NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Washington Capitals, parent club of the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, were in Nashville for the 2023 iteration of the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft to select the latest crop of new players to join the organization. The Bears are fresh off of a Calder Cup win only a week prior to the draft that had the fingerprints of previous draftees all over it, and the Capitals have picked up some quality players out of the draft with a staff that has a keen eye for not only good talent, but great people as well. Much of their talent has gone on to play in the NHL, whether it be for the Caps or for a different organization, and those players end up honing their game in the Sweetest Place on Earth.
There was plenty of buzz around Washington’s first pick, the eighth overall selection, the highest the team from the Nation’s Capital has had since 2007 when they selected Karl Alzner fifth overall. It’s hardly a coincidence that Alzner won the Calder Cup with the Bears twice in 2009 and 2010 before going on to become a full-time NHL player for over a decade. The Capitals selected forward Ryan Leonard with the eighth overall pick, a native of Amherst, Massachusetts. The 18-year-old appears set to play for Boston College in the fall for his first year of collegiate hockey, but put up big numbers with the U.S. National U18 team by tallying 94 points (51 goals, 43 assists) in just 57 games played. The official Elite Prospects Draft Guide describes him as “possessing a pro-caliber shot and hands” and has an exceptional skating ability. He’ll likely be developing his game in college for a few years but should be a prospect that Bears fans will be excited to see as a difference-maker, much as Alzner was back in 2007.
The Bears have been the beneficiary of strong picks in the second round over the years. Top Hershey skaters selected in the second round include Vincent Iorio, Martin Fehervary, Brett Leason, and Kody Clark. With others like 2022’s second round pick Ryan Chesley already in the pipeline, the Capitals followed it up by selecting forward Andrew Cristall with the 40th overall pick. Cristall was projected by some to be selected in the first round but managed to fall to the Capitals, a steal considering his last season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets saw him put up 95 points (39 goals, 56 assists) in just 54 games, his second full season at the WHL level. He’s got a ton of potential to be a difference-making forward, and much like Leonard, could be the kind of talent that doesn’t come around often.
Washington’s next pick came in the fourth round, 104th overall, in selecting forward Patrick Thomas from the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, the very same former AHL team that should be a familiar one to Bears fans after they faced off for the Calder Cup in 1997 and 2007. Thomas had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 66 games in his third season with the team as well as six assists in six playoff games. He doubled his overall points output and more than double his goal count as a significant step forward from his rookie year. It’s a sneaky pick by the Capitals that has the potential to blossom into a strong AHL talent that Hershey fans will be watching with great interest.
Speaking of sneaky picks, the 136th pick fell perfectly to the Capitals in selecting defenseman Cameron Allen. Many expected him to be picked higher in the draft, with some aspects of his game needing to improve to get to the next level, including his point production dropping in 2022-23, but has many intangibles like strong leadership qualities as he captained Team Canada’s World Junior Team that would make him a perfect fit under Hershey’s current coaching staff of Todd Nelson and Patrick Wellar, two defensemen in their playing days. He’ll continue to develop in the OHL before bringing his game to the professional ranks.
The Capitals had two picks in the seventh round, starting with Brett Hyland at the 200th selection from the Brandon Wheat Kings. The 20-year old had a career year in 2022-23, tallying 47 points (26 goals, 21 assists) in 42 games. He’s described as a deceptive player who can create passing lanes with his size and speed. The Wheat Kings posted a nice highlight reel of his after being selected.
That was originally the end of Washington’s picks for the day, but the Capitals had one more trick up their sleeve by trading a seventh-round pick in 2025 for a pick in the same round of this year’s draft to select French/Swiss goaltender Antoine Keller. He’s had experience on several international teams at just 18 years of age, but will look to hone his game into the latest example of Washington’s strong goaltending pipeline that is revered across the league.
It’s impossible to deny the strength of Washington’s draft. Players like Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, Lucas Johansen, and Iorio all played an integral role in Hershey’s Calder Cup win, including teaming up for two of the Bears’ goals in game seven to get to extra time. They are players who look to earn playing time in the NHL sooner rather than later, and this latest group of players will soon be following in their footsteps in one of the AHL’s top places to play.
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