Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, the Washington Capitals draft Boom and their Draft Bust.
Washington Capitals Draft Boom and Bust
It is no secret that the Washington Capitals have been blessed with a significant number of high-quality first-round players throughout the years. Surprisingly though, NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby was not one of them. Although goalies are valued differently than skaters in terms of the draft, Holtby by far the biggest surprise Capitals draft boom in the last two decades.
Initially drafted by the Capitals in the fourth round, 93rd overall of the 2008 draft, while playing for the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey Leauge. Holtby saw the Blades through to the playoffs with a 2.32 Goals against average and a.912 save percentage. However, like most late boomers, Holtby worked hard to prove himself during his early career within the Capitals organization. His rookie season split between South Carolina in the East Coast Hockey Leauge and the Caps Affiliate team, the Hershey Bears. But perseverance paid off and the Canadian native made his NHL debut in the third period on November 5th, 2010 against the Boston Bruins.
In the coming years marked a difficult goaltending area for the Capitals. Semyon Varlamov was not performing well, and Michal Neuvirth fell victim to injury toward the end of the 2011-12 season. This is where Holtby or “Holtbeast” shined, the 2012 playoffs saw a calm collected young goaltender that loomed between the pipes. Holtby finished that off-season with a 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage.
In the 2014-15 season, Holtby achieved a league-high of an impressive 4,247 minutes and nine shoot outs. Which finally earned Holbty a continuous starter role. That season and the following 2015-16 season is argued as the one that steamrolled 30-year-old’s career and placed him as one of the top goalies in the NHL, Achieving a Vezina Trophy and coming fourth in the league for the Hart Trophy.
During his career, Holtby also tied Martin Brodeur for the most wins in a season with 48, and holds the Capitals’ franchise records for best GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.922) This hockey boomer has also achieved All-Star status every year since 2016-present.
However, Holtby has had some shaky periods in his NHL career, later seasons in particular, where he has relied heavily on backup goaltenders. But still capable of greatness, by succeeded in obtaining the most coveted prize, the Stanley Cup in the 2017-18 season. Those that look back will remember “The save”. If in doubt ask a Vegas Golden Knights fan.
Holtby has been loyal to the Washington Capitals and this season is his tenth with the team. He currently No small task considering the difficulty to break out in a highly stacked organization. He has exceeded all expectations and is a true unexpected hockey draft pick.
Other Notable Booms
The Capitals drafted Mathieu Perreault in the sixth round,177th overall, in the 2006 NHL Draft from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Where he tallied over 100 points in his last two seasons. This versatile forward, shorter than average, but a skilled faceoff man with speed to match. Perreault made his NHL debut on Nov. 4, 2009, with the Capitals against the New Jersey Devils.
However, it wasn’t until 2011-12 season that saw the two-way forward achieve a full season and a joint fifth in the team with 16 goals and led them with a 26.7 percent shooting percentage. The Capitals traded him to the Anaheim Ducks prior to the 2013-14 season. In return, the Drummondville native led Ducks centers with a 52.7 percent face-off success rate while achieving fifth on Anaheim in goals and fourth in points.
Although Perreault only found a permanent home after signing a three-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets before the 2014-15 season. He currently has another year left on a four-year deal with the Jets and continues to show skill, leadership, and adaptability. Perreault’s current career numbers are 627 games played with 130goals, 194 assists equalling 324 points.
Perreault Jets teammate Cody Eakin, became another successful draft pick from the Capitals. Eakin provided grit and solid checking with the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. And represented his country in the World Junior Championships for Canada. Initially drafted in the third round, 85th overall in the 2009 NHL draft. However, only spent one season with the organization before joining the Dallas Stars during a trade-in 2012. Eakins made his NHL debut on November 1, 2011, against the Ducks, but had to wait for the next game to score his first NHL goal.
Eakin’s career developed in the 2014-15 season with 19 goals, 21 assists for 40 points in 78 games. The Winnipeg native seemed to find his feet with a consistent 35 point game the year after too. However, due to injury Eakin missed valued game time during the 2016-17 season and joined the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. While there, Ekin achieved a milestone with a career goal high of 22 goals and found a permanent centre role within the team.
This season the 29-year-old decided to go home and was traded to the Jets. Up until the league’s postponement, Eakins played 586 career games achieving 103 goals, 134 assists with 237 points. This is likely to continue, which places Eakin in the Capitals draft boom list.
Other notables worthy of mentioning are Johnny Oduya and Philipp Grubauer, both went on to exceed draft expectations. Grubauer became instrumental to the Capitals Stanley Cup success in their regular season that year. The German native currently plays with the Colorado Avalance and has a good shot at getting another Cup this season avoiding further injury.
Sasha Pokulok, an imposing 6 foot 5″ defenseman, played for Cornell University, winning an NCAA championship and a Gold Medal in the U20 WJC. He was drafted in the first round, 14th overall in the 2005 NHL draft.
Pokulok suffered from multiple concussions and never played a game in the NHL, spending time in the AHL with the Hershey Bears and the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL with very little success.
Since then the Canadian born defensemen traveled the world to play hockey. Some include the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) in Germany, the Austrian Leauge (EBEL) and since 2013-present the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey with the Pétroliers du Nord. But painfully clear never at NHL standard. He was an unfortunate but poor investment on the Capitals part.
The Swede came with high expectations, being the son of former Capital Bengt Gustafsson. Known as a highly-skilled two-way center with good size and decent strength, who won the J18 SM Silver Medal and the J20 SM Gold Medal consecutively.
Drafted by the Capitals in the first round, 21st overall pick in the 2008 Draft Gustafsson never played in the NHL and only played a single game with the Hershey Bears before returning to Sweden. The was no real obvious reason for this bust other than failure to step up to the NHL level. The 30-year-old currently plays for EHC Biel-Bienne in Switzerland. Another disappointing pick for the Capitals team.
Drafted only 13 picks after Pokulok was Joe Finley. Unlike Pokulok, Finley did manage to see NHL time: a mere 21 games.
Finley was drafted in the first round, 27th overall, after an admittedly disappointing USHL season points-wise. He’d follow his draft by attending the University of North Dakota for four years. In those years, he only managed double-digit scoring twice – the latter two – and never totalled more than 15 points. It was a disappointing college career for the NHL first-rounder. Following it, he spent fur professional seasons alternating between the AHL and ECHL, never even managing 10 points. In the 2011-12 season, six years after he was drafted, Finley received his first taste of the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres suited him up for five games. He didn’t tally any points and fell back to the AHL in the following season.
In said following season, he was also given a chance by the New York Islanders. They suited him up for 16 games, where he managed one assist. It was a missed opportunity for the defenseman and he would never play another NHL game. He spent the next three seasons playing in the AHL, again never scoring even 10 points in one year, before moving to the SM-Liiga in Finland. In his first season in Finland, the 2016-17 campaign, Finley scored eight points in 46 games. In the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, he didn’t score any points in a combined 28 games.