Alex to Alex: An all-time Capitals first round

The 2020 MLB Draft took place a few days ago, where the Nationals welcomed six new prospects. The NBA draft will not take place until October, while the NHL’s draft date is still up in the air.

In any case, following up on my recent all-time Redskins first round, I have assembled an all-time Capitals first round, listing the best players taken in each of the top 31 spots. Like last time, not every player drafted was a first-round pick at the time of their selection, but this is based on overall selection either way.

1- Alex Ovechkin (LW – 2004)

The selection of Ovechkin completely turned the franchise around. By his third season in the NHL, he won his first Hart Trophy as league MVP, and the Capitals started their run of 12 playoff appearances over the next 13 years. They were among the winningest teams of the 2010s, and after many postseason struggles, finally won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Ovi is currently chasing the all-time NHL goals record, although the suspension of the season has lowered his chances. As the greatest player in franchise history, he’s the clear choice for No. 1.

2- Ryan Walter (C/LW – 1978)

Walter, the only second overall pick in team history, spent just four seasons in Washington after being selected in 1978, but he served as an instant boost to a struggling Capitals team. He was fifth on the team in scoring as a rookie with 56 points (28g, 28a), and he was named team captain by his second season.

Walter improved his point totals every season, always finishing in the top three on the team, and his 87 points in 1981-82 was a career-high. He was dealt away that offseason in the Rod Langway trade, and he spent the next nine seasons in Montreal before finishing his career in Vancouver.

3- Bobby Carpenter (C – 1981)

Carpenter was the second American ever drafted in the first round, and was the first to play directly after high school. It didn’t take long for him to start making an impact; 12 seconds into his first NHL shift, he assisted a goal by Walter, which remains the quickest debut assist in NHL history. He would total 67 points as an 18-year-old rookie. He scored 53 goals in 1984-85, which made him the first American to score 50 goals in a season.

The Massachusetts native only spent five-and-a-half seasons with the team after clashes with coach Bryan Murray led to a trade to the New York Rangers. He would eventually return to Washington in 1992, but left after just one season.

4- Nicklas Backstrom (C – 2006)

There are three fourth overall picks in franchise history: Backstrom, the franchise leader in assists and +/-, Mike Gartner, the Hall of Fame forward who is seventh in NHL history with 708 goals (just two ahead of Ovechkin), and Alexandre Volchkov, a defenseman drafted in 1996 who appeared in just three NHL games in the 1999-2000 season.

This is the second list in which I’ve snubbed Gartner, so I really owe him more recognition. Both Gartner and Backstrom are in the top five of every major offensive category in franchise history, so you could reasonably put either in this position, but with Backstrom having the second-most points scored in team history and nearly 200 more games played in Washington than Gartner, the Swede gets the nod. The Stanley Cup helps his case, too. Call it youth or recency bias, but I’m sticking to it.

5- Scott Stevens (D – 1982)

Stevens spent most of his career with the New Jersey Devils, where he won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and made four All-Star Teams (three of them Second Team), but his first eight professional seasons were in Washington. Learning alongside Langway, Stevens quickly developed into a point-producing, hard-hitting defenseman that fans fell in love with.

He left the team without achieving any real playoff success, but he made his first All-Star Team when he was voted First Team in 1987-88 and finished second in Norris Trophy voting.

6- N/A

Never in the team’s history have the Capitals selected sixth overall.

7- Kris Beech (C – 1999)

The 6-8 pick range is pretty barren in Capitals history, as Beech is the only seventh pick in franchise history. He played just four games with the Capitals in 2000-01 before spending a couple years with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

He returned to the Capitals in 2006, and he played in 64 games the following season, totaling a career-high 26 points (8g, 18a) before bouncing around between three organizations in 2007-08, never appearing in the NHL again.

8- N/A

Like the sixth slot, the Capitals have yet to select anyone eighth overall.

9- John Slaney (D – 1990)

Slaney played just 63 games with the Capitals across two seasons in the mid-1990s, and he spent much of his playing career in the AHL. He scored his 454th AHL point in 2005, becoming the highest-scoring defenseman in AHL history (he was surpassed by Bryan Helmer in 2011).

Nick Boynton (D – 1997) had a longer NHL career, and is the only other player the Caps selected with the ninth pick, but he never actually played with the Capitals, spending most of his career in Boston.

10- Nolan Baumgartner (D – 1994)

Baumgartner is another player who spent most of his career in the AHL, with his only full NHL season coming in 2005-06 with the Vancouver Canucks. He’s the only 10th pick in team history. Baumgartner played 18 games with the Caps across four different seasons in the late 1990s, tallying two assists.

