The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan may have gotten more than she bargained for when talking to Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan today. The Stanley Cup-winning executive let slip some internal team building plans, a rarity in the tight-lipped NHL. MacLellan acknowledged that the Capitals currently have a surplus of defensive prospects, but took it even further, stating that he hopes to trade some away in exchange for forward prospects.
The first part of MacLellan’s statement is rather obvious and why Khurshudyan though to ask about his plans. The Capitals had struggled defensively for many years before putting together a solid unit en route to championship last season. Although it involved trading and later re-signing Brooks Orpik, the team was surprisingly able to keep the group together this year and moving forward, with seven of the nine defensemen who suited up in 2017-18 – most importantly the top six from the Cup run – returning. The top four of John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov are all signed through at least three more years, while Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey – both under 25 – are restricted free agents at the end of their current contracts. There isn’t much long-term opportunity for defensemen in the Capitals system, yet they are well-stocked in pro-caliber prospects. 2015 second-rounder Jonas Siegenthaler, 2016 first-rounder Lucas Johansen, and promising righty Connor Hobbs would all be pushing for NHL play time on a majority of teams across the league. The team also used first- and second-round picks on blue liners in June, selecting Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary respectively. While it doesn’t hurt to have a redundancy of talent, it does seem as though the Capitals have too many mouths to feed on defense over the next five years or so.
As such, MacLellan revealed that he would ideally trade some of those players for forward prospects of a similar caliber. Seeing as Johansen, Alexeyev, and Fehervary are recent high picks with room to grow, Siegenthaler and Hobbs would likely be the leading candidates to be dealt away, with an even an off-chance that one of Djoos or Bowey are dealt. Forwards of equal quality to that foursome would be far more valuable to Washington, who has ample opportunity up front moving forward but far fewer players to compete. Outside of Jakub Vrana, who Khurshudyan calls the Capitals’ “last high-end forward prospect”, and Andre Burakovsky, the depth of talent among young forwards in the system is not overwhelming. Many could have good careers as bottom-six forwards, including 2018 second- and third-round picks Kody Clark and Riley Sutter, but none seem to have much in the way of great top-six upside. The Capitals also don’t plan to be in a draft position next year to land a forward with elite scoring potential. So, they’re left to trade from an area of strength in the organization to fill an area of weakness. At least that is MacLellan’s plan. The fact that it is now public knowledge could help or hinder his attempts to make it happen.