If the two defensemen selected by the Washington Capitals in the first round of yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft stood one atop the other, the imposing figure would stand 13 feet tall and weigh 449 pounds.
The Caps picked 6-foot-5, 220-pound Sasha Pokulok of Cornell University at No.14 overall and then took 6-foot-7, 229-pound Joe Finley with the 27th pick in the first round, which Washington obtained in a trade with Colorado.
“We had identified two defensemen that we felt would go late in the first round,” said Washington general manager George McPhee. “We identified before the draft what we wanted, and we were going to be aggressive to get it.
“In Pokulok, we saw a 6-foot-5, 220-pound guy who thinks the game real well and hopefully will play in the top four. In Finley we saw a 6-foot-7 guy who is a great skater but is raw — he needs time to develop his game. There was no way we were going to get him in the second round, so we made a [trade].”
In all, the Caps took defensemen with four of the five picks they exercised and kept, three left-handers and a right-hander. Two are in college, one played in the U.S. Hockey League (the top junior program in this country) last season. The fourth played Canadian junior in Ontario.
They were the first moves the Caps have made since labor peace reached the NHL on July22. Washington decided against buying out any players and actually had only one veteran eligible for buyout, goalie Olie Kolzig, who has one year to go on a contract that will pay him $4.9million next season.
None of the players selected by the Caps at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa is expected to be in the lineup on opening day, Oct.5, although the team may press Pokulok to turn pro now.
Meanwhile, McPhee and agent Don Meehan are to resume negotiations tomorrow on a contract for left wing Alexander Ovechkin, the first player selected in the 2004 draft. Washington would love to have the budding Russian star in the lineup when the NHL resumes play after a one-season layoff.
After deliberately paring the roster to the bone in anticipation of the lockout, the Caps are desperately thin at all positions but goal — and are only one injury away from disaster there. Yesterday’s additions are three or four years away from being serious candidates to make the roster, with the possible exception of Pokulok.
There is always a question about mobility with skaters above 6-2, but Pokulok and Finley appear to be exceptions. Clubs started looking at bigger men again after 6-foot-9, 260-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara blossomed suddenly after being traded to Ottawa.
Pokulok is “a towering defenseman with good mobility [who] brings a physical game to the rink and competes well,” according to one scouting report. He is a product of Notre Dame Academy in Saskatchewan, a prep school known for turning out good hockey players.
Finley “is huge and is built like a man,” said one scouting report. “He has great mobility for someone his size. One scout described his upper body strength as ‘scary.’ He likes physical play and is a good skater for his size.”
Washington sent its two picks in the second round to Colorado for the Avalanche’s 27th spot in the opening round and used it to take Finley.
Neither is much of an offensive threat, but Finley racked up an impressive 181 penalty minutes in just 55 games. None of the scouting reports agreed on where the two should be ranked, and both were taken well before where they were rated.
Other Washington draft picks:
Fourth round, 109th overall: Andrew Thomas, defenseman, 19, 6-foot-2, 196, University of Denver; 118th: Patrick McNeill, defenseman, 18, 6-foot, 195, Saginaw (Ontario Hockey League).
Fifth round, 143rd: Daren Machesney, goalie, 19, 6-foot, 163, Brampton (OHL).
Washington claimed Russian Viktor Dovgan with its selection in the seventh round, but the league ruled the pick was ineligible. There is a dispute over the exact date of the player’s birth.
The Caps took left wing Tim Kennedy of Sioux City in the sixth round and immediately traded him to Buffalo, his hometown, for a sixth-round pick in 2006.