By selecting Ilya Samsonov, a big, athletic goalie from Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, the Capitals picked a Russian player in the first round for the eighth time in the past 24 drafts. Despite a few early busts, the Capitals have mostly had success with their Russian picks. Although time will have to tell how Samsonov fits in Washington, below is a ranking of the Caps previous seven first-round Russian picks.
- Alexander Kharlamov, RW, 15th overall, 1994 Draft: Taken with Washington’s second pick of the first round, Kharlamov, son of Soviet Legend Valeri Kharlamov, was a bust of a pick. He never reached the NHL – unlike the first 14 picks of the 1994 Draft – and never scored more than 14 goals in any of the seasons he played at the AHL level.
- Alexander Volchkov, LW, 4th overall, 1996 Draft: Volchkov did not fair much better than Kharlamov, though he did log just three games and no points with the Washington Capitals in the 1999-2000 season. The Moscow native underperformed in his four AHL seasons as well, finally finishing out his career in Kazakhstan in 2011.
- Semyon Varlamov, G, 23rd overall, 2006 Draft: Varlamov’s three seasons in the Capitals organization were riddled with inconsistent performances and injuries as the 6-foot-2 netminder struggled and failed to earn the No. 1 spot over Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth. Varlamov performed admirably during the 2009 playoffs, posting a 7-6 record and .918 save percentage. Unfortunately for the Caps, Varlamov peaked after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender in 2014.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, 26th overall, 2010 Draft: Caps fans were abuzz when the talented forward finally arrived in DC near the end of the 2013-2014 season. The 23-year old notched three goals and nine assists in 17 games at the end of 2013-14, before contributing 11 goals and 37 points in 80 regular season games in 2014-2015. Kuznetsov continued to impress in the playoffs, scoring seven points through two rounds, so expectations should be high next season as Kuznetsov continues to contribute.
- Alexander Semin, RW, 13th overall, 2002 Draft: The enigmatic forward, though undeniably talented, was purportedly not the best teammate and criticized at times for his lackluster play in the postseason. Still, Semin, along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, helped to form an offensive core that contributed to Washington’s dominance in the late 2000s. In April 2012, shortly before he was signed by Carolina in the offseason, Semin became the fifth highest all-time leading scorer in Capitals history with his 197th goal.
- Sergei Gonchar, D, 14th Overall, 1992 Draft: The trusty power-play quarterback and offensive defenseman scored 416 points in 654 regular season games with the Capitals, in addition to the 31 points he notched in 51 playoff games. Playing for the Capitals during the 1998-1999 season, Gonchar became the first Russian defenseman to score more than 20 goals in the regular season.
- Alexander Ovechkin, LW, 1st overall, 2004 Draft: A no-brainer as the Capitals best and most important draft pick in their history. Ovechkin has nabbed nearly every individual accolade an NHL player can win, including three Hart Trophies for league MVP. Written off by media and some fans just a few seasons ago, the Capitals captain turned in perhaps his most dynamic season in 2014-2015, winning his fifth Rocket Richard Trophy, improving his two-way game and being named a finalist for yet another MVP honor. Even The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, called the Great 8’s 2014-2015 season “remarkable.” More important than Ovechkin’s individual honors, though, is how he has rejuvenated hockey in Washington since being drafted over a decade ago.https://youtu.be/o2ut1A3XwuM
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