Just a few hours after making a significant trade with Colorado to add a second-round draft choice to their quiver at the 2018 NHL Draft while also trimming payroll by a fair amount, the Capitals closed out the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft by choosing defenseman Alexander Alexeyev with the 31
stoverall pick, the final choice in the first round.
Alexeyev, who turns 19 in November, is a left-handed Russian blueliner who has played the last two seasons with WHL Red Deer. He stands 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at 196 pounds.
Just before he met with the media after being selected with the final choice of the Friday night portion of the draft, Alexeyev had a FaceTime call with Caps captain Alex Ovechkin.
“It means a lot,” says Alexeyev of the presence of three prominent Russian players already in Washington. “I just talked to Ovi and it was awesome. He just said congrats and a couple of nice words, so it was nice."
Did Alexeyev look up to those players – Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov as he was growing up and developing as a player?
“Oh yeah, for sure. When I was growing up and since I started playing hockey, I always watched them – Orlov, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.”
Asked which defensemen he models his game after, Alexeyev responded thusly: “I would say it’s something between Dmitry Orlov and Victor Hedman.”
That will work.
“Just a big weight came off of my shoulders,” said a broadly beaming Alexeyev of his reaction upon learning of his Washington destiny. “I was just like, ‘Phew, finally,’ and I just started being happy and I can’t explain what I feel right now, just amazing feelings.”
The choice of Alexeyev capped off a busy day for the Caps, who dealt defenseman Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to Colorado for a second-round pick – the 47
thoverall choice – in the 2018 Draft. The Caps now have two consecutive picks (46 and 47) in the middle of Saturday’s second round.
A restricted free agent with arbitration rights, Grubauer earned $1.5 million last season and will likely command a salary as much as twice that high in 2018-19. Washington plans on replacing him with Pheonix Copley, who is under contract at $650,000, saving Washington just under a million dollars on that roster slot.
The 38-year-old Orpik is headed into the final year of a five-year pact that carries a $5.5 million cap hit and $4.5 million actual salary in 2018-19. Friday’s deal saves the Capitals just under $6.5 million in cap space as they position themselves to retain as many of their impending UFAs and RFAs as possible. That list includes UFAs Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek and Michal Kempny and RFAs Devante Smith-Pelly and Tom Wilson.
“Part of it is Grubi wants to get to a spot where he can be a No. 1,” says MacLellan in explaining Friday’s trade. “He thinks he is ready and he’s ready for the next challenge, so we tried to get him to the best spot we could that was good for us, too.
“[It was] tough trading Brooks Orpik, for what he has done for the organization. He has been a big part of our culture change and a big part of the room and how we go about things, how we go about business. So it’s hard to do, but we had to create some room to sign some players.”
But the door may not be closed on an Orpik return to the District in time for next season. Colorado has expressed its intent to move Orpik elsewhere, or if it is unable to trade him, to buyout the last year of his deal before the June 30 deadline to do so. Teams issuing a buyout are prohibited from employing that player for a year afterwards, but the Caps would be executing the buyout in this instance.
“Yeah, I think it’s legal,” says MacLellan, of the possibility of Orpik finding his way back to Washington next season. “We’re open to that, depending on how much room and how much salary it would take and if we want to put him on that third pair again.”
According to capfriendly.com, the Capitals have roughly $21.2 million under the 2018-19 salary ceiling of $79.5 million after dealing Orpik and Grubauer. Washington has 15 players under contract and can carry a maximum of 23 players.
“Both him and Grubi are really good people, well-liked by their teammates,” says MacLellan. “You don’t like trading away good people, but it’s what we had to do to move forward with the team.”
Six of Washington’s last seven draft choices overall have been spent on defensemen. The Caps took blueliner Lucas Johansen at No. 28 in the 2016 Draft, the last first-round pick they made before Friday’s choice in Dallas. The Caps closed out that 2016 draft by taking defensemen Chase Priskie and Dmitriy Zaitsev in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively.
Washington didn’t have a pick until the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft, and it chose blueliner Tobias Geisser in the fourth round, defenseman Sebastian Walfridsson in the fifth and defenseman Benton Maass in the sixth round.
Entering the 2017-18 season, the Caps had a stable of a dozen defensemen aged 23 or younger in their system. Two of them – Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos – matriculated to the Capitals last season.
Here’s a quick look at how the remainder of the first round played out, before Washington capped off the evening with the selection of Alexeyev.
1. Buffalo – No drama with this pick, as the Sabres take the consensus top overall choice Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He fits nicely onto the rebuilding team’s roster, as the Sabres have had a need for a dynamic offensive defenseman for several seasons now. Dahlin joins Mats Sundin as the second Swedish player ever chosen first overall. Sundin was the first overall choice of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.
