PITTSBURGH -- Heading into this weekend's NHL Draft, the Capitals' most pressing need was to acquire a true second-line center. The Capitals had tried to rotate several players into that role over the past two seasons without any success, which had contributed to the team's erratic offensive performance and also had hurt their ability to breakout cleanly from the defensive zone.
With a deal made on the floor of Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, Washington General Manager George McPhee hopes he finally has that missing piece for next year, picking up nifty playmaker Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for center Cody Eakin and a second-round pick acquired in last summer's Semyon Varlamov trade to Colorado (54th overall).
"We think [Riberio is] a one-or-two center in this league," McPhee told reporters after making the deal. "At some point this summer we wanted to add a skill guy. It's nice to get it today."
Ribeiro notched 17 goals and 45 assists for the Stars last season, which would have put the Montreal native just two points behind Alex Ovechkin off the team lead in last year's scoring for Washington. The 32-year-old has one more year left on his current contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and will count $5 million against the salary cap in the upcoming season.
Having just one year left on his deal was a plus, according to McPhee.
"It's nice to have some [contract] flexibility and be a little nimble," he said, adding they will "see where we are a year from now, if he likes us and we like him, we can work something out."
Ribeiro has been in the league since breaking in with Montreal in 1999-2000, having his personal-best campaign in 2007-08 with Dallas, notching 27 goals and 56 assists and a berth in that year's All-Star Game in Atlanta. Ribeiro has appeared in 737 career games, all with the Canadiens and Stars, displaying some flash and skill during his career.
He also has been one of Dallas' shootout specialists in recent seasons, going 6-for-10 in 2010-11 and 2-for-7 last year.
"We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup," McPhee said. "We had some big, gritty forwards [in the playoffs,] we wanted to another skill guy in the middle of it. I think it makes our team immediately better.
"He's got skill, he makes plays. He got 67 points a year, and a pretty good shootout guy too."
According to McPhee, the Caps had tried before to acquire Riberio in a past trade deadline, but was hard to finish the deal with Dallas in a playoff hunt of their own. When McPhee was finally able to close a deal with the Stars, and finally able to talk to his new veteran on the phone, McPhee said Riberio told him he was "very excited" to come to Washington.
Eakin appeared in just 30 games with Washington last season, scoring 4 goals and 4 assists, but had difficulty staying with the NHL club as the season progressed, appearing in just one NHL game after February 1. He had some trouble with a thinner frame against NHL competition, and spent the playoff chase watching games from the press box, losing his spot in the lineup to AHL veteran Keith Aucoin down the stretch.
While the move may prove to be a one-year rental for Washington, it does address their most immediate need at a cost that is quite reasonable for the Caps, a prospect that had been struggling to fill his projected role and a draft pick acquired last summer.
It also did so without costing Washington one of the two first-rounders they held, and the Caps used them to pick center Filip Forsberg out of Sweden and right winger Thomas Wilson out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Forsberg, who was the top ranked European Skater in this year's Central Scouting Report, is considered one of the more developed forwards in this year's draft. McPhee said he was very surprised Forsberg fell down the draft board to the 11th pick, and the young Swede was happy to come to America's capital.
"Of course it's a big honor to get to go see the Washington Capitals and to be a part of their great organization," Forsberg told reporters. "Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it."
Forsberg has one year left with his Swedish club, Leksand, and plans to come over to North America after one more season in his homeland.
Washington took a tough, physical forward with the 16th overall selection, Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers. Wilson, who is 6' 4", plays a rugged style, something the Caps liked from the young Toronto native.
"I'm thrilled. Never been to Washington. Really looking forward to it. I've heard it's a great city," Wilson said. "They got a great pick in Forsberg.So, I'm really looking forward to going to camp and getting to know the organization."
Wilson lit up when he was asked what he knew about the Capitals, saying "Ovechkin," adding he had the Russian star's Washington jersey.
Washington will have 8 more picks as the 2012 NHL Draft holds rounds two through seven Saturday.