Monday, July 27, 2009


No, we are not going to launch into a tortured version of the Three Dog Night tune from several decades ago. It is the product of the 2005 entry draft for the Washington Capitals, and we'll get to that later. Let's just say up front that the draft that yielded Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh Penguins was not nearly so kind to the Caps. Seven players were picked in that draft…

Sasha Pokulok, defenseman (1st round/16th overall; Central Scouting ranking – 39th NA skater)

On the day he was selected, folks in Caps Nation could be forgiven for asking, “Sasha who?” To call Pokulok a “reach” would be classic understatement. Pokulok was the 39th-ranked North American skater in the final Central Scouting Service rankings. Pokulok would go on to play one more season at Cornell University, then he turned pro. It was a disaster. He sustained a concussion in his first game with the Hershey Bears, then missed four months before returning to action as a member of the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL. He played less than 20 games before suffering a second concussion. They were injuries from which he would not really recover. Even if he was in perfect health, he lost too much developmental time. Through the 2008-2009 season, Pokulok played in only 97 regular season games over three seasons in the AHL and NHL, and another 29 playoff games (all with South Carolina). The Capitals declined to retain rights to Pokulok this past June, his never having appeared in an NHL game.

Joe Finley, defenseman (1/27; CSS 32nd ranked NA skater)

The other first round pick, Finley had the size at the draft (6’7”, 229) and reputation for a mean streak that fans would likely have enjoyed seeing displayed on Verizon Center ice. After that draft he joined the University of North Dakota program – one of the finest in the NCAA. He served all four years of his eligibility, but not without incident. Deciding to return to UND for his senior season, he suffered a concussion of his own in the season’s second week. He missed two months before returning to the ice and played in only 27 games for the Fighting Sioux. He was signed by the Caps after completing his eligibility at UND and played in one game for Hershey this past spring. At the recently completed development camp, Finley started the week on defense but finished it playing left wing. Where his future lies appears to be an open question. He has not, as of yet, made an appearance with the Capitals.

Andrew Thomas, defenseman (4/109; CSS 80th ranked NA skater)

Thomas had completed his first year of college hockey when the Caps drafted him. He would spend another three years at the University of Denver. Unlike Finley, however, he would not join the Capitals or an affiliate upon completing his college eligibility. In 2008-2009 he split time with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL and the Iowa Chops of the AHL in the Anaheim Ducks’ system. Games played with the Caps: zero.

Patrick McNeill, defenseman (4/118; CSS 75th NA skater)

McNeill was the fourth defenseman taken by the Caps in the 2005 draft but the first player selected by the Caps in 2005 out of Canadian juniors, his having completed two years with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. McNeill played two more years with the Spirit before making the jump to the pro ranks under an entry-level contract with the Caps in time for the 2007-2008 season. He’s had some difficulty getting traction in the pro ranks. After surpassing the 20-goal mark in each of his last two years with the Spirit, he has netted only nine in 113 games as a pro with South Carolina and Hershey. Last year, he appeared in only 46 of 80 regular season games for Hershey and in 10 playoff games in the Bears’ march to the Calder Cup. He will begin his final year of his entry deal as a member of the Bears, and it does not appear as though he will make his NHL debut soon.

Daren Machesney, goaltender (5/143; CSS 5th ranked NA goaltender)

Machesney was the 16th of 23 goaltenders taken in the 2005 draft, and it is worth noting that only three goalies out of that 23-member class have played as many as 10 games in the NHL (Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, and Ondrej Pavelec). The other four members of that class who have seen NHL action have played in a combined 14 games. Machesney would be part of a habit in Caps drafting behavior in that his selection was the second in a five consecutive year run in which the Caps selected at least one goaltender. His selection looked promising after he followed up his selection by the Caps with a 12-win improvement in Brampton in the OHL. He made the leap to the pros in the following year, struggling a bit – as might be expected – posting a GAA on the north side of 3.00 and a save percentage south of .900 with both South Carolina and Hershey. In the 2007-2008 year, though, he improved his numbers dramatically, going 22-10-2, 2.55, .916 with the Bears. However, he was being pushed from below by 2006 draftees Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Of the five goalies who would dress for the Bears in the 2008-2009 season, he would lead them in games (36) and tie for the lead in wins (19, with Varlamov). But his other numbers were shaky – a 3.24 GAA and a .876 save percentage. He struggled late in the season in particular, getting pulled in consecutive games in late February and losing his last three regular season decisions. He did not make an appearance in the playoffs as Michal Neuvirth led the Bears to the Calder Cup. The Caps cut their ties with Machesney in June. Oddly enough Macheney was signed by the Manitoba Moose, the team that the Bears defeated in the Calder Cup final.

Tim Kennedy, left wing (6/181; 162nd NA skater)

Kennedy was drafted while skating for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL and entered Michigan State University after his being drafted by the Caps. Kennedy showed a flair for the dramatic at MSU, scoring the game winning goal against Notre Dame in the 2007 NCAA regional final that sent the Spartans to the Frozen Four, then getting the primary assist on Justin Abdelkader’s national championship-winning goal with only 18.9 seconds left in the final against Boston College. The thing is, though, by the time Kennedy was helping the Spartans to a national title, he was property of the Buffalo Sabres. He was traded to the Sabres in 2006 for a 6th round draft pick. That pick became Mathieu Perreault.

Viktor Dovgan, defenseman (7/209; unranked by CSS)

Dovgan was not ranked among European skaters in the 2005 CSS amateur rankings, and it is part of what made Dovgan the most intriguing pick of the seven players selected by the Caps. The league claimed that Dovgan was ineligible for the 2005 draft, the issue being his date of birth. The Capitals won the battle over determining Dovgan’s eligibility, but it might have been something of a Pyrrhic victory. Dovgan played a season for Samara in Russia after being drafted, then came across to play in 56 games at South Carolina in 2006-2007 (with one game in Hershey). Dovgan decided against playing in North America the following year, citing the fact that it would be easier to remain in Russia with his wife and infant child than to bring them to the States. Dovgan played that season for CSKA-Moscow, then returned to the U.S., playing 53 games in South Carolina last year and a pair in Hershey. It isn’t clear whether Dovgan will find himself playing in South Carolina or in Hershey next year. Whatever the result, any opportunity he might have to play for the Caps is perhaps years away.

So now we get to the “one” part of this exercise. Of this collection of draftees, only one – Tim Kennedy – has dressed for an NHL game. And one game is precisely what he has played… as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. In 11 minutes of action, he had one shot, one shot blocked, one hit, and lost one faceoff in a 4-3 win over the Islanders on December 27th of last year.

Although it might be premature, even now, to call the 2005 draft a “bust” (as we await the future of Joe Finley), no team in the NHL has gotten less to date out of the 2005 draft year than have the Caps. The one NHL game that the 2005 class of Caps draft picks has to show for itself ties the Islanders for the fewest NHL appearances from this class (and Masi Marjamaki at least played his game as a member of the Islanders).

To be fair, the Caps have had some fine draft years in the last decade. The 2004 draft would have been a good one without Alex Ovechkin at the top of the class. Based on the early returns from Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, one might like the prospects of the 2006 class (and that doesn’t include what Nicklas Backstrom has already contributed). But the fact remains as well that the Caps haven’t had a player selected after the second round play as many as 20 games with the Capitals in his career since Sebastien Charpentier (a goaltender at that) and Benoit Gratton, both of whom were selected in the 1995 entry draft (Charpentier in the fourth round, Gratton in the fifth).

As much as we might see a productive NHL future – with the Capitals, hopefully – for draft picks of more recent vintage such as Cody Eakin, Braden Holtby, Stefan Della Rovere, or even Oskar Osala, they are swimming upstream against the Capitals’ history of drafting in mid to late rounds. Like all Caps fans, we hope that with time has come improvement in this area. Time, as they say, will tell.