- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

The Washington Capitals head into today’s NHL Entry Draft needing a lot of things but by the time they select no player among the talent pool is expected to make an immediate impact.

The 2005 draft, postponed because of the prolonged labor dispute involving management and the players, begins at noon in the Westin Hotel in Ottawa in abbreviated form. It has been shortened from nine rounds to seven and compressed from its normal two-day run to one.

And for the second year in a row the event lacks a suspense factor, at least as far as the top pick is concerned. Moments after the selection process begins, Pittsburgh will take 5-foot-11, 195-pound center Sidney Crosby from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. The 18-year-old is being compared favorably to Wayne Gretzky.

After that, it’s open season with the next 20 or so players on about an equal footing. Overall, this is considered a deep draft — the type of event that produces one or two surprises and a lot of guys who may skate on a third line or play fourth on defense.

A year ago the Caps won the draft lottery and took Russian left wing Alexander Ovechkin, reputed to be the best forward ever available from Europe. He is expected to play in Washington this season.

The Caps select No. 14 in the first round and should be able to land a decent player but nobody of the magnitude of Crosby, who already is something of a national icon in Canada. After Pittsburgh won the draft lottery July 22, not enough people could be rounded up to handle the phones in the Penguins’ office with people calling for tickets. The phones finally were shut down at midnight with people waiting.

Washington will have three picks in the first two rounds — the first-rounder and numbers 16 and 22 (compensation for Peter Bondra) in the second round. The Caps have two picks in the fourth round, Nos. 109 and 118 (compensation for Michael Nylander) overall; 143rd in the fifth round; 181st in the sixth and close with No. 209 in the seventh.

This will be the first draft under the new collective bargaining agreement, a deal that grants unlimited free agency after seven years to players drafted today. It is expected that factor alone will determine how some teams select and why some players are not selected higher in the process.

For instance, developing an NHL-caliber goalie out of an 18-year-old draftee is a long and expensive process. For that reason goalies, aside from the exceptional prospects, practically might be afterthoughts.

“You’re taking a kid at 18 and he’s not going to be ready until he’s 25, 26, you might as well just go after a 26-year-old free agent,” one scout said. “Then you’re pretty sure of what you’re getting instead of going through a crapshoot for seven years.”

Forwards develop faster, usually within three or four years, but defensemen are often similar long-term projects to goalies.

“The problem there is there are so few good defensemen to begin with even after they’ve been around awhile,” the scout said. “A truly good defenseman is tougher to find than a truly good goalie. And you only need one goalie but you need six defensemen so the hunt never stops.”

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