Washington is one of four teams with two first-round choices at today's draft (noon, HTS). The Capitals hope that pre-draft speculation -- which has labeled this first round as deep -- can place two blue-chip prospects in the system.
While French-Canadian star Alexandre Daigle, a center who is expected to be taken first by the Ottawa Senators, will be fitted and celebrating in his new club's colors by the time Washington's turn comes, there is plenty of talent available.
"We want to be bigger and we want to be a little bit tougher," said Washington director of player personnel Jack Button. "That's important for the playoffs. Personality is another key area. We're looking for bright, eager, competitive people. That's personality."
Most draft experts agree that the first level of draftees -- Daigle, center Rob Niedermayer, defenseman Chris Pronger, center Chris Gratton, left wing Paul Kariya and center Viktor Kozlov -- will be taken in some order for the first six picks, though Daigle is sure to be chosen first.
"I think it's important to be taken first," Daigle said. "It's what you work all your life for. Second is great, but first is what I want."
After those six slots, there's no telling how trades and teams' needs will factor into the first round's structure.
So who will be there at Nos. 11 and 17 for the Capitals? Here is a brief list of prospects expected to go among the second tier of players:
* Jesper Mattson, right wing, Malmo (Sweden), 6 feet, 178 pounds: Mattson has been called cocky and feisty, a goal scorer who has alienated teammates because his desire to score is so great.
* Landon Wilson, right wing, Dubuque (United States Hockey League), 6-2, 202 pounds: Scouts love his tough attitude. Wilson also scored 41 goals last year in juniors, adding a goal scorer's touch around the crease. He is expected to attend North Dakota next year.
* Jason Allison, center, London (Ontario Hockey League), 6-2 1/2 , 192 pounds: Allison scored 42 goals in 66 games last season, and other than his skating and speed, which need improvement, he seems to be an NHL-caliber goal scorer.
* Jocelyn Thibault, goalie, Sherbrooke (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), 5-11, 170 pounds: There is talk that the Quebec Nordiques will take Thibault with the 10th selection, but if they don't, he will not slip much below that. Thibault, not Daigle, was the league's MVP. He has been compared to Toronto's young star, Felix Potvin, for his similar butterfly style and is coveted by many teams. Although the Capitals have four young goalies -- Rick Tabaracci, Olaf Kolzig, Byron Dafoe and Duane Derksen -- Thibault may have too much potential to let slip by.
The Capitals have been one of the league's least successful teams with their top picks. In the past decade, Kevin Hatcher is the only No. 1 choice to play regularly. John Slaney (1990) and Pat Peake (1991) may change that, but Jeff Greenlaw and Yvon Corriveau, previous top picks, haunt Washington fans.
Later-round picks are critical, too. Button and his staff have spent a good portion of the past year watching most of the potential draft selections, but there is no way to determine how much these 17- and 18-year-olds will grow and mature.
* The Capitals acquired defensemen Enrico Ciccone from the Dallas Stars to complete Sunday's trade, which sent defenseman Paul Cavallini to Dallas.
Ciccone, 23, split the past season between the Stars and their top affiliate in Kalamazoo.
Final North American prospect rankings for today's NHL entry draft by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau:
FORWARDS AND DEFENSEMEN
1. Alexandre Daigle, C, Victoriaville,QMJHL; 2. Chris Pronger, D, Peterborough,OHL; 3. Chris Gratton, C, Kingston, OHL; 4. Rob Niedermayer, C, Medicine, WHL; 5. Paul Kariya, C-RW, Maine, Hockey East.
6. Jason Arnott, C, Oshawa, OHL; 7. Denis Pederson, C, Prince Albert, WHL; 8. Todd Harvey, C, Detroit, OHL; 9. Brendan Witt, D, Seattle, WHL; 10. Eric Lecompte, LW, Hull, QMJHL.
11. Nick Stajduhar, D, London, OHL; 12. Todd Bertuzzi, C, Guelph, OHL; 13. Mike Wilson, D, Sudbury, OHL; 14. Maxin Bets, LW, Spokane, WHL; 15. Landon Wilson, RW, Dubuque, USHL.
16. Jason Allison, C-RW, London, OHL; 17. Bryan McCabe, D, Spokane, WHL; 18. Shean Donovan, RW, Ottawa, OHL; 19. Adam Deadmarsh, C-RW, Portland, WHL; 20. Steve Washburn, C, Ottawa, OHL.
1. Jocelyn Thibault, Sherbrooke, QMJHL; 2. Kevin Weekes, Owen Sound, OHL; 3. Scott Langkow, Portland. WHL; 4. Chad Lang, Peterborough, OHL; 5. Tyler Moss, Kingston, OHL.