PITTSBURGH — George McPhee didn’t reveal much last week about his preferences for the upcoming NHL draft, but he did admit this pool is deeper at defenseman than at forward.
The draft, which starts with the first round Friday night at Consol Energy Center, doesn’t have the buzz that would surround a can’t-miss prospect, but that’s OK for the Washington Capitals, who have two mid-first round picks and could use plenty of what’s plentiful.
“I think there’s less flash and flamboyancy for this draft because this is the year of the defenseman and a lot of times playing defense isn’t very exciting,” head of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “Up to 10 of the top 15 picks could be defensemen and there’s a smorgasbord of defensemen available this year and they all play different kinds. I think it’s deep as far as getting quality defensemen that could be in the top four and play in the National Hockey League for a long, long time.”
Some, like NHL-ready blueliner Ryan Murray, will be long gone by the time the Caps’ top pick at No. 11 comes around. But even that isn’t too deflating. The likes of London’s Olli Maata, U.S. Development program’s Jacob Trouba, Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart, Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba and Portland’s Derrick Pouliot could be available.
It’s not like the Capitals need someone from this draft class to step in right away, but if they do, Maata, whom Dale Hunter liked from watching him in Europe, could be the man.
“This year I think the top three or four picks are going to get that opportunity and the only other player I could see that would step out of there to maybe have a chance would be a player like Olli Maata, just because he’s had some experience playing in the top league in Finland before he came over here,” Marr said. “And this year during the season, he had a very good season, he’s a very dependable player, but he really accelerated his play and rose to the occasion in the playoffs and helped London get to the Memorial Cup.”
At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, the 17-year-old Finn is a blossoming power-play quarterback who could use some work on the defensive end but explained he also needs to work on his skating. He did say he was certain he’s ready for the next level now.
“I don’t really care what number I get picked,” he said Thursday. “I just want to get picked by a team that gives me a chance to make it to the NHL.”
It’s tough to envision any of the other mid-first round defensemen making that leap, and even Murray admitted it will be a challenge to step in as a teenager.
“It’s not a normal progression for an 18-year-old to step right into the National Hockey League,” Marr said.
“[Trouba is] able to bring a physical presence even though he’s not somebody you’d describe as being a roughhouse player,” Marr said. “We use the comparison with Dion Phaneuf, someone that’s going to be able to be a core player on your team for a number of years.”
“This is a kid, his hockey IQ was very smart. He’s not a big guy, but he’s not intimidated by anything,” Marr said. “He just makes the right play at the right time and he gets things done. He’s a player that we feel could fit into that mold.”