Despite a busy offseason and chaotic year, the 2021 NHL Draft is business as usual for the Washington Capitals.
Amid the pandemic and the looming expansion draft, things have been a little different in regards to the draft. However, according to assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, Washington is confident heading into the draft. The first round is on Friday, and and Rounds 2-7 are on Saturday.
“We did a lot of interviews of the prospects as far as Zoom calls and had a lot of meetings with our scouts, probably more meetings than we’ve had in a normal year,” Mahoney said.
Because some players had condensed seasons — while others didn’t play at all (the OHL didn’t have a season but had a showcase) — it did add a bit of a challenge when it came to evaluating players. There was also no combine, which meant no opportunity to watch players live, set up in-person meetings and evaluate results.
However, Mahoney says relying on area scouts and video helped immensely. Rather than in-person meetings, Washington utilized Zoom calls and footage to get a closer look at prospects.
“We have access to lots of video,” Mahoney noted. “We’ve always used video but probably a lot more video scouting [this year] than we have in the past… it’s been different, but it’s been the same for all 32 teams in the league.
“The video is very good, but it’s tough to replace a live viewing,” Mahoney added later on. “Sometimes when you’re watching a video, you may not have every player visually in front of you. At the same time, if you’re at a game and you’re sitting there, you can see everybody in the picture. The video’s been very useful, very helpful.”
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Washington is without a first-round pick after trading it to Detroit as part of the package for Anthony Mantha. The Capitals will make their first selection in the second round at 55th overall, and also own the No. 75, 119, 151 and 183 picks.
According to Mahoney, the team’s current plan is to go into the draft with what they have.
“You don’t know what will present itself, whether there’s an opportunity to acquire a first-round pick or not,” Mahoney added. “Right now, it’s going ahead with our list and being prepared to make the picks where we are… we try to think through every scenario.”
The 2021 NHL draft class presents quite the selection for all positions. According to Mahoney, there’s not one position that stands out in his opinion but acknowledged the impressive crop of goalies.
Regardless, the Capitals don’t intend to focus on addressing a specific need. For instance, if the Seattle Kraken do elect to take Vitek Vanecek, the plan isn’t to target a goalie on draft day. Instead, the philosophy stands as picking the next top player available.
“We’ve always tried to take the best player that’s available to us,” Mahoney noted. “If it’s close, sometimes you lean towards what you think is an organizational need… it’s tough to pass on a defenseman, let’s say, because you think you have a need at right wing and that defenseman you passed on becomes a really good player. You know, you look back and you probably wish you’d taken the next player on your list who you thought was the best prospect.”
In regards to hidden gems, Mahoney does think Washington could potentially see a higher-ranked player fall to them in the draft. Because of the shortened year, teams may pass on a top prospect, and in turn, the Capitals could greatly benefit.
“We’re hoping that does happen,” Mahoney added.
Beyond the draft, the emphasis remains on development, where Mahoney believes Steve Richmond, Brooks Orpik and Jim Slater have excelled.
Ultimately, the Capitals are treating the 2021 NHL Draft as they would any other.
“We’ve had years where we had three first-round picks, years where we had two first-round picks… we try to treat it the same every year. You have to be prepared and we always treat it that way.”