- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Washington Capitals apparently have decided to use their No.1 selection in tomorrow’s NHL entry draft, ending suspense that the club might trade the pick for young proven players to speed the rebuilding process.

The team will select the consensus top prospect, Russian wing Alexander Ovechkin, who spent yesterday touring various sites around the North Carolina capital and willingly acting as a drawing card to beef up local interest in the draft.

Three general managers said yesterday that Caps general manager George McPhee has been telling cohorts that he is willing to listen to trade proposals but he fully intends to draft the heralded 18-year-old.

McPhee remained as noncommittal as ever, saying there were still other players he wanted to interview and he had an open mind on the matter. He did acknowledge, however, that it would take more than a blockbuster deal to take the pick out of his hands.

“I didn’t talk to him because I have nothing to trade that he would be interested in,” said one general manager yesterday. “But I have talked to other [GMs] who have talked to George, and they say he told them up front that he is using the pick to take Ovechkin. He’d be nuts not to draft the kid — he’s the kind of find that can make a scout’s career.”

Not a single person yesterday failed to say that Ovechkin has the ability and talent to step immediately into a front-line role for an NHL team. There are a few factors of his game that might need fine tuning in his transition from larger European rinks to the smaller North American ice surfaces, but that does not appear to be a serious drawback.

Asked yesterday if he was getting nervous, Ovechkin replied, “A little bit,” while taking a moment from his chores at a suburban rink, where he took part in a clinic for youngsters. He appeared to be confident in strange surroundings and waved off a translator who offered to help.

Perhaps he should have accepted the offer. The 6-foot-2 wing was asked what his early impressions of America were.

“I think he’s good guy, really good skater,” Ovechkin responded.

Meanwhile, the Caps have decided not to re-sign director of hockey operations Shawn Simpson ending an 18-year association. The front office executive’s contract expires Thursday.

McPhee refused to discuss the situation, and Simpson could not be reached.

Simpson was drafted by the Caps 60th overall as a goalie in 1986 and has been with the team since. Besides being director of hockey operations for the big team, he served as general manager of the Portland (Maine) Pirates, the Caps’ top farm team.

He never played in a single NHL game but served as backup in several. His most memorable non-appearance came during the 1988 playoffs when starter Pete Peeters was injured, Clint Malarchuk took his place, and Simpson had to be called out of the stands to serve as backup. Malarchuk finished the game.

Simpson’s departure from the hockey operations department is the fifth since the season ended in April. Other members of the organization have resigned to go elsewhere, but their jobs have not been filled as the league continues its path of uncertainty with a labor dispute looming.

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