You might’ve heard this one before: the Washington Capitals selected a right-shooting left-winger from Russia in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. But it wasn’t an obvious choice this time around, as general manager (GM) Brian MacLellan used the 20th overall pick on Ivan Miroshnichenko, who was regarded as a top-10 prospect until March when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. However, the 18-year-old returned to the ice in June, leading the Capitals to select him in Round 1 of the 2022 Draft.
Answering questions from reporters in Montreal, assistant GM Ross Mahoney said: “We always give all the information we have to our medical staff, and they advised us on what they feel: we’re really happy to get him.”
When quizzed on whether uncertainty surrounding Russia also played a factor in Miroshnichenko dropping to pick No. 20, he added: “It might’ve. I don’t know the minds of the other teams and where they’re picking.
“We talked the other day about how there’s lots of uncertainty in the draft in a lot of ways and I guess that would be a situation also. But we’ve always made our list and put it in the order of the player that we’d take and he was by far the best player that was available.”
With that in mind, here are The Hockey Writers’ three takeaways from Washington’s decision to select Miroshnichenko with the 20th overall pick:
Capitals Take ‘High Risk, High Reward’ Strategy with Miroshnichenko Selection
As noted by Mahoney, plenty of uncertainty surrounds Miroshnichenko, starting with his health. Although the Primorsky Krai-born forward has made progress in his recovery, he still faces a long road to the NHL. According to the Capitals, the 2021 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup winner has already started to regain muscle mass following his initial treatment and is on course to make a full recovery. However, his draft stock fell for a valid reason: his diagnosis will delay, if not curtail, his development. In other words, Washington selected a player who faces extra hurdles to make the NHL – but it speaks highly of his quality that they were still willing to use the 20th overall pick on him.
“We’re looking at a player who we had quite high on our list and we thought it was really good to be able to get him at 20th overall,” explained Mahoney. “It’s a little bit like last year with Hendrix Lapierre, who we rated really highly and moved up a couple of spots to get at 22nd overall. It’s the same kind of scenario: we ended up getting a guy who was quite high on our list.”
It’s also impossible to ignore the situation involving Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Fedotov and its impact on Russian players in this year’s draft. Mahoney didn’t skirt around the fact that it may have deterred other franchises from selecting Miroshnichenko – but the Capitals clearly weren’t put off. Despite all the challenges the Omskie Krylia forward faces, Washington used their highest draft position in eight years to pick him. That speaks volumes about his potential.
Ivan Miroshnichenko Could Extend Washington’s Stanley Cup Window
If he develops into the player scouts expected him to before his diagnosis, Miroshnichenko could extend the Capitals’ window of contention for a while. He’s exactly what the organization was looking for, a young, talented scorer with plenty of upside.
“This young man can put the puck in the net and not just in his age group: he’ll do it in the NHL,” Mahoney said when asked to identify the 18-year-old’s best attributes.
“I would say his shot: he can really shoot the puck. He’s also got a really high hockey IQ and he’s competitive. He wants to win, he’s not afraid to take the puck into tough areas, and he plays with some passion.”
Despite the challenges he’s faced this year, Miroshnichenko’s numbers are impressive, as he ended 2021-22 with 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in 31 appearances in Russia’s second division and has a sterling record for his national team. Per THW’s Arlen Dancziger, Miroshnichenko has many of the traits required to be successful at the highest level:
“Although his rankings vary widely, from sixth to 30th, he has all the tools to become a lethal scorer in the NHL. He has a similar playing style to Alex Ovechkin, although he is not as highly touted as the ‘great eight’.
“His strength is his shot, he can unload a wrist shot off the rush in a similar way to the aforementioned Russian. It’s NHL ready, quick, and powerful, and he likes to cut from the left towards the middle and fire it toe-drag style against the grain. It’s hard for goalies to pick up, and he does it so fluidly that they rarely have a chance to square up to him. In addition, he has a powerful one-timer, and you guessed it, he sets up in Ovechkin’s office, around the top of the circle, to use it. Although he isn’t as stagnant with his movement on the power play as Ovechkin, he does like to stay on the left circle, ready to shoot at any moment. Being the powerful scorer that he is, he has found other ways to score. He’s not afraid to set up shop in front of the net, or get to dirty areas to knock in some garbage goals. He has the patience to make an extra move in front to give himself a better angle or opportunity.”
Miroshnichenko could play a key role for the Capitals for the next decade if he delivers on his potential, playing alongside Connor McMichael and Lapierre. As such, he could be a real steal.
Miroshnichenko’s Leadership Credentials Stand Out
Aside from Miroshnichenko’s raw hockey ability, the Capitals were drawn to his leadership qualities. He captained Team Russia to the 2021 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, contributing nine points (four goals, five assists) in five appearances.
“We’ve seen him as a 16-year-old on Russia’s U18 team and as one of their best players as a 17-year-old. Again, he was a 17-year-old assistant captain of Russia’s U20s in November, which speaks highly of a young player working alongside older teammates. It’s a real testament to his leadership.”
Making it to the NHL is a monumental task, with prospects facing huge pressure to make the cut. Players with a solid track record of being able to perform under pressure are favoured at the draft as a result, and that includes Miroshnichenko. All in all, the Capitals have secured a talented prospect with eye-catching intangibles. He might face a complicated path to the NHL, but Washington’s front office evidently believes he’ll make it to the big show – in no small part due to his leadership qualities.
Brian MacLellan Faces Crunch Week in Washington
It’s impossible to forecast the future, as nobody knows whether the Capitals’ decision to pick Miroshnichenko will pay off in the end. However, the first round of the draft isn’t the beginning and end of MacLellan’s work for this week.
Washington is in desperate need of a roster refresh, especially in goal. They’re also under pressure to find diamonds in the rough in the second half of the draft. Thus, MacLellan’s job has only just begun. Beware: there will be twists and turns in the week ahead. But will the Capitals capitalize? We will just have to wait and find out.
Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.