After missing the playoffs for only the second time in 16 seasons, the Washington Capitals are set to select eighth in this year’s draft. The consensus among scouts is that the 2023 draft class will be the most loaded with talent since the 2015 draft, which saw Connor McDavid selected first by the Edmonton Oilers.
This pick is crucial for the Capitals, who need to start thinking about rebuilding soon. With forwards such as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom nearing the end of their careers, this would be an opportunistic moment for them to replenish the youth in a draft class that heavily favors forwards. Right? And with talented forwards such as Zachary Benson, Dalibor Dvorský, Ryan Leonard and Oliver Moore possibly landing in their range, they should capitalize on that opportunity… right?
It is certain that any of the names above would be a welcome addition to a pool lacking top-end talent. But there’s another riser this year in the draft, and he’s not a forward. The Capitals should consider selecting Austrian defenseman David Reinbacher with their first pick, as he could be the best player available for them in that position and meet the team’s needs.
More About David Reinbacher
Before making a case for Reinbacher, here’s what the team that selects him should expect.
Last season, the right-shot defenseman, currently listed at 6-foot-2 and almost 190 pounds, played for EHC Kloten of the National League (NL) in Switzerland. In this league, he put up an impressive 22 points in 46 games, which was second in points by a defenseman. Impressive given he did this all as an 18-year-old.
His style of play also fits what NHL teams look for in a defenseman nowadays. He’s an intelligent, steady player who excels in his positioning. While it’s not his biggest strength, he can also contribute offensively when needed, leading him to be projected as a two-way defenseman in the NHL.
Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide
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Finally, scouts project Reinbacher to be selected as low as 15th and as high as fifth or sixth overall. His injury at the World Championships, which, ironically, was caused by a hip check from none other than current Capitals defenseman Rasmus Sandin, could impact his positioning, but he definitely has the potential.
Before you start reading, I’ll state the obvious. For teams such as the Capitals一and the rivaling Pittsburgh Penguins一the narrative heading into the draft is to take the best player available, rather than selecting based on a positional need. Some say Reinbacher would be the best player available by that time if he’s not taken, and there’s a case for it. However, Reinbacher could be an exception to this rule, as he fits many of the Capitals’ needs.
Firstly, the team’s backend is looking thinner than in recent years. Yes, bringing in a young Sandin in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs helps address that issue. And yes they still have John Carlson, who is arguably the last star defenseman the team drafted in the first round, to lead the way. But other than that, this is not a backend that could put them back into playoff contention anytime soon.
Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehérváry are both young and still growing alongside Sandin as 23-year-olds for the Capitals. But other than that, the team lacks prospects on defense, with 2021 second-round pick Vincent Iorio being one of the only ones. The Capitals only selected forwards in Ivan Miroshnichenko, Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael with their last three first-round picks. Another reason to replenish the defensive prospects.
A major reason he’s been a riser this draft comes with his development. It’s likely that Reinbacher will only need one more season in Europe or in the American Hockey League (AHL) before competing for an NHL spot. Even then, while it is unlikelier, he could even compete for a roster spot this year if he continues to grow strong and improve during the summer. In the Capitals’ case, he’d have a nice mentor in Carlson when he does make the lineup.
The Importance of Getting Elite Defensemen Through the Draft
More than ever, teams are building through the backend and always seek that pivotal number-one defenseman to rely on in deep playoff runs. Most Stanley Cup-winning teams in the past have had that player. Look at what players such as Cale Makar, Victor Hedman, and Alex Pietrangelo have done to help their teams win it all. Look no further than Carlson’s phenomenal performance when the Capitals won it all in 2018.
These defensemen don’t come easily, making it even more important to bring them in through the draft. It’s happened in recent drafts that teams surprise by selecting a defenseman higher than anticipated to meet that need. A recent notable example could be the New Jersey Devils selecting Šimon Nemec second overall in 2022. Another one is in 2019 when the Detroit Red Wings selected Moritz Seider一the player Reinbacher is often compared to by scouts一with the sixth-overall pick.
That being said, it is very much possible that Reinbacher isn’t even available at eighth overall. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has Reinbacher going fifth overall, and maybe even a pick higher (from ‘Corey Pronman’s latest NHL Mock Draft has Leo Carlsson rising after strong play at Worlds’, The Athletic, 06/01/23). Others predict that the Arizona Coyotes, who have two picks in the top-15, could select Reinbacher sixth overall. The Philadelphia Flyers also have the pick right before the Caps, and that’s another possibility of him being gone.
In the end, the team that drafts Reinbacher has a chance to get a top-pairing guy who can command the back end for years to come. But each pick is a risk and the draft comes with its fair share of surprises, which is especially the case this year given the talent-loaded draft.