- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Washington Capitals played host to a reception Saturday night for the more than 200 fans from the Washington area who came to the NHL draft. The star of the evening was Alexander Ovechkin, the first player taken in the draft, but not for the obvious reasons.

With no prodding, the 18-year-old Russian took over the party. He acted as host and greeter, made his way to virtually every fan in attendance, introduced himself, exchanged pleasantries and moved on. He wore a Caps sweater with the No.04 and a wide smile.

When time permitted, he indulged in cantaloupe, returning several times to refill his plate. It appears to be a commodity not readily available in his native Moscow.

Dale Hunter, the retired Caps captain and now the owner and coach of a junior team in London, Ontario, made his way over to the prospect, and the two chatted for some time.

“This is remarkable,” team president Dick Patrick said. “We knew we had a kid with good character, but we never imagined something like this. The fans are loving it, but more important, it looks like Alex is also having a great time.”

Caps make offers

The Caps said yesterday they made qualifying offers to nine restricted free agents, tying them to the team for the coming season. They are Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus, Maxime Ouellet, Graham Mink, Brendan Witt, Rastislav Stana, Stephen Peat, Matt Pettinger and Nolan Yonkman. All will receive at least a 10 percent pay increase over last season. The club has until June30 to tender offers to other restricted free agents or they become unrestricted.

Stana, who backed up Olie Kolzig last season and also played in Portland, signed a contract to play in Sweden this season. He signed the one-year deal fearing a lockout would prevent him from playing in North America.

More drafting

The Caps made six more picks yesterday. They were: fifth round — Oscar Hedman, defense, Modo, Sweden; Pasi Salonen, forward, Helsinki, Finland; sixth round — Peter Guggisberg, forward, Davos, Switzerland; seventh round — Andrew Gordon, right wing, Notre Dame, Saskatchewan; eighth round — Justin Mrazek, goalie, Estevan, Saskatchewan; ninth round — Travis Morin, center, Mankota State, Minnesota.

Sami Lepisto, the Finn the Caps drafted with the first pick in the third round Saturday, was picked as the best defenseman in the recently completed world junior championships.

Hunter gets picked

Dylan Hunter, son of former Washington center and captain Dale Hunter, was drafted yesterday by Buffalo, deep into the ninth and final round. Dylan was eligible to be drafted last season, but every team passed. This season he was 13th in scoring in the Ontario Hockey Association with 26 goals, 53 assists and 79 points for London, Ontario, a team owned by his father and uncle, Mark, also a former Cap. London easily won the regular-season championship but was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

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