With the NHL offseason kicking off last week, hockey fans are turning their eyes to the Rogers Arena in Vancouver where the draft will be held on June 21 and 22. While they just traded away one of their top defensemen, most folks agree the Washington Capitals lack depth among forward prospects after failing to draft a forward in the first round since the 2014 selection of Jakub Vrana. Most analysts therefore believe they should use the 25th overall to select a forward.
There’s no doubt that the real big name prospects like Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will be off the board by the time the Caps are on the clock (they’ll probably be the first two picks, after all), but there are some solid names that will likely still be available for Washington. The organization has had some success in the past will having a pick around number 25 as Mike Green, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were all picked in the 20s. With that in mind, the big name that keeps coming up in mock drafts and from people who know the junior hockey world well is Egor Afanasayev.
Afanasayev is a Russian born forward with decent size as he’s 6’4″ and weighs in at 200 pounds. After coming to the United States at the age of 15, he’s spent the last two years playing for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. He had previously committed to playing for Michigan State next year, but decided against going the collegiate route and has already been drafted by the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, who then went on to trade his rights to the Windsor Spiritfires. The general consensus, however, is that he’d rather go the AHL route after having a successful season with the Lumberjacks.
Afanasayev’s draft stock keeps rising as he went from a fourth liner in the 2017-2018 season to one of the USHL’s top goal scorers last season (he had 62 points in 58 games, 27 of which were goals). Although he has a powerful slapshot and a wrist shot with a quick release, his offensive numbers are largely viewed as coming from his skating ability. His “elite skating ability” allows him to be elusive as he’s able to gracefully shift his weight around in such a way that defenders will think he’s heading one way only to end up watching him blow past them going the opposite direction.
On top of being a great skater, he’s able to protect the puck well and has an uncanny ability to create havoc in front of the net and pounce on rebounds. This ability to be a strong presence in front of the net helps him not only score goals himself, but he has a reputation for being able to set up scoring opportunities for his teammates as well. This could come from growing up in the Russian hockey community that Afanasayev says places more emphasis on passing, but he readily admits he’s also working with coaches here in the US who’ve helped him become more aggressive.
The 18 year old comes across as mature for his age and describes himself as “a 200 foot power forward” who prefers to play the wing instead of center (though he’s spent some time in that role). That being said, it’s generally accepted that big forwards take a little more time to develop and Afanasayev still has room for improvement when it comes to his defensive play. Scouting reports say he gets out of position a lot on defense and ends up watching the puck instead of moving his feet while hanging out near the top. He’s able to use his size effectively on defense, however, as he uses it to largely take away shooting lanes and disrupting passes and potential breakouts.
Although Afanasayev’s name has been a major part of the discussion surrounding who the Capitals will select, there have been a couple other names thrown out there. The crew over at Japers’ Rink, for instance, recently participated in a mock draft with the SB Nation community and suggested the Caps would end up selecting Patrik Puistola who currently plays in Finland’s Mestis League. Others have also suggested forwards Pavel Dorofeyev and Nils Hoglander.
No matter who they pick in the first round, there won’t be much else happening for the Capitals as they traded away three of their seven draft picks for the 2019 draft. This comes on the heals of trading away draft picks from previous drafts as well, which means the team will need to focus in on developing the prospects that they currently have if they hope to remain perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup.