NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Washington Capitals best draft class.
Washington Capitals Best Draft Class in History.
There have been many discussions regarding what draft year to select for our series. The Washington Capitals have delivered substantial star players over franchise history. But many draft years have an abundance of mediocre players that achieved some success along with it. Based on the high turnout of high-quality players spread over the years, it makes sense to focus on that and pick the 2004 Draft year as the Washington Capitals best draft class as it produced the greatest player in Capitals history, the “Great Eight” himself, Alex Ovechkin.
Alex Ovechkin ( 1st round, 1st overall)
The Capitals have had the first overall pick just three times in draft history. The Russian superpower is one of them and is fastly edging toward numbers of the likes of Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time. Playing for Dynamo Moskva in Russia before entering the NHL in the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin joined Gretzky in the 700 goal mark before reaching 35 and has spent 16-years so far with the Capitals and shows no signs of slowing down. So far achieving career numbers of 1197 games, 730 goals 590 assists for 1320 points. The Capitan has achieved eight seasons in this time with 50 or over-season goals. The Moscow native won the Maurice Richard Trophy for the ninth time in 2019-20 and has won the Stanley Cup in 2018. The aftermath celebration became legendary. Ovechkin also adds the Calder Memorial Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and Conn Smythe Trophy to his cabinet.
However, it is Ovechkin’s physicality, toughness, and love of the game that make him a fan favourite.
Mike Green (1st round,29th overall)
Although overshadowed in this draft class, Mike Green had a favourable NHL career. One that has seen him spend a decade of time with the Capitals. First spending time with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL before entering the show during the 2005-06 season. The Canadian-born native flipped between the Capitals and affiliate team Hershey Bears for some years before solidifying a permanent role achieving a career-high of 31 goals, 42 assists totalling 73 points. During his time as a Capital, Green set the record of most goals by a defenceman three out of four seasons between 2015-2013. The 35-year-old, as a free agent transferred to the Detriot Red Wings in 2015. And continued to contribute offensively, however, never at the same numbers as when involved in the Capitals. Before announcing his retirement last year, Green joined the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a conditional 4th round draft pick in 2020 and Kyle Brodziak. Playing only two games before opting out with health issues.
Green received All-Star game honours twice (2011 and 2018) and was on the NHL’s First All-Star team in both 2009 and 2010. In 2008, Green won a silver medal with Team Canada at the Ice Hockey World Championships. As a first-round pick who spent the majority of his hockey career with the Capitals, he deserves a mention as part of the best draft class.
Other Draft Classes
There are so many players in so many draft classes in Capitals history that deserve an honourable mention here. But in order to be concise here are but a few.
Nicklas Backstrom is considered one of the best playmakers in Capitals history. Drafted in the 1st round, 4th overall. The Swedish native has played the whole 14 years of his hockey career with the Capitals and has achieved career stats of 1011 games, 254 goals, 720 assists totalling 974 points. Backstrom will be immortalized as part of the 2018 Stanley Cup-winning team.
Another notable not to be forgotten is Scott Stevens. The Canadian native drafted 1st round, 5th overall by the Capitals after success with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. This followed eight years with the Capitals and saw productivity. However, Stevens’s career highlights developed when traded from the St. Louis Blues to the New Jersey Devils as compensation for St. Louis’ signing of free agent Brendan Shanahan. Stevens won three Stanley Cups with the Devils in 1995, 2000, and 2003. The defenceman was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Stanley Cup 1999-2000 season. Stevens played as an NHL All-Star 13 times, no easy feat, and retired a Devil in 2005 a brief coaching career followed. In 2007 Stevens was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Lastly, this series cannot be complete without two Capitals icons. Two that are canonized in the rafters to this day. Mike Gardener and Dale Hunter both achieved over 1400 games in their hockey career. Dale Hunter immortalized the Capitals spirit displaying toughness and aggression. During 14 years with the Capitals, Hunter acquired 2003 penalties in minutes, later becoming the 2nd NHL leader in history with 3,565 career PIM. The Canadian native also served as team captain from 1994 to 1999. Hunters number was retired on March 11, 2000.
In comparison, Mike Gartner played the best decade of his career with the Capitals achieving a career-high with 50 goals, 52 assists totalling 102 points. Gartner also played briefly with the Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Phonix Coyotes. The Canadian forward’s number was retired in 2008 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
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