Four men whose future playing days with the Washington Capitals appeared minimal were given new life yesterday, selected in the National Hockey League expansion draft.

Three of the players - right wing Bill Riley, center Doug Patey and defenseman Gord Smith - spent much of last season with the Caps' Hershey (Pa.) farm club while the fourth, left wing Blair Stewart, played 45 games for Washington and scored just seven goals.

Smith and Riley were selected by Winnipeg, which won the last World Hockey Association championship this spring under former Cap coach Tom McVie. Patey was picked by Edmonton and Stewart went to Quebec.

Capitals General Manager Max McNab, acknowledging all four were expendable in the face of Washington's youth movement, said "I'm certainly happy for them."

"Expansion time is never kind to any of us, and we have to base our decisions on what the chances are of these players being with us next fall," McNab added. "All of them spent some or all of their time in Hershey last season. This is an opportunity for them to get a better shot at making a (NHL) club.

"I'd like to have them all. They're fine team players, but the regulations just will not permit it."

Seventeen Capital veterans - including two goaltenders - and 13 first yea players were exempt from the draft by four incoming teams from the WHA - Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec and Hartford.

The decision to include Stewart, a popular player with Capital Centre fans who has been with Washington since 1974, among the list of vulnerables was perhaps the hardest for club management.

"Blair had a lot of fans in Washington and I'm sure he's very disappointed, but we have to do what we think is best," McNab said. "The decision was based on the potential of Eddy Godin.

"Eddy's still in the learning process and as a two-year pro will be working under Gary Green (the Caps' new Hershey coach). We did not want to lose Blair, but when it came down to the younger player with tremendous potential, that is the one we wanted to save."

Godin, 22, was himself placed on the eligible list when Washington acquired left wing Steve Clippindale last Saturday from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Mike Marson. When Stewart was picked by Quebec, the Caps were allowed to protect Godin. Left wing Bob Girard and center Ron Lalonde also were protected during the draft's proceedings.

Stewart, 26, spent the first part of last season in Hershey before being brought up to the Capitals. He had 12 assists to go with his seven goals and had an on ice rating of plus 1. Stewart also had injury breaking an ankle in his second game of the 1974-75 season, breaking a leg in the 1976-77 campaign and tearing knee ligaments the following year.

Stewart was playing golf with the Caps' Jack Lynch at Tantallon Country Club yesterday when he heard the news.

"Jack was the first one to tell me and I didn't know how to take it. I ended up shotting about 20 strokes over my normal score - I couldn't get it out of my mind," Stewart said. "I was disappointed to go unprotected because I like it here, but when I found out I was draft I was glad that a team wanted me."

He sounded optimistic - and suprised - about his new team.

"Hartford or Quebec were the two teams I never really thought I'd go to, especially Quebec," Stewart said. "Being English and everything, I thought they'd be going for a Frenchman. I guess I'm going to have to learn some French now. Hopefully, the people up there will be as good to me as the people were here."

Riley, who had back-to-back 13-goal seasons before seeing limited action last year, had mixed reactions last night upon learning about being drafted.

"I'm really entused. I feel like a 19-year-old rookie," said Riley, who is on a fishing trip in Alberta, Canada. "I'm really happy about it because it will just make thesummer easier to work out. Tommy's (McVie) a believer in hard work. If you give 120 percent and still mess up, you'll know it's your own fault."

But Riley, who served a tendon in November 1977, said he felt McNab owed him at least one more chance.

"I felt I had proven myself in Washington before last season, but when we got back into training camp Mr. McNab didn't even give me a shot," Riley said. "I lost some confidence in him. I asked him why I didn't get a fair shot and he couldn't give me a reason. I think I'm a better hockey player than he ever gave me credit for.

"Don't get me wrong. I have no hard feelings for Max. He gave me a chance in the long run - when I first came up. I'm grateful for that and I'll always be grateful for that. But I just feel he didn't give me a fair shot last year."

Riley, who scored only twice in 24 games for Washington last winter, said he was happy for his teammates who were also picked up.

The 22-year-old Patey had one goal in six games for the Caps last season and had been shuffled to the Washington farm clubs in Dayton and Hershey the last three years.

Smith, 29, accumulated a minus-8 rating in 39 games for Washington last season. His highest scoring season was 1977-1978, when he had four goals.

In other draft developments, Winnipeg General Manger John Freguson made retired left winger Bobby Hull his third choice, immediately rekindling a struggle over the services of the former Chicago Black Hawk and Winnipeg star.

Black Hawk General Manager Bob Pulford had reclaimed Hull from the Jet roster, but Ferguson drafted the Golden Jet in hopes of making a trade for some of Chicago's younger talent.

A hitch in the completion of the merger was announced Tuesday night when the financial committee, after a review of the expansion documents, found that Edmonton failed to deliver a$5 million letter of credit.

However, NHL President John Zeigler said yesterday the delay in awarding the franchises was a matter of small details.

WINNIPEG - Goalie Markus Mattson, New York Islanders; right wing Peter Marsh, Montreal; goalie Lindsay Middlebrook, New York Rangers; left wing Bobby Hull, Chicago; defenseman Al Cameron, Detroit; left Wing Dave Hoyda, Philadelphia; left wing Jim Roberts, Minnesota; left wing lorne Stamier, Toronta; right wing Mark Heaslip, Los Angeles; defenseman Pierre Hamel, Toronto; center Gord McTaylish, St. Louis; defenseman Gord Smith, Washington; left wing Clarke Hamilton, Detroit; left wing Jamie Cunningham, Philadelphia; right wing Dennis Abgrall, Los Angeles; right wing Bill Riley, Washington; left wing-center Gene Carr, Atlanta, and right wing Hilliard Graves, Vancouver.

EDMONTON - Left wing Cam Connor, Montreal; defenseman Lee Fogolin, Buffalo; defenseman Pat Price, Islanders; defenseman Colin Campbell, Pittsburgh; defenseman Larry Brown, Los Angeles; goalie Pete LoPresti, Minnesotaf center Ron Areshenkoff, Buffalo; left wing Inge Hammarstrom, St. Louis; right wing John Gould, Atlanta; defenseman Doug Hicks, Chicago; defenseman Tom Edur, Pittsburg; left wing Wayne Bianchin, Pittsburgh; defenseman Mike Forbes, Boston; goalie Doug Favell, Colorado; center Doug Patey, Washington, and left wing Bob J. Kelly, Chicago.

HARTFORD - Defenseman Alan Hangsleben, Montreal; left wing Nick Fotiu, Rangers; defenseman Rick Lev, Toronto; defenseman Al Sims, Boston; center Jean Savard, Chicago; center Ralph Klassen, Colorado; defenseman Rick Hodgson, Atlanta; defenseman Kevin Kemp, Toronto; left wing Bill Bennett, Boston; left wing Bernie Johnston, