July 25, 2014

Washington Capitals go for grit in rounds 3 and 4 of NHL Draft

Chandler Stephenson

After trading their second round pick to the Dallas Stars as part of the Mike Ribeiro trade Friday, the Washington Capitals’ first draft pick Saturday was in the third round at No. 77. With it, the Capitals selected Chandler Stephenson, a forward from the Regina Pats. A former teammate of now-Hershey Bear Garrett Mitchell, who captained the WHL team in 2010-2011, Stephenson is the Capitals’ second consecutive 2012 pick who lists Boston Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic as his favorite player.

Stephenson battled a knee injury in the second half of the 2011-2012 season with Regina, but still managed to put up some good numbers, with 42 points in 55 games. He also led the Western Canadian team in scoring during the 2011 World Under-17 Challenge with six points (4g, 2a) in five games. Though relatively small (listed at 5’10″, but at a decent 192 lbs), Stephenson has many positive attributes that made him very attractive to scouts.

Despite his size, he’s physical in all zones of the ice and is particularly strong in corner puck battles. In fact, he finished first at the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine in the pushup test with 52. He has a good, fast skating stride and surprisingly soft hands. He also packs a hard shot — at this year’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, only very shortly after coming back from his injury, he clocked a 94.1 MPH slapshot.

Humble and with a great work ethic (he was awarded the Pats’ Most Sportsmanlike Player honor this past season), Stephenson is a coach’s dream.

Thomas DiPauli

In the fourth round at No. 100, the Capitals drafted another 2011 World Under-17 Challenge alum, but this time from the American team: Thomas DiPauli. DiPauli, ranked the 81st North American skater by Central Scouting, was born in Italy but moved to the Chicago area in his teens in order to pursue hockey. He most recently comes from the US National Development Team, and scored 20 points in 51 games last season. He’s committed to the University of Notre Dame next year.

DiPauli, another small but strong shut-down two-way pivot, also participated in the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championships, winning a gold medal with USA while serving as an alternate captain, and scoring one goal in the tournament.

The third straight defensive forward selected by the Capitals in the draft shows that the Capitals are trying to head in a gritty direction, a departure from their purely-skilled selections in the past. DiPauli, who said he models his game after New York Rangers ironman Ryan Callahan, specializes in winning defensive zone faceoffs, a skill that definitely comes in handy for the final few minutes of any close game. His talents should serve him well next year with a strong Notre Dame team.

Austin Wuthrich

The oldest player the Capitals selected in 2012, Wuthrich was eligible for the 2011 draft, but was passed over. No problem for Wuthrich — he had a successful freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, leading freshmen in scoring with 17 points in 36 games, and finishing the season second on the team in plus/minus with a plus-4.

“I didn’t really look at the NHL Draft as being a big part of last year for me,” Wuthrich told the Fighting Irish website earlier this week. “I didn’t worried about it; it wasn’t a focus for me. I got off to a good start at Notre Dame and after the season ended I started getting calls from different teams telling me that they were considering me.”

He ended up getting the call from the Caps brass in the fourth round (107th overall). The 6’1″ Alaska-grown winger is well-noted for his strength — he is very tough to play against and can dole out some impressive body checks. He’s not the best skater, though his skating has improved over the last year (and know he knows it needs more work), but he possesses an excellent shot that will serve him even better as he continues to work on his stride. He also enjoys causing problems for opposing goaltenders, as he doesn’t mind getting close to the net and scoring the all-important dirty goals.

Erika Schnure is a Contributor to District Sports Page, specializing in Washington Capitals prospects. She has been a hockey writer since 2010.

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