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1st-round seconds ending for Caps


For five straight years, the Washington Capitals have had two picks in the first round of the NHL entry draft. After tomorrow's 12-round event in Edmonton, Alberta, that luxury ends.

In 1990, the St. Louis Blues introduced the NHL to the world of big-time free agency by signing Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens to a multimillion-dollar contract.

Washington received five years of first-round draft choices for Stevens, the highest-scoring defenseman in Caps history. Tomorrow, the Capitals, one of only two team with two first-round picks, select 17th and 23rd overall. The 23rd selection is the last compensation pick from St. Louis.

If there is a goal scorer around when Washington makes either of its first-round picks, don't be surprised if general manager David Poile takes him.

"We are always looking for that commodity, but it's so hard to predict what is going to be available when we select," Poile said. "First-round picks are an asset. We look at it as a chance to take the best player available."

Washington has taken a goalie or defenseman in the first round in five of the last six drafts. But, with Jim Carey entrenched in the net, a bounty of talented defensemen on the horizon, and league-leading goal scorer Peter Bondra a free agent, it's a safe bet that a young forward will walk to the podium when the Caps make their early picks.

Unfortunately for Poile, there is not a strong pool of quality players available.

"This is not a real deep draft, but hopefully the drop-off will not occur until after we get our first two picks," Poile said.

But, the most heralded players in this draft are defenseman.

The Ottawa Senators are expected to take 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bryan Berard with the top pick, and 18-year-old Wade Redden is projected to go in the top five picks to either the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim or Tampa Bay Lightning.

Aki-Petteri Berg, a defenseman from Finland, is the NHL's Central Scouting Service's top-rated European player.

However, Washington is coveting a different young defenseman -- still unsigned 1993 first-round pick Brendan Witt. If the Caps hadn't re-signed Witt by midnight, he will be available to be chosen by another team in today's draft.

Witt is not the only former pick to delay signing with Washington. Defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, the 10th overall pick in 1994, and forwards Alexander Kharlamov, the 15th pick in 1994, and Scott Cherrey, a second-round selection in 1994, have yet to sign.

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