- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2008

— Stockpiling draft picks has been Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee’s modus operandi in recent years.

That changed this weekend when he made a pair of trades to move forward in the draft, relinquishing a pair of assets he has hoarded of late. Since this shift coincides with the team’s surge this past season, was it a product of satisfactory depth in the system and an urgency to win now?

“No, not necessarily,” McPhee said. “Sometimes you think the guy is still going to be there if you drop back and add extra picks. We had that feeling last year and we did it really well. This year we didn’t have that feeling. We had the opposite, which was, ‘If we don’t get a touch more aggressive here, we’re not going to get this guy that we want.’ It wasn’t part of a bigger philosophy; it was just what was happening on the floor at that time.”

McPhee and his scouting staff leave Canada’s capital city content after nabbing the three players they coveted the most in a group of eight total selections. After making a pair of big moves Friday night at Scotiabank Place, the Caps stood pat Saturday on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, using each of the six picks they entered the day with.

“We basically got the first three guys we wanted to get,” McPhee said. “It will be a good way to evaluate our scouting three or four years from now. We got who wanted, now did we get the right guys?”

Added Caps director of scouting Ross Mahoney: “Actually I think it went pretty well according to plan. We were happy with all of the selections we got, but especially early in the draft.”

Washington added a tall, physical defenseman from Western Canada and a smaller, skilled right wing from Russia with back-to-back picks in the second round.

At 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, defenseman Eric Mestery reminds both McPhee and Red Line Report, a premier NHL draft service, of Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, though Red Line criticized Mestery’s hockey sense and penchant for turnovers.

Dmitri Kugryshev has plenty of international experience playing for Team Russia, including in the world junior championships. He broke his collarbone during the Under-18 championships this spring, but the injury is not a long-term concern.

He was considered one of several Russian prospects who may have slipped in the draft - a continued theme from last June because of the player transfer issues with that country.

“We feel with [Alex] Ovechkin, that may be more appealing for a Russian player to come to us,” McPhee said. “I told our scouts if there is a Russian player you really like and he’s a really talented guy, we might get him a lot later.”

Another intriguing pick for the Caps came in the fourth round in goaltender Braden Holtby. NHL Central Scouting rated him the No. 4 North American goalie but he slipped to the 93rd overall selection.

“I guess the fourth round isn’t exactly where I wanted to go, but it is fuel to the fire,” Holtby said. “I am out to prove everyone wrong and to prove the Capitals right for selecting me.”

Holtby said he patterns himself after Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and hopes to make Canada’s entry in the World Junior Championship this winter.

“He is very athletic. He comes across very strong in the net,” said Caps goaltender coach Dave Prior, who has not seen Holtby in person but did see three of his games on tape. “I like that stability in traffic - there are a lot of guys who come crashing to the net in the NHL and he looks capable of handling that.”