- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 22, 2021

If Ross Mahoney had his way, the Washington Capitals’ assistant general manager would have been able to meet with draft prospects in person for interviews and scouting.

But Mahoney didn’t have his way, what with the coronavirus pandemic and all. So Mahoney and front office members across the NHL have prepared for this weekend’s NHL draft the only way they can, incorporating more video review into the scouting process, adding additional meetings with scouts and continuing Zoom interviews with prospects to formulate targets.

“You’re trying to make the best of a situation that we haven’t been through before with the pandemic,” Mahoney said Tuesday on another video conference call with reporters.

Still, as Washington nears the NHL draft — with the first round taking place Friday before the draft concludes Saturday — the Capitals haven’t changed one aspect of their approach, even without a first-round selection this go-around.

The team wants to find the best talent available once the 55th pick arrives, regardless of position. And Mahoney feels there could be an increased chance at finding a diamond in the rough based on the scouting limitations each NHL team has undergone this draft cycle.

“We’ve talked about it as a group that we might be able to get a player later in the draft that maybe should go higher, just because of not having the normal viewings for all the teams,” Mahoney said. “We’re hoping that does happen.”

There’s a certain element of unknown about many of the players. Some junior leagues held abbreviated seasons, while others, such as the OHL, didn’t play a season at all this year; the OHL instead opted for a showcase in Erie, Pennsylvania.

That leaves Mahoney to trust the area scouts more, those who have seen the players more frequently than he has. In past years, Mahoney and other Capitals front office members might see a prospect play live 10 or 12 times.

This year, with the altered circumstances, the video review and scout feedback were even more necessary to supplement the time missed. But there’s still something lacking about watching a player through a screen.

“The video is very good, but it’s tough to replace a live viewing,” Mahoney said. “Sometimes when you’re watching a video, you might not have every player visually in front of you at the same time. When if you’re at a game and you’re sitting there, you can see everybody in the picture.”

Washington heads into the draft this weekend with five picks. The Capitals won’t have a first-round selection for the first time since 2017 after trading that pick to the Detroit Red Wings as part of a deal that brought forward Anthony Mantha to D.C. toward the end of last season.

Mahoney didn’t rule out a trade that could potentially move the team back into the first round, and he said Washington aims to have their bases covered for any sudden movement.

“You don’t know what will present itself, whether there’s an opportunity to acquire a first-round pick or not,” Mahoney added. “Right now, it’s going ahead with our list and being prepared to make the picks where we are. … We just try to take it as if we’re picking No. 1, or No. 5, or No. 8, and treat it that way. You don’t want any surprises if a situation does arise.”

The Capitals enter a critical juncture of the offseason without much room to maneuver. According to CapFriendly, Washington has $9,735,407 of cap space available, making re-signing captain Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Ilya Samsonov more complicated.

The team had left Brenden Dillon and Justin Schultz — a pair of pricey blueliners — available to the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday’s expansion draft, but the NHL’s newest franchise chose goalie Vitek Vanecek instead, who’s under a team-friendly contract.

But before those decisions could come after this weekend’s NHL draft, in which Washington could unearth a hidden gem in the later rounds — one that could play a major role at Capital One Arena in the years to come.

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