11- Brendan Witt (D – 1993)

Witt played nine-plus seasons with the Caps, and for a short time served as co-captain with Steve Konowalchuk. Witt was not an offensive-minded blueliner, never scoring more than 12 points in a single season with Washington, but he constantly brought physicality on the defensive end.

Filip Forsberg (C – 2012), the All-Star forward who was infamously traded away from the Capitals in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history, is the only other 11th pick in team history.

12- Steve Eminger (D – 2002)

Eminger, the only 12th pick in team history, did not live up to expectations, playing just 17 games in his first season before being sent back to the juniors. Eminger spent the next few seasons bouncing back and forth between the Capitals and the AHL before the team finally traded him prior to the 2008 draft. Eminger along with the 84th overall pick was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 27th overall pick, which turned out to be John Carlson.

13- Alexander Semin (LW – 2002)

Semin first played during the 2003-04 season, totaling 22 points in 52 games, and later developed into an offensive weapon alongside the blossoming Ovechkin. He helped turn the Caps into a perennial playoff contender, and was consistently a top three scorer on the team. His 197 goals with Caps are sixth-most in franchise history. He last played in the NHL with Montreal in 2015-16, but he is still playing in the KHL at 36 years old.

Jakub Vrana is the only other 13th pick in team history, and projects to be a key offensive piece through the post-Ovechkin years, as much of the core around him continues to age.

14- Sergei Gonchar (D – 1992)

Gonchar was a major presence on the blue line for close to 10 years. Consistently the team’s top scoring defenseman (especially in the back half of his Caps tenure), Gonchar earned Second Team All-Star two years in a row in 2002 and 2003, his last two full seasons in DC. He was the team’s top scoring defenseman in their 1998 run to the Stanley Cup Finals and played over 10 more NHL seasons after leaving Washington, primarily in Pittsburgh.

15- Greg Carroll (C – 1976)

Carroll was drafted by both the Capitals and the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association (WHA). He opted to sign with the latter and spent two seasons in the WHA before signing with the Caps.

Carroll played just 24 games with the Caps in 1978-79, scoring 11 points (5g, 6a). He was waived in January of ’79 after refusing to go down to the AHL. He was later picked up by the Detroit Red Wings to finish the season, then spent the 1979-80 season with the Hartford Whalers, scoring 32 points in 71 games as a teammate of 51-year-old Gordie Howe in Mr. Hockey’s final season. It would be 23-year-old Carroll’s final NHL season as well.

16- Tom Wilson (RW – 2012)

Wilson was selected just five picks after Forsberg, and was able to solidify a full-time role as early as 2013-14, playing all 82 games and tallying 10 points (3g, 7a). His physical playing style made him an enforcer in the bottom six, and he quickly built up a resume of dishing cheap shots, making him hated by many opposing fanbases.

The feeling is very different among the Washington fans, who have viewed him favorably from the start. Developing into a top line winger, Wilson has the makings of a future team captain should he remain with the team later in his career. He holds the distinction of being the only 16th pick in team history.

17- Kevin Hatcher (D – 1984)

Hatcher was another blueliner brought in around the time the Caps started experiencing regular season success, joining Langway and Stevens in an improving defensive unit. He led the team in scoring in 1990-91 with 74 points (24g, 50a), and two years later finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting after totaling a career-high 79 points.

Hatcher was traded to Dallas prior to the 1994-95 season, but his consistent production on the blue line makes him an easy choice for pick 17.

18- Eric Fehr (RW – 2003)

Fehr had two separate stints with the Caps, spending six total seasons as a depth scorer. He notably scored two goals in the 2011 Winter Classic to give the Caps a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh, and he later won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016.

19- Olaf Kolzig (G – 1989)

Kolzig’s 711 games played and 301 wins are both the most in franchise history, and his 35 shutouts are tied for most with Braden Holtby. Kolzig spent nearly 20 years in the Capitals organization, but was the main starter for 10 seasons. He backstopped the team to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals and won the Vezina Trophy the following year (he also finished fourth in the Hart Trophy voting that year).

20- Paul Mulvey (LW – 1978)

Mulvey is the only 20th pick in franchise history, and he spent three of his four NHL seasons with the Caps. His career-high 34 points in 1979-80 was sixth-best on the team that year. He was sent to Pittsburgh before the 1981-82 season as compensation for the Caps signing Orest Kindrachuk, who was forced to retire due to injury after just four games.

21- Mark Lofthouse (RW/C – 1977)

Lofthouse was drafted by the Capitals in the NHL and the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, and he opted to sign with the Caps. Lofthouse spent the next several years splitting time between Washington and Hershey.

The other two 21st picks in team history are Trevor Halverson (LW – 1991), who played just 17 NHL games in 1998-99, and Anton Gustafsson (C – 2008), who never reached the NHL.