2. Carolina – The Hurricanes chose Russian right wing Andrei Svechnikov, who played for OHL Barrie last season, putting up a remarkable total of 40 goals and 72 points in just 44 games. Svechnikov joins a group of exciting young forwards in Carolina, a group that includes fellow recent first-rounders Elias Lindholm (2013) and Martin Necas (2017) as well as 2015 second-rounder Sebastian Aho. Svechnikov’s brother Evgeny was Detroit’s first-round pick (No. 19 overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
3. Montreal – The Habs have been desperate for help up the middle so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when they tabbed Finnish pivot Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick. The pick is Montreal’s highest since 2012 when it chose Alex Galchenyuk at No. 3 overall. The Canadiens swapped Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi last week. Kotkaniemi more than held his own as a 17-year-old in the Finnish League last season, totaling 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games.
4. Ottawa – The Senators snagged Brady Tkachuk, son of longtime NHL star Keith Tkachuk and brother of Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk. Brady Tkachuk is the highest drafted player in his talented family; Matthew went to the Flames at No. 6 overall in 2016 and Keith was chosen at No. 19 by Winnipeg back in 1990. A left wing, Brady Tkachuk totaled eight goals and 31 points as a freshman at Boston University last season.
5. Arizona – The Coyotes have had a fair number of top 10 picks in recent drafts, and they exercised this one on center Barrett Hayton of OHL Sault Ste. Marie. Arizona has had eight top 10 picks in the 2000s, and they’ve used all but one of them to choose forwards, with blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson (No. 6 overall in 2009) the lone exception. The Yotes haven’t gotten as much bang out of that group of forwards as they probably should have, so they’re hoping Hayton can change that trend.
6. Detroit – The Red Wings were likely pleasantly surprised to find Filip Zadina still on the board at this point, so they chose him rather than one of a group of blueliners projected to start flying off the shelves around this point of the draft.
7. Vancouver – The Canucks grabbed defenseman Quinn Hughes with the seventh overall pick, ending a run of five straight forwards. Hughes had a strong season at Michigan in 2017-18, and his younger brother Jack is the current odds on favorite to be the first player chosen overall in the 2019 NHL Draft next June in Vancouver.
8. Chicago – The Hawks have a need for some blueliners, and they added to their rearguard stable with the selection of Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist. Boqvist has nothing left to prove at the Swedish junior level, where he dominated with 14 goals and 24 points in 25 games last season. After moving up to play with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, he was used much more sparingly in 15 games, as a 17-year-old playing with and against men.
9. New York Rangers – The Rangers took a pair of European forwards (Swedish center Lias Andersson at No. 7 and Czech pivot Filip Chytil at No. 21) in the first round of the 2017 Draft – their first choices in the first round since 2012 – and they added another in the top 10 of the ’18 Draft with the selection of Russian winger Vitali Kravtsov.
10. Edmonton – The Oilers have a need for blueline help and they mad a solid addition with Evan Bouchard at No. 10. The righty-shooting Bouchard put up 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games with OHL London in 2017-18. Along with Darnell Nurse – who the Oilers took at No. 7 in 2013 – Bouchard is just the second blueliner to go to Edmonton in the top 10 since Paul Coffey was chosen sixth overall in 1980.
11. New York Islanders – With the first of two consecutive picks in the middle of the first round, the Isles took highly skilled forward Oliver Wahlstrom from the U.S. Development Team Program. A YouTube sensation from a decade ago or so, Wahlstrom piled up 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games with the USNDTP in 2017-18.
12. New York Islanders – Having grabbed a forward at No. 11, the Isles went with blueliner Noah Dobson at No. 12. New York obtained this pick from Calgary in the deal that sent defensemen Travis Hamonic to the Flames, so perhaps it was fitting that they chose a defender here. Dobson is a rangy and mobile puck mover who helped lead Acadie-Bathurst to a Memorial Cup championship this spring.
13. Dallas Stars – The host Stars used the No. 13 choice on center Ty Dellandrea of OHL Flint. He is a two-way pivot and character player who has put up middling numbers on a poor Flint team. The Stars chose center Radek Faksa with the No. 13 overall pick six years ago, in the 2012 NHL Draft.
14. Philadelphia Flyers – Already possessing a burgeoning stable of young blueline talent, the Flyers went with a pair of forwards with each of their first-round choices in 2018, taking winger Joel Farabee from the USNTDP at No. 14.
15. Florida Panthers – Florida went for Grigori Denisenko with its middle-of-the-first choice in 2018. Denisenko played last season in the Russian junior league (MHL) for the champs, Loko Yaroslavl.
16. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs went for the second of two Czech wingers taken in the first round, taking right wing Martin Kaut. Colorado has leaned heavily toward forwards with its first-round picks in most recent drafts. Before taking blueliner Cale Makar with the fourth overall choice in the 2017 NHL Draft, the Avs expended seven straight first-round choices on forwards. Friday’s choice of Kaut makes it eight of the last nine.
17.New Jersey Devils – The Devils are another team that has leaned heavily toward forwards with many of its recent high picks in the draft, but New Jersey dipped into the defense derby when it chose Ty Smith at No. 17. A smallish (5-10, 180) left-handed rearguard, Smith put up 14 goals and 73 points in 69 games with WHL Spokane in 2017-18.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets – Columbus chose winger Liam Foudy, one of the fastest skaters in he 2018 Draft, at No. 18. His totals of 24 goals and 40 points in 65 games for OHL London may seem modest, but he earned more playing time in the second half of the season, piling up 28 of those points in the final 19 games of the campaign.
19. Philadelphia Flyers – With their second choice in the first round of the 2018 Draft, the Flyers chose Thayer Academy product Jay O’Brien, who is headed to Providence University in the fall. With the addition of O’Brien, Philly has now accumulated six forwards in the first rounds of the last four drafts.
20. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings chose Finnish center Rasmus Kupari. He played for a championship team (Karpat Oulu) in the Finnish senior league, and then helped the U18 team to a gold medal at the U18 Worlds this spring.
21. San Jose Sharks – San Jose swung for the fences, taking defenseman Ryan Merkley of OHL Guelph. Merkley is one of those defensemen we seem to see every year who could go in the top 10 or in the second round, depending upon how the whole thing plays out. Merkley has high-end offensive ability, but will require some work at the other end of the ice to succeed at the pro level. He has totaled 25 goals and 122 points in 125 games over the last two seasons with Guelph, so the upside is high if he can refine the defensive side of his game.
22. New York Rangers – After obtaining this pick from Ottawa, the Rangers grabbed USNTDP defenseman K’Andre Miller, the second of two U.S.-born blueliners chosen in the first round, following Hughes. Miller is headed to U. of Wisconsin in the fall, and the big (6-3, 205) lefty offers excellent mobility, skating ability, and some offensive upside in addition to his size.
23. Anaheim Ducks – Anaheim has featured a strong group of pivots recently when at peak health, with the likes of Ryans Getzlaf and Carter, Adam Henrique and Antoine Vermette manning the middle for the Ducks in ’17-18. But that quartet is aging, and injuries have been bothersome. The Ducks restocked up the middle with Swedish center Isac Lundestrom at No. 23.
24. Minnesota Wild – Another Swedish defenseman went at No. 24, as the Wild snared Filip Johansson. Johansson is the first defenseman the Wild has taken in the first round since Mathew Dumba at No. 7 in 2012. Minnesota got Jonas Brodin at No. 10 in 2011.
25. St. Louis Blues – The Blues went for German winger Dominik Bokk, dealing away a third-round pick to Toronto in order to move up four slots for him. With Bokk, the Blues have now reeled in four forwards with their last four first-rounders over the last three drafts.
26. Ottawa Senators – The Sens got a second-rounder from the Rangers to move down from No. 22 to No. 26, and Ottawa went for AJHL defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker after dropping down four slots. Bernard-Docker was the fifth of six Canadian defensemen chosen in Friday night’s first round.
27. Chicago Blackhawks – With their second choice in the first round, the Hawks picked Nicolas Beaudin, the sixth of those half dozen defenders from our beloved neighbors to the north. Beaudin was the third of four Quebec Leaguers chosen in the first round and – behind Dobson – the second of two blueliners from that circuit. Beaudin turns 19 in early October and piled up a dozen goals and 69 points in 68 games with Drummondville last season, so he is likely just a season away from turning pro.
28. New York Rangers – The Rangers exercised their third choice of the first round on Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist. who played half of last season in the men’s league in his native country. After going four straight drafts without any first-round choices, the Blueshirts have now had five first-rounders in the last two drafts.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs – With their first pick in 2018, the Maple Leafs chose blueliner Rasmus Sandin, the sixth Swede and the fifth Swedish defenseman chosen in the first round of the ’18 Draft. Sandin played last season with OHL Sault Ste. Marie, and he was the second Greyhound chosen in the first round, following Hayton at No. 5.
30. Detroit Red Wings – The Wings chose center Joe Veleno with their second choice in the first round. Veleno is Beaudin’s Drummondville teammate, and he offers some value at this slot, having been ranked higher by some scouting services and pundits.
Players from seven different nations were chosen in the first round, and Canada led the way with 10 players followed by Sweden and the United States with six each. Fourteen defensemen, eight centers, six right wings and three left wings were chosen.