- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee might have momentarily misspoke, but he got the player he wanted last night.

With the fifth overall pick the Caps picked Karl Alzner, a 6-foot-2, 206-pound defenseman from Calgary of the Western Hockey League. McPhee started by saying, “the Washington Capitals would like to select, from the London …” before stopping and finishing with “from the Calgary Hitmen, defenseman Karl Alzner.”

“I’ve always admired Bobby Clarke and I wanted to do what he did,” McPhee said, alluding to Clarke’s podium mishap last June when he forgot the Philadelphia Flyers pick’s name. “[Alzner] is a smart player. He’s a real strong guy who doesn’t get knocked off the puck. He is one of those players that whenever he gets the puck on his stick, you don’t have to worry because you know he’s going to make the right decision.”

Washington also began the night with the No. 28 overall pick, which had been acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline for Dainius Zubrus, but dealt the selection to the San Jose Sharks for the No. 41 pick and a second-rounder in the 2008 draft. There is an overwhelming consensus that next year’s crop is significantly deeper, and McPhee said he believes the Caps will take the player they wanted at No. 28 today with the 34th selection.

Alzner, a Burnaby, B.C., native who turns 19 in September, had eight goals and 47 points for the Hitmen. He won gold medals with Team Canada in both the 2007 U-20 World Junior Championship and the 2005 U-18 Junior World Cup.

He is one of the oldest players in his draft class — missing being eligible last year by nine days — and considered possibly the closest to being NHL ready. His addition, along with Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Eminger, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, could give the Caps one of the strongest stables of young defensemen in the league in the coming seasons.

“You’ve got to be good on the blue line. You’ve got to keep the puck out of the net,” McPhee said. “We’re starting to look at it and say, ‘Hey, it’s there.’ We’ve got the pieces now. We just need them to grow up a little bit.”

Alzner and Schultz were teammates with Calgary in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and even were paired together at times. They worked out at the same gym in Calgary and lived in the same community.

“I’ve known Jeff since I was 15 or 16,” Alzner said. “I call him ‘Big Daddy Schultz.’ I got rides home from him. As soon as he signed and got a new car, I got rides from him.”

Well-spoken with an engaging personality, Alzner said, “I love to talk.” He had to retell a story from his youth about baking cookies that has followed him through his hockey career.

“I was hoping no one would bring that up,” Alzner said. “My mom and myself made a couple cookies with some jam, and my part was to pick the berries and lick the beaters. She threw my name on it and it went from there. They ended up winning some award. I guess people can go ahead and think I can cook.”

Alzner said he will definitely be at the Caps’ rookie development camp next month and hopes to have an opportunity to be with the team at least during training camp, if not make the opening night roster.

“He’s really far along, but we didn’t draft him because we thought he would step in right away,” McPhee said. “He seems to be [the most NHL-ready player in the draft] now, but we won’t know until training camp. He’s a mature kid.”

It was another strong year for the United States. Chicago, which won the draft lottery and moved from fifth to first, selected Buffalo native Patrick Kane. Philadelphia tabbed James vanRiemsdyk of Middletown, N.J., with the second pick, marking the first time in draft history Americans have gone 1-2.

Kane and last year’s top pick, Erik Johnson, are also the first Americans to go No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts. There were 10 Americans selected in the first round, matching the record set last June.

After Phoenix picked center Kyle Turris with the third pick, Los Angeles made the first surprise move at No. 4, selecting defenseman Thomas Hickey from Seattle of the WHL. Hickey was ranked 26th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

Had the Kings grabbed Alzner — considered by most to be the top defenseman in the draft — McPhee said he would have been happy with London’s Sam Gagner — presumably the cause of his podium gaffe — who went sixth to Edmonton. He also said he had told teams the pick was available but never came close to finding a suitable trade partner.



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