- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Brian Sutherby, the 19-year-old center whose play belied his age during the Washington Capitals' training camp this fall, signed a three-year contract with the team yesterday.

Exact financial terms were not available last night, but he will make less than the $1,075,000 draftees among the top five picks could make under the NHL's rookie salary cap. He will receive a signing bonus of $900,000 over the length of the contract, and he will receive his NHL pay only as long as he stays with the team.

Sutherby was the Caps' top pick (26th overall) two years ago and was a standout at camp last fall.

"It's unbelievable," Sutherby said late yesterday afternoon as the team's annual alumni golf tournament benefiting the Children's Inn at NIH wound down. "I'm happy that's done with. Now I can concentrate on hockey. My agent told me not to think about it, but it's hard not to. It's constantly on your mind."

The signing is an indication the Caps at least would like to take a longer look at the player in regular-season conditions. It has been team policy under general manager George McPhee not to sign players before the Caps feel they are ready to play.

The signing complicates the decision-making process. The Caps still have 26 players in camp, three more than they are allowed for the season opener Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at MCI Center. There are two goalies, the right amount; eight defensemen, perhaps one too many, although teams have played with just six; and 16 forwards, two or three too many.

Sutherby is among six centers in camp, although one, Adam Oates, a pivot for 16 years, has been playing left wing. Jeff Halpern has played center his entire career, and Andrei Nikolishin has been in the middle for most of his. Trent Whitfield shifted to wing for part of the playoffs last April, and Trevor Linden is centering Oates and Peter Bondra or Jaromir Jagr on the right side at the moment.

Jagr missed yesterday's charity golf tournament to return to Pittsburgh and retrieve belongings for the Washington-area home he recently purchased. He stopped at the Penguins' training facility in Southpointe, visited with former teammates and watched practice before having lunch with coach Ivan Hlinka.

Jagr also was there when the announcement was made that two of the players who went to the Penguins in the deal that bought him to Washington, center Kris Beech and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk, had made the team. Beech will be the left wing on Mario Lemieux's line with Stephane Richer, a Cap for 24 hours last fall, on the right side. Center Michal Sivek, the third player in the trade, was sent to the minors.

Sutherby, an Edmonton native, grew up idolizing Mark Messier and has tried to follow that hard-hitting, defensive style.

"For a young player, he plays very well defensively," McPhee said. "He's responsible all over the ice. He really understands the game from that respect. What you want from your fourth line is a player who can give you 6 or 8, maybe 10 minutes of reliable hockey a game, wear the other team down and not give up any goals. We'll see how he does as the season progresses. If he improves, he'll stay up. If he doesn't, we'll have to consider another way of developing him."

If Sutherby doesn't stay with Washington, he has to return to junior hockey for the remainder of the season.

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