The Washington Capitals have been reluctant to move their first round picks in recent years. Sometimes they’ve entered the draft with more than one first round pick: last year and 2004, when the Caps had three: Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz, and Mike Green. In most cases, holding on to those picks is the smart move – 80% of players picked in the first round between 2000 and 2011 have played at least one NHL game. For comparison’s sake, only 49% of the second round picks ever suit up in the NHL. The only time the Caps haven’t had a first round pick recently was in 2011, when they traded away the 26th pick to cap-saddled Chicago in exchange for Troy Brouwer.
“We didn’t like where the [2011 Draft] was going and we had an opportunity to use our pick to get Brouwer, and it turned out to be a heck of a move for us,” Capitals GM George McPhee said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He’s a guy we all liked.” He also added that the trade was an example of a “good working relationship” between the team’s pro and amateur scouts.
This year, it might be smart for the Capitals to trade away the 23rd pick.
Scouts and executives have noted that after 20th pick there seem so be a glut of similarly promising players, all in a close race for the remaining first round positions.
Tony MacDonald, director of amateur scouting for Carolina, told The News & Observer: “A lot of people are comparing this year’s draft to 2003. The comparisons are being made based on the depth and the strength of the draft, and this is a very strong draft with a lot of quality prospects. And not just the first round but through the second round.”
During the Draft Combine, TSN radio asked McPhee about the strength of this year’s draft class. McPhee was optimistic, saying “there are a lot of good players. [It] looks like a good draft.” On Monday, McPhee avoided the question altogether. “[Different teams] view it in different ways,” McPhee said with a coy smile. “We certainly have our views on the draft, and our scouts have done a lot of work, obviously, and we have a way we’d like to approach the draft, and we’ll approach it that way.”
Swapping picks is a more likely scenario than trading an asset for picks, so let’s consider this option for the Caps.
Looking at twelve reliable draft rankings, the same twenty players are present in the top-30 of ten or more lists. 29 more are mentioned by between one and nine sources. That means there is agreement about where the top-20 guys should fall, while the rest, it’s a toss up until around pick #50. That suggests that the 20th pick represents a cut-off, where there is an initial drop off in talent. Unless one of those talented players falls out of the top-20 (which has certainly happened in the last few years), the Caps may find themselves in a position where whoever they pick in the first round has a similar upside of a player they could land around the 50th overall position.
So what’s the value of the 23rd pick? Our peers at Broad Street Hockey crunched the numbers to determine what the value is of trading up and down. According to their estimations, the Caps pick could probably return something like a 30th and 52nd overall in exchange for the 23rd. It’s at least worth considering.
Other teams have made this kind of trade in recent years. In 2010, Phoenix moved their 22nd and 113th pick in exchange for the 27th and 57th picks. In 2011, Anaheim flipped their 22nd overall selection for the 30th and 39th picks. Also in 2011, Detroit dealt their 24th overall pick for the 35th and 48th picks.
If the market is there, the Caps should absolutely trade down for a third top-60 selection. The second round may have a lot of hidden gems. Two of them could and should become Capitals assets.