Capitals fill up on U.S. National Team Development Program prospects

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PITTSBURGH | It’s the “year of the defenseman” according to head of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr, and the Washington Capitals seem to have an organizational need at that spot.

Yet in the NHL draft, the Caps are all about forwards. Both their first-round picks were forwards (Filip Forsberg and Thomas Wilson), as were their first three selections on Day Two on Saturday.

With the 77th pick, the Caps took left wing/center Chandler Stephenson from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. With No. 100, they took center Thomas Di Pauli out of the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Di Pauli, who was born in Italy but moved with his family to the U.S. to pursue his hockey dreams, considers himself a strong two-way forward.

“Honest player, really honest player,” Caps director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said. “Skates well, has skill, but probably on that U.S. team played roles and played them very well, more of the penalty-killing role, the checking role, the shutdown role.”

With No. 107 they grabbed his soon-to-be teammate at Notre Dame, right wing Austin Wuthrich, who was also with the U.S. NTDP.

“He’s a big body, real good penalty-killer,” U.S. NTDP Under-17 coach Danton Cole said. “I know he got some power-play time down there, good shot, good skater. He’s a real effective player.”

Di Pauli and Wuthrich shared a hug when they saw each other at the draft, but they never thought about being taken so close together.

At No. 137 in the fifth round the Caps broke from the forward pattern to take defenseman Connor Carrick, another U.S. development product who’s headed to Michigan. At No. 167 in the sixth, they grabbed right wing Riley Barber, a Pittsburgh kid and yet another U.S. NTDP player.

In the seventh round, the Caps changed things up, taking Swedish defenseman Christian Djoos 195th and then defenseman Jaynen Rissling from Calgary of the WHL 197th. With their final pick, No. 203, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Tomas Vokoun’s rights, Washington took another goalie, Russian Sergei Kostenko.

Kostenko is intriguing because he wasn’t on the NHL Central Scouting list and the league had to check to make sure he was draft eligible. But the Caps liked him all along.

“He’s very athletic, very competitive. We have seen him before in the past,” Mahoney said. “He basically ended up being the third goalie on the world junior team, the under-20 team. We’ve been tracking him for three years.”

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