George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.
This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.
“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”
Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.
The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.
McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.
“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”
At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.
WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.
McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.
He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.
“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”