Caps Take Alzner Fifth; Chicago Selects Kane 1st

Karl Alzner
Defenseman Karl Alzner poses in the Capitals' new home jersey after Washington selects him with the fifth overall pick. (Bruce Bennett - Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 22 -- The Washington Capitals got their man. Now, the question is how soon can defenseman Karl Alzner contribute?

Considered by most scouts to be the most NHL-ready player available in this year's entry draft, as well as the best defenseman, Alzner was selected by the Capitals with the fifth overall pick Friday night at Nationwide Arena. Whether the 6-foot-2, 206-pounder is ready to spend next season in Washington remains to be determined, but it's a possibility, General Manager George McPhee said.

"He's a well-rounded player," McPhee said. "He can do things at both ends of the rink. He's really far along."

After walking up to the stage, Alzner helped the Capitals officially return to their red, white and blue roots when he pulled the new jersey over his head and proudly modeled it, wrapping his arms around McPhee and director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney.

"I think they are awesome," said Alzner, who turns 19 on Sept. 24, of the uniforms. "They went old school."

The Capitals dealt their other first-round pick (the 28th, which came from Buffalo in exchange for Dainius Zubrus) to San Jose for the 41st pick this year and the Sharks' second-round selection next season. That gives Washington three of the first 16 picks in the second round Saturday, when the remaining six rounds will be held.

"We're really confident that players we want are going to be there at 34, and so far they are," McPhee said. "And we picked up a second-round pick in a real strong draft next year."

There was some thought that McPhee, who is under pressure to guide the Capitals to the playoffs after three consecutive last-place finishes in the Southeast Division, might trade the No. 5 pick, perhaps in a package with prospects, to acquire some immediate help. McPhee had informed his counterparts around the league that both of the club's first-round choices were available -- for the right price. But no one offered enough to entice him to swing a deal.

That left the Capitals with two options: the skilled, stay-at-home Alzner or high-scoring center Sam Gagner. In the end, Alzner, who plays for Calgary of the Western Hockey League and was a member of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2007 world junior championship, got the nod because he plays a position where the organization could use the most help.

"You have to be able to keep the puck out of your own net or you're not going to win," McPhee said.

Chicago, which won the right to draft first in the lottery, jumping from fifth to first, selected right wing Patrick Kane. Philadelphia used the second overall pick to select left wing James vanRiemsdyk while center Kyle Turris, the player NHL central scouting ranked first among North American skaters, went to Phoenix at No. 3.

Kane, from Buffalo, and vanRiemsdyk, of Middletown, N.J., were the first American-born players to be selected first and second in the same draft.

McPhee almost called out the wrong player's name when he stepped to the podium and began, "The Capitals would like to select from the London . . ." before correcting himself and announcing Alzner as his choice. Gagner, who plays for London of the Ontario Hockey League, was taken sixth, by Edmonton.

"If one of them was going to go, we would take the other one," McPhee said.

Alzner said he hopes to earn a spot on the Capitals' roster in September. But it's too early to handicap his chances, considering the combination of his inexperience -- the Capitals already have four defensemen 24 or younger -- and the possibility that McPhee will add a veteran defenseman or two to help mentor the youngsters.

Asked about the possibility of facing all-star winger Alex Ovechkin in training camp, Alzner smiled and said: " It's a good measuring stick for me. Hopefully I can go against a couple of the other guys before getting thrown in with the big fish."

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