- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2017

The Washington Capitals don’t have picks in the first three rounds of this week’s NHL Draft, but assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said Monday they’ve been preparing as if they have them.

“You never know what’s going to happen between now and when the draft starts,” Mahoney said. “There’s always movement that goes on where you can acquire picks. … During the year, we made sure we had enough coverage in case something does happen and we do acquire a first or second or third.”

Mahoney, though, didn’t reveal if the Capitals will make a push to acquire a better pick, only saying they would make a trade if it made sense. The NHL Draft takes place in Chicago on Friday and Saturday and the Capitals will have their first pick in the fourth round, 120th overall.

But Mahoney acknowledged the Capitals can still find talent picking in the later rounds. He pointed to Washington’s past selections of goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, both of whom were picked in the fourth round. 

The Capitals will have four picks in the seven-round draft.

“There’s players there,” Mahoney said. “It’s up to us as an amateur staff to make sure we get a couple of those players. Hopefully they play for the Capitals one day.”

The Capitals find themselves in this situation because of trades meant to help potentially win the Stanley Cup. At the trade deadline last season, general manager Brian MacLellan traded a 2017 first-round pick, Zach Sanford, Brad Malone and a conditional 2019 pick to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley.

MacLellan also sent a pair of second-round picks in 2017 and 2018 to the Montreal Canadiens last summer for center Lars Eller. And in the 2015-16 season, MacLellan traded a 2017 third-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Mike Weber.

“Yeah, I mean it’s frustrating we don’t have a couple high-end picks here in the draft,” MacLellan said last month. “A lot of it’s frustrating. I mean we spent a lot of capital trying to win a championship this year and it didn’t come to fruition.”

In 2011, the Capitals were also missing their first three picks — and the prospects they did pick have yet to play a single game in the NHL.

Middle and later-round picks, in general, can be a crapshoot. Not helping matters is the general consensus is that this year’s draft class is “weak.” A scout told the Toronto Star that the crop of players “is average” and Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said the draft was missing “generational” talent. USA Today called this year’s draft class uninspiring.

Mahoney isn’t worried.

“We make these predictions all the time in the amateur side and it seems like the same amount of players usually make the NHL every year,” Mahoney said. “Some of the drafts we think will end up strong end up being a little weak, or vice versa. … Some years there could be a little more depth than others. I would say this year there’s still going to be plenty of players … available for where we’re picking.”

The wild card in all of this is Wednesday’s expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas GM George McPhee told reporters that Monday would be the final day for teams to negotiate side deals to protect players left unprotected in this year’s expansion draft.

As a result, the draft order could change if teams give Vegas extra picks to either keep or re-trade away. Teams will have to react accordingly. 

“I’m sure there will be some late nights coming for a lot of teams (this) week,” Mahoney said.

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