensively and he gets in on the forecheck. He plays fast and he has the hockey smarts to match. Gersich came to the US under 18 team from high school hockey in Minnesota. Gersich comes from great bloodlines. His uncles are Aaron, Neal, and Paul Broten. Of course Neal was an NHL all star and won an Olympic Gold with team USA in 1980.
Gersich is a game breaking talent with incredible speed, agility and first step quickness. He needs just three steps and he is gone and uses his speed as he looks to take the puck wide and beat defenders to the outside. He also displays a strong shot that absolutely jumps off his stick in the blink of an eye. (August 2013)
Behind all the highly touted prospects of the USA under 18 team, Gersich was one of the unheralded depth scorers. Gersich will attend the University of North Dakota in the Fall of 2015 after another year in the USHL.
Steven Spinner(159th overall), RW, Eden Prairie
The Capitals traded up for a 3rd time, sending picks 164, 192, as well as a seventh rounder in the 2015 NHL draft in exchange for pick 159 and prospect Eddie Pasquale. Pasquale, a 2009 4th rounder, put up good numbers playing for the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL. He put up a solid .920 save percentage as well a 2.43 goals against average. As far as Spinner, he is a solid pick in the 6th round. He captained Eden Prairie High School and put up good numbers with 39 points in 25 games. His scouting report:
Spinner is a quick and speedy forward who controls the puck well with good hands and makes a solid pass. Can go one-on-one against defenders for a scoring chance as well as make a heady passing play. He has a rocket shot but misses the cage often. He needs to learn the game is played on a 200-foot surface.
Like Gersich, Spinner is a speedy offensive forward. He has solid upside going forward and has the talent to be a late blooming forward. The Capitals hit on a similar player to Spinner and Gersich with Riley Barber, so I see no harm in going for the home run again. If only one pans out, that is still a huge haul for the Capitals organization. Spinner will attend University of Nebraska-Omaha in the Fall.
Kevin Elgestal(194th overall), RW, Frolunda Jr.
Elgestal adds another winger to the Capitals system. He was ranked 51st by Central Scouting’s final rankings for European skaters. Elgestal has good NHL size and plays for a great program in Frolunda.
Still developing power wing who sets up shop in front and is far from docile in terms of engagement. Didn’t see lots of ice time and is going to need a few seasons to figure out things and add weight and muscle. Need to gain first step quickness, but once in motion, he can get going fairly fast and show agility in his carries. Has a good shot that will improve as he gets stronger. Strong on the forecheck and has some upside as a bottom six winger.
Again, Elgestal has all the time in the world to develop. He is just starting to grow into his 6’1 frame. With time, if Elgestal can develop into a player that plays in your bottom six and gets in on the forecheck, that would be a great coup here.
I think the Capitals did okay in this draft. It is considered a weak draft by most, and there wasn’t much depth past the second round. Grabbing one or two NHL players here would be considered a success. I would have liked to see the Caps take a defenseman or a project center, but you don’t draft for need, you take the best player available. The Caps clearly had targets and had no problem going “off the board” to take the player they wanted. Time will tell if they were good moves or not. It will be five years before we truly know how the Capitals did this past weekend.