WASHINGTON’S ALL-TIME DRAFT TEAM: FIRST CUP FOR BEST CAPS

The Capitals waited a long time to hoist the Stanley Cup. They finally scored their first NHL championship in 2018, with a big assist from the franchise’s all-time all-drafted team.

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin|USA Today

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin|USA Today

The Washington Capitals’ all-time all-drafted team was front and centre when the franchise won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2018. The Caps’ Cup-winning roster featured six key contributors who also rank among the team’s best-ever draft selections: Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov at centre, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson at right wing, John Carlson on defence and Braden Holtby in net.

All of those players remain in Washington as the Capitals gear up for another potential Cup run in the coming weeks. We’ll see how that plays out – or if it even happens at all – but in the meantime let’s take a look at Washington’s all-time team comprised of draft selections since the Caps entered the NHL in 1974.

The first line is pretty obvious – and incredibly dangerous. Backstrom and Ovechkin get Mike Gartner at left wing, meaning Backstrom has two 700-goal scorers to set up with his silky passes. Good luck trying to slow down this trio. There’s plenty more offence on the second line, with Kuznetsov skating between original Caps sniper Peter Bondra and underrated producer Andrew Brunette. Bondra will be in shoot-first mode with these two play makers.

The third line is the checking unit, or at least what passes for one, with defensive pivot Ryan Walter between power forward Wilson and offensively inclined Bengt Gustafsson. So, it’s not a full-on shutdown line, but Walter is the penalty-killing specialist, Wilson provides physicality, intimidation and supplementary offence, and Gustafsson gives the group a gunner. The fourth line has first-line potential, with centre Bobby Carpenter – the first American player to jump from high school to the NHL – skating between smooth wingers Alexander Semin and Filip Forsberg. Tantalising talent and scoring power, even if they don’t win any back checking awards.

The defence corps blends brute strength and sublime skill. Look at the first pairing – Scott Stevens and Sergei Gonchar. Stevens is one the best all-around defenceman in the history of the game, combining size, snarl, offensive acumen and a big shot, defensive excellence and, of course, some of the most devastating body checks ever seen in hockey. Many of them would get him suspended today, but they were legal (and lethal) when he was dishing them out. Gonchar, meanwhile, was one of the top two-way defencemen of his generation, with exceptional skating and puck skills which made him an elite power-play quarterback. This is a duo for the ages – and for the love of Lindros, keep your head up if you’re out there against them.

There’s an inevitable drop-off to the second pair, but not much. Carlson continues to emerge as one of the leading blueliners in the league, including a Norris Trophy-calibre effort this season. He plays with gigantic Kevin Hatcher, another Caps defender with enviable three-zone ability. These two can play it however you want, from up-tempo to a gritty, lock down game. The third ‘D’ pairing features defensive Rick Green, the No. 1 pick in 1976, and offensive Mike Green, the No. 29 pick in 2004. Green ‘The Rick’ gets PK duty and he’s out there protecting leads late in games, while Green ‘The Mike’ gets PP duty and he’s out there when the Caps are trailing late in games.

In net, there’s a number of contenders, but two stand above the rest. Holtby, as the first goalie to lead the Caps to a Cup, gets the No. 1 job. Olaf Kolzig, as the first goalie to lead the Caps to a Cup final – when they fell to Detroit in 1998 – gets the backup job.

Here are other players who were considered for Washington’s all-time all-drafted team. At centre: Michal Pivonka (59th, 1984), Jason Allison (17th, 1993), Dean Evason (89th, 1982) and Cody Eakin (85th, 2009). At right wing: Dmitri Khristich (120th, 1988), John Druce (40th, 1985), Keith Jones (141st, 1988), Trent Klatt (82nd, 1989) and Steve Leach (34th, 1984). At left wing: Marcus Johansson (24th, 2009), Mathieu Perreault (177th, 2006), Steve Konowalchuk (58th, 1991), Gaetan Duchesne (152nd, 1981), Richard Zednik (249th, 1994), Jakub Vrana (13th, 2014) and Andre Burakovsky (23rd, 2013). On defence: Robert Picard (third, 1977), Dmitry Orlov (55th, 2009), Brendan Witt (11th, 1993), Jason Woolley (61st, 1989), Ken Klee (177th, 1990), Johnny Oduya (221st, 2001) and Nick Boynton (ninth, 1997). In net: Semyon Varlamov (23rd, 2006), Philipp Grubauer (112th, 2010), Byron Dafoe (35th, 1989), Peter Sidorkiewicz (91st, 1981) and Michal Neuvirth (34th, 2006).

Here’s a look at Washington’s all-time all-drafted team. The 20-player lineup is based on players’ entire NHL body of work.

CENTRES
Nicklas Backstrom (4th, 2006)
Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th, 2010)
Ryan Walter (2nd, 1978)
Bobby Carpenter (3rd, 1981)

RIGHT WINGERS
Mike Gartner (4th, 1979)
Peter Bondra (156th, 1990)
Bengt Gustafsson (55th, 1978)
Alexander Semin (13th, 2002)

LEFT WINGERS
Alex Ovechkin (1st, 2004)
Andrew Brunette (174th, 1993)
Tom Wilson (16th, 2012)
Filip Forsberg (11th, 2012)

DEFENCEMEN
Scott Stevens (5th, 1982)
Sergei Gonchar (14th, 1992)
John Carlson (27th, 2008)
Kevin Hatcher (17th, 1984)
Mike Green (29th, 2004)
Rick Green (1st, 1976)

GOALIES
Braden Holtby (93rd, 2008)
Olaf Kolzig (19th, 1989)