22- Ilya Samsonov (G – 2015)

Samsonov became the team’s first ever 22nd pick in team history in 2015, and his progression to the NHL escalated quicker than most. He spent a few more years in the KHL before coming to North America, where he split time in net with Vitek Vanecek on the Hershey Bears. After just 37 games in 2018-19, Samsonov was elevated to the NHL roster for 2019-20 where he played a reserve role behind Holtby.

He finished the season with a 16-6-2 record in 26 games (22 starts), a 2.55 goals against average and .913 save percentage. He became the fastest rookie in franchise history to reach 10 wins, needing just 12 games to do so. With Holtby’s impending free agency, Samsonov has the chance to be the Caps’ future in net.

23- Andre Burakovsky (LW – 2013)

Burakovsky was a promising prospect when he reached the Caps, but up-and-down play prevented him from cementing a solid role. He spent most of his time on the third line, and the highlight of his Capitals career will be his two goals in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals that helped push the team to the Stanley Cup Finals.

He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche after the 2018-19 season, where he finally found his form. In just 58 games this season, he set career-highs in goals (20), assists (25) and points (45). He may find greener pastures with a contender like Colorado, but his role in Washington’s Cup run was unforgettable.

24- Marcus Johansson (C/W – 2009)

Johansson was not the most notable player on the Caps, but he would consistently finish among the top five scorers on the team during his seven seasons in Washington. He put up a career-high 58 points (24g, 34a) in 2016-17, but the team’s cap situation led to his trade to the New Jersey Devils entering the 2017-18 season. He missed the 2018 Stanley Cup, but he did reach the Finals the following season with the Boston Bruins.

25- Connor McMichael (C – 2019)

This pick may be a tad premature; McMichael was only drafted a year ago and is likely a couple years away from being a full-time NHLer. However, the only other 25th pick in team history is Eric Lavigne (D – 1991), who played just one game in the NHL (with the Los Angeles Kings in 1994-95).

McMichael spent this past season in the OHL with the London Knights, where he lit it up with 102 points in 52 games (47g, 55a), good enough for third in the league. With the expanded roster limits for the 2020 playoffs, there’s a chance that the 19-year-old McMichael will be added to the playoff roster. He projects to be a major piece of the Capitals’ future, so here’s hoping that he lives up to the expectations he’s set for himself.

26- Evgeny Kuznetsov (C – 2010)

Kuznetsov has had his ups-and-downs, both on and off the ice, sometimes looking like one of the greatest players in the world and other times like he’s just going through the motions. Kuzy is one of the larger personalities on the Caps, and his team-leading 32 points in the 2018 playoffs cemented his status in DC as he played such a massive role in the championship run.

He’ll remain a significant part of the offense, so hopefully he’ll be ready to go off in the playoffs this year.

27- John Carlson (D – 2008)

The Eminger trade netted the pick used to take Carlson, and it was the best-case scenario. Carlson has been a staple on the blue line for the past 10 years, and he was recently promoted to assistant captain after Brooks Orpik’s retirement following the 2018-19 season. He’s been playing at an All-Star level for the past few years, and will likely finish in the top two for the Norris Trophy this year.

He’s an essential part of the team, and the Caps certainly made the best out of a disappointing pick from years before.

28- Lucas Johansen (D – 2016)

Ironically, I listed Johansen as the Capitals’ worst draft pick of the decade; a player like him should have made it to the NHL by now, but he remains in Hershey. That’s not entirely his fault; injuries have set him back a great deal, and the Caps have a talented roster to begin with. There’s still time for him to break in to the NHL, but it may have to be elsewhere.

In any case, he’s the only 28th pick in team history, so he gets this spot by default.

29- Mike Green (D – 2004)

Taken in the same class as Ovechkin, Green would shape up the Capitals’ defensive core as an elite offensive defenseman. Everything from his nasty slap shots to his patented faux hawk made him a fan favorite. His 31 goals in 2008-09 are tied for the 11th-most in a season by a defenseman, and the most of any this century.

He spent 10 years in Washington and was one of the most productive defensemen of his era. He was recently traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 trade deadline.

30- Rod Pasma (D – 1990)

Pasma is the only 30th pick in franchise history, and is one of the few players on the list without any NHL experience. The defenseman spent most of his career in the OHL and just never broke through to the upper levels of hockey.

31- Alexander Alexeyev (D – 2018)

The team’s first draft pick after winning the Stanley Cup, Alexeyev may be another premature pick. The only other 31st pick in franchise history is Charlie Stephens (C/RW – 1999), who never signed and was re-drafted two years later by the Avalanche, for whom he played eight games across two seasons.

Alexeyev may possibly find a spot on the playoff team this summer, but will hopefully make his way onto the roster for good in the next couple seasons.

(Cover Photo Credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI; Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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