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Capitals draft Gustafsson

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2008

OTTAWA | Anton Gustafsson's timeline might be a bit off, but he certainly has a sense of humor.

When asked whether he had spent any time in the District as a baby, the 18-year-old came back with, "You can say I am made in the U.S.A., but born in Sweden."

His father, former Washington Capitals star Bengt Gustafsson said it was "a good line, but not true."

Semantics aside, Anton should have a chance to spend plenty of time in the city his father once played in. The Caps, after moving up two spots, selected Gustafsson with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft Friday night at Scotiabank Place.

"It will certainly be a popular choice in Washington, but that's not why you make the pick - you make the pick because he's a good player," Caps general manager George McPhee said. "He's obviously been trained very well, and his father was a terrific player. We like the way this guy plays - he has good size and a real edge to him."

McPhee wasn't done dealing. About 30 minutes later, the Caps sent defenseman Steve Eminger and a third-round pick to Philadelphia for the 27th selection. Washington used the pick to nab American defenseman John Carlson.

It cost the Caps a 2008 second-round pick (No. 54 overall) to jump up ahead of Edmonton and New Jersey to select Gustafsson, but McPhee said another team was trying to move up to that spot as well.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Gustafsson is not a prototypical Swedish player. He enjoys taking part in the physical aspect of the game and is considered a defensively-responsible center. He had 15 goals and 32 points for Frolunda's team in the Swedish equivalent of Canadian juniors.

The biggest knock on Gustafsson was a back injury he suffered during the playoffs. That, along with another injury, kept him out of two major international tournaments and made it tough for NHL scouts to see him play.

The elder Gustafsson and McPhee both said the back injury is not a long-term issue. He will likely miss the team's rookie development camp next month, but will be ready this fall. Bengt said he expects Anton to play next season in the second league (Sweden's version of the American Hockey League) and 2009-10 in the Elite League before coming to North America.

"[Our styles are] very similar in a way," said Bengt Gustafsson, who had 196 goals and 555 points in 629 games for the Caps. "He takes a lot of responsibility on the ice. He really plays hard on defense and covers up for everybody. At the same time, he can be the guy up front who tries to run people. He plays much more physical than I did. Maybe it is because he is much bigger than I was."

McPhee said he wasn't lying earlier this week about Gustafsson not playing well the one time the Caps GM saw him play, but the organization's scouts who did see him in better health came away impressed.

Gustafsson said 28 teams interviewed him at the draft combine earlier this month, but he had an inkling the Caps were interested.

"That interview was kind of special because they didn't say so much," Anton Gustafsson said. "They were just kind of sitting there and smiling, so I did get that feeling they were interested."

Carlson, who was born in Massachusetts but raised in New Jersey, had 12 goals and 43 points in 59 games for Indiana of the United States Hockey League. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he is considered an offensive defenseman.

Many players opt for the USHL as a way to prepare for NCAA hockey, and Carlson had originally committed to Massachusetts. Recently he changed his mind, and Carlson will play for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League next season.

In keeping with the familiar faces theme, his coach in London will be former Caps captain Dale Hunter.

"What appealed to us is he's going to play for Dale Hunter," McPhee said. "We talked to Dale about that today. Dale will whip him into shape and teach him out to play. We liked him and we like his base attributes, but knowing he was going to Dale to refine everything and be taught how to play - that sealed it."

Tampa Bay began the draft by selecting center Steven Stamkos, the consensus top player available for quite some time. The Lightning had left little doubt about the selection, starting a Web site and buying advertising space on billboards with the phrase "Seen Stamkos?" shortly after winning the draft lottery last month.

After Stamkos, trades and defensemen were the story. The next four picks were all rearguards, but the trades were coming with more frequency than the picks at one point.

Big names involved included Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, who was traded to Phoenix and Mike Cammalleri, whom the Calgary Flames acquired from Los Angeles. The Flames also sent Alex Tanguay to Montreal.