PITTSBURGH — With a veteran team and a burden of expectations, the Washington Capitals need to win now. The trade for Mike Ribeiro made sense for that.
But at this weekend’s NHL draft at Consol Energy Center, they also made 10 picks with an eye toward the long-range future. It’s more than they made in the past two drafts combined.
“Last year we didn’t pick till 114, so you’re missing some picks and that’s the way it is. Some years you have more picks than others,” director of scouting Ross Mahoney said. “We did need to get some more picks to be able to have more prospects coming back through the system again.”
With the exception of No. 11 pick Filip Forsberg, who is still at least a year away from contributing at the NHL level, the rest of the selections will need plenty of time to develop, including the Capitals’ second first-rounder, Thomas Wilson.
Day 2 on Saturday saw the Caps take eight players. The oldest was 19-year-old Russian goaltender Sergei Kostenko, who also might be the furthest away from the NHL.
Third-round forward Chandler Stephenson wants to keep developing with Regina in the Western Hockey League; fourth-round center Thomas Di Pauli is off to play at Notre Dame with U.S. National Team Development Program teammate Austin Wuthrich, whom the Caps took seven picks later.
Fifth-round defenseman Connor Carrick is going to Michigan and sixth-round right wing Riley Barber to Miami (Ohio). Christian Djoos could have two to three more seasons of growth in Sweden, and fellow seventh-round defenseman Jaynen Rissling could use seasoning with Calgary in the WHL.
This was a chance to stockpile for a little while down the line.
“What’s interesting, some of the guys we drafted have come into our lineup quickly, and it hasn’t taken a lot of development time,” general manager George McPhee said. “It’s just nice to sort of restock this year and we’ll see how they are in a couple of years. We have all of our picks for next year, so we’re in good shape.”
The majority of the top prospects in the organization are either in the NHL already like Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov, on the cusp like Stan Galiev or playing the waiting game, like blue chip scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has a two-year deal to remain in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Forsberg, whom McPhee called an “elite talent,” might be ready for 2013-14, after he completes the final year of his deal in Sweden. But the Caps knew that going in, and the common refrain was that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom thrived after an extra year of development.
“We’ve always been very patient with our young players,” Mahoney said. “We’re patient. When they’re ready, they’ll come to training camp and they’ll prove it. That’s up to them to determine whether they’re ready in a year, two years, three years. It’s up to the player.”