Caps and NHL Draft News

June 21, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Caps Pick Two in First Round, Trade Eminger

With the 21st pick in the 2008 NHL draft the Washington Capitals selected center Anton Gustafsson from Sweden. Does the name sound familiar Caps fans? Well, it should because Anton is the son of former Capitals great Bengt Gustafsson, who played nine seasons for Washington back in the 1980’s. In order to get Anton, who is a highly skilled player, GM George McPhee traded his 23rd pick and 54th overall pick to New Jersey. Gustafsson had back problems this past season, which is the likely reason his draft stock dropped. Gustafsson does have some size to him at 6’ 2” and 194 pounds and he is more physical than his father, although “Gus” was very strong on the puck back in his day and could lay some sneaky heavy hits to unsuspecting opponents.

In a conference call after the first round Anton said he’s done a lot of rehab on his injured back this season. He also said he’s never played with future teammate and fellow countryman Nicklas Backstrom. Anton was hurt prior to this past year’s world junior tournament so he didn’t get a chance to play for Sweden. When I asked him how he compares to his father he said “I feel I will be better than my dad, I have a better shot – my dad couldn’t shoot.” It should be noted that the elder Gustafsson once scored 5 goals in a game against the Flyers. McPhee called Anton a competitive kid who plays hard. It was clear from his phone interview that Anton is very confident in his abilities.

In a very trade heavy draft night (more on that below), McPhee then moved back up into the first round obtaining the Philadelphia Flyers other 1st round pick and 27th overall in the draft in exchange for former Caps first round pick defensemen Steve Eminger and the 84th pick in this year’s draft. According to McPhee one of the primary reasons Eminger was moved was to allow some of the younger players to get more ice time. George pointed out that last year the Caps carried eight defensemen and it didn’t work well for the coaches so this year they will carry only seven.

With the pick obtained from Philadelphia the Caps then took physical defensemen John Carlson from Indiana of the United States Hockey League. Carlson, who was born in Natick, Massachusetts, has a strong shot and will play for former Caps great Dale Hunter and his brother Mark with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this upcoming season (the Hunter brothers selected him in the 2nd round of the 2008 OHL draft). In a conference call after the first round Carlson said he needs to work on his defensive zone next season but he does pride himself on his offensive abilities. Carlson passed up a scholarship to UMass to play in the OHL because he thinks London is best for his development and to help reach his goal of playing in the NHL.

For anyone who watched it, the first round of the 2008 NHL draft turned into a major trade fest with at least a dozen deals made in the first round (rounds two through seven start Saturday at 10am). When I asked McPhee about all of trades tonight he attributed the moves to the fact that teams seem to be more focused on one year at a time with the salary cap. George also said that he didn’t feel any pressure to do anything trade-wise despite the moves he made and he feels that the team is in pretty good shape. The key, he says, will be to continue to let the young team play and develop.

Here is a list of all players drafted by the Caps at the 2008 NHL Entry draft:

Rd.  No.        Name        Pos.  Ht.  Wt. Birthplace Amateur Team

1    21    Anton Gustafsson  C  6’2”  194 Karlskoga, Swe. Frolunda Jr. (Swe.-Jr.)

1    27    John Carlson          D 6’2”  212 Natick, Mass. Indiana (USHL)

2    57    Eric Mestery          D  6’5”  190 Winnipeg, Man. Tri-City Americans (WHL)

2    58    Dmitri Kugryshev  RW 5’11”  183 Moscow, Russia CSKA-2 Moskva (Russia-3)

4    93    Braden Holtby       G   6’1”   205 Lloydminster, Sask Saskatoon (WHL)

5    144  Joel Broda             C   6’    196  Yorkton, Sask Moose Jaw (WHL)

6    174  Greg Burke            LW 6’1”   185  Portsmouth, NH Jr. Monarchs (EJHL)

7    204  Stefan Della Rovere LW 5’10”  196 Maple, Ont. Barrie Colts (OHL)

NHL News from the Draft

As for the rest of the draft, as expected forward Steve Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting was taken first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning and following that pick there was a run on OHL defensemen with the Kings taking Drew Doughty, the Thrashers grabbing Zach Bogosian, and the Blues picking Alex Pietrangelo.

As predicted in this blog earlier in the week the Toronto Maple Leafs moved up going from the 7th pick to 5th overall. With that pick Toronto took big defensive defensemen Luke Schenn from Kelowna and this is easily the best Leafs draft pick in years.

Thrashers GM Don Waddell has to really regret trading defensemen Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia during the 2006-07 season for Alexei Zhitnik because with a defense of Coburn and Bogosian to go along with forward Ilya Kovalchuk that team would be very competitive (and had they retained Coburn Waddell might have been able to sign free agent forward Marian Hossa and not have to trade him to the Penguins). But luckily for Caps fans Waddell made a foolish move and the Thrashers are now longshots to make the playoffs next season. The Thrashers did hire Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson to be their new head coach this afternoon. I alluded to the prospect of a team hiring Anderson in my previous blogs, primarily because he is a long time successful minor league coach much like Bruce Boudreau, who came up from the AHL to resurrect the Caps and win the 2008 Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year in the NHL.

Before the draft even began the Calgary Flames made the most noise trading forward Alex Tanguay and a 5th round pick this year to the Montreal Canadiens for the Habs 2008 1st round pick (25th overall) and a second round pick in 2009. Calgary then traded their 17th overall pick in the first round this year to Los Angeles for forward Mike Cammalleri. Camalleri had a rough year with the Kings last year but two years ago he scored 34 goals and will likely benefit from playing with superstar center Jarome Iginla next season. The moves by the Flames save them $1.9M in salary cap for a team that has some tough financial decisions ahead this summer (they really need to sign unrestricted free agent forward Daymond Langkow) and it rids coach Mike Keenan of Tanguay. To say the two never clicked is the understatement of the year. I’m not a Keenan fan but he has 2 more years on his contract in Calgary and at one time he was a mentor to Flames GM Darryl Sutter. However, at age 58, Keenan’s passion for the game is in question and the Flames are a team that is built to win now so things may get hot quick for Iron Mike if Calgary does not play well in the first half of next seasaon.

Another big name moving tonight was Florida Panthers forward Olli Jokinen, who was dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes for defensemen Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton and a 2008 second round pick. Jokinen is a huge talent and I think this trade weakens the Panthers but they had no choice because Olli wanted out. Coyotes GM Wayne Gretzky then added to his great night by drafting Kitchener forward Mikkel Boedker with the 8th pick. Boedker has been mentioned in my blogs before and he is a highly skilled, excellent skating forward who some say has a chance of playing in the NHL this season.

Also traded at the draft, primarily because they need salary cap relief, was forward R.J. Umberger of the Philadelphia Flyers along with the Flyers 4th round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for one of their two first round picks (19th overall – Philly took defensemen Luca Sbisa of Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League) and their 3rd round pick. The Flyers need to clear salary so that they can sign restricted free agent forward Jeff Carter. Umberger had 10 goals in 17 playoff games this past spring and played college hockey at Ohio State so he will be well liked in Columbus.