Capitals bolster defense in draft, trade for Berube Witt, Allison taken in 1st round


QUEBEC -- The major trade David Poile wanted to complete never took place, but the Washington Capitals general manager was nevertheless pleased with his findings at yesterday's NHL entry draft.

Instead of bringing a high-profile player to Washington, Poile kept the Capitals' pair of first-round picks to draft defenseman Brendan Witt and center Jason Allison. He added left wing Craig Berube in a minor trade with the Calgary Flames.

"Our needs going into the draft were to get a defenseman and a forward, not necessarily in that order," Poile said. "It worked out that way."

The Ottawa Senators chose to keep their first overall pick and selected 18-year-old center Alexandre Daigle, 6 feet, 170 pounds, from Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Daigle's agent said he had agreed to terms on a multi-year contract with the Senators. Terms were not disclosed, but it was believed that Daigle's contract was worth about $12 million for five years.

Considered the best player in the draft, Daigle had 45 goals and 137 points in 53 games for the Tigers this season.

The Hartford Whalers traded with the San Jose Sharks for the second pick and took defenseman Chris Pronger. Forward Chris Gratton went to the Tampa Bay Lightning third. Left wing Paul Kariya, who scored 100 points for the University of Maine, was taken by the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks with the fourth pick, and forward Rob Niedermayer went to the expansion Florida Panthers with the fifth pick.

For Berube, who will furnish immediate strength to the lineup, Washington sent its fifth-round pick to Calgary and also agreed not to select Swedish winger Jesper Mattsson with the 17th pick -- the second of the Caps' two first-round selections -- so that the Flames could get him with the next pick.

Berube, known best for his days as a bullying member of the Philadelphia Flyers, had four goals and eight assists in 77 games last year with Calgary. His 209 penalty minutes indicate a preference for physical play, something that should benefit the Caps in the Atlantic Division.

"The one thing that's often been said in this business is you need to surround your top players with some physical players," Poile said. "I think we were a little light on that last year. In our meetings after the season, whether it be with players or in the coaches meetings, that was one of our game plans, to get a couple more aggressive, physical players."

When they couldn't move their top picks -- which Poile said he was willing to do in the right situation -- the Capitals took Witt, a stay-at-home defenseman from the Seattle Thunderbirds (Western Hockey League) with the 11th pick. Witt, 18, scored two goals and had 26 assists in 70 games last year and had 239 penalty minutes.

"Hitting is my game," said Witt, 6-2, 205 pounds. "That's how I get involved in the game."

Witt was chosen to the WHL West Division first all-star team last season, and Poile was very positive when discussing his potential.

"This guy is more of the complete package, certainly more on the defensive end vs. on the offensive end, on the aggressive end vs. the finesse end," Poile said. "As our defense stands today and as he develops, he would be a perfect fit for our defense as we project it."

Allison, 18, led the London Knights (Ontario Hockey League) in points last year with 118, an 88-point increase from the previous season. He has excellent awareness on the ice and is a dangerous scorer from anywhere inside the faceoff circles.

"This is what I was hoping for," Allison said. "It really doesn't matter how high you go. You just want to be in a good situation."

By taking Allison, 6-2, 192 pounds, the Capitals are hoping that he will join fellow center Pat Peake, their first-round pick in 1991, and provide some offensive punch at that position.

"Allison probably exhibits as much offensive ability as any of the players taken in the first round," Poile said. "He has the size and the hands."

The Quebec Nordiques seemed to be at the center of trade talk -- it wanted to acquire Ottawa's first overall pick and keep Daigle in the province -- but the Senators retained their prized selection.

"I think the Nordiques in a lot of ways controlled how things would go here," Poile said. "It seemed to me when I was talking to other people, they were always talking to the Nordiques. The Nordiques were trying to move up in the draft to get Alexandre Daigle. I think if they would've been successful, that could've been the chain reaction as far as other trades."



A capsule look at the Capitals' top six draft picks:

1. Brendan Witt: Defenseman, Seattle (Western Hockey League): smart, hard-nosed style on blueline . . . effective shot blocker . . . possesses a hard and quick shot . . . good team player.

2. Jason Allison: Center, London (Ontario Hockey League): Good offensive sense . . . finds openings in opposition zone . . . will challenge in the corners and along the boards if necessary . . .

firm passer.

3. Patrick Boileau: Defenseman, Laval (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League): 23 points . . . physical, smart player . . . hard worker with confidence . . . shows strength on the ice . . . makes sound decisions with the puck.

4. Frank Banham: Right wing, Saskatoon (WHL): 62 points in rookie year . . . Rookie of the Month in December.

5. Daniel Hendrickson: Right wing, St. Paul (United States Hockey League): 29-31-60 . . . will join brother Darby at University of Minnesota . . . compared to Dale Hunter.

6. Andrew Brunette: Left wing, Owen Sound (OHL): 162 points . . . led OHL in scoring . . . set franchise record for career goals, assists and points . . . skating can be improved.



1. Ottawa Alexandre Daigle, C

2. Hartford Chris Pronger, D

(from San Jose)

3. Tampa Bay Chris Gratton, F

4. Anaheim Paul Kariya, F

5. Florida Rob Niedermayer, C

6. San Jose Viktor Kozlov, F

(from Hartford)

7. Edmonton Jason Arnott, C

8. Rangers Niklas Sundstrom, C

9. Dallas Todd Harvey, C

10. Quebec Jocelyn Thibault, G

(from Philadelphia)

11. Washington Brendan Witt, D

(from St. Louis)

12. Toronto Kenny Jonsson, D

(from Buffalo)

13. New Jersey Denis Pederson, C

14. Quebec Adam Deadmarsh, D

15. Winnipeg Mats Lindgren, C

16. Edmonton Nick Stajduhar, D

17. Washington Jason Allison, C

18. Calgary Jesper Mattsson, RW

19. Toronto Landon Wilson, F

20. Vancouver Mike Wilson, D

21. Montreal Saku Koivu, C

22. Detroit Anders Eriksson, D

23. Islanders Todd Bertuzzi, C

24. Chicago Eric Lecompte, F

25. Boston Kevyn Adams, C

26. Pittsburgh Stefan Bergqvist, D

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