Two general themes are materializing for the 2008 NHL draft, which begins Friday night in Ottawa: depth and defense.
Though it could be described as the Steven Stamkos Draft, beyond the consensus top player the class is considered the deepest since 2003 - especially on the blue line.
“It sure looks like it on paper,” Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. “You can’t really evaluate a draft until four or five years in, but you look for the dropoff in players. There are seven or eight players before there is a dropoff, but it is a small one. From there, it might go from eight until 40 with very little dropoff.”
This could make for a wild evening at Scotia Bank Place. One team might select its 10th-rated player at No. 10, and another might do so at No. 30. There will be plenty of uncertainty, but one safe bet is that plenty of defensemen will walk to the stage.
After Stamkos, a dynamic center who is expected to join Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay, as many as half of the first-round picks could be rear guards.
Normally, drafting defensemen requires patience from the organization and at least a year or three of development time, but high-end players in this draft like Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Alex Pietrangelo could be in an NHL uniform this fall.
“Some of these guys might be able to step in right away,” Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “I’m pretty sure some of them will. The players seem to be far more mature these days than we were when we were their age.”
The Caps are in a different situation than in recent drafts. For the first time since 2003, Washington doesn’t have a pick in the top half of the first round.
McPhee has plenty of ammunition if he decides to become active on the trade front. The Caps have eight total selections, including the No. 23 pick in the first round and Nos. 54, 57 and 58 in Round 2.
They have the extra picks because McPhee collected 2008 second-rounders twice during the draft last June. With four of the top 60 selections, the Caps have several options to improve the franchise.
The first is to sit tight and draft players. Adding four prospects of that caliber would restock the farm system and give McPhee assets to play with at future trade deadlines.
Another path includes making some trades. If the Caps see a desirable player still on the board earlier in the first round than No. 23 or if they wanted to grab a second No. 1 pick, they might have the ammo to do it.
“I can’t tell you right now what we’ll end up doing,” McPhee said. “Whether we make three picks or trade a pick to move up or trade a pick for next year, it all seems to happen when we get on the floor. Those picks do seem to become more valuable when you are on the floor.”
The Caps also are facing a bit of a roster squeeze this fall, especially on the blue line if everyone from last season returns and Karl Alzner is deemed ready. Still, the clamoring for one more veteran defenseman from fans and pundits alike is there, and McPhee could use some of his extra draft choices to fetch an established NHL player.
Last June there were plenty of goaltenders on the move just before and during the draft, and the Caps are in the market for one, especially if contract negotiations with Cristobal Huet turn sour.
Regardless of the road the Caps choose, it could be an interesting couple of days in the other nation’s capital. Though Washington has selected a player who filled a specific need with its first-round pick in recent years, expect the Caps to stick to the traditional “pick the best player” strategy this weekend.
“It is important to take the best player,” McPhee said. “You’d rather have a left winger who can play than a center who can’t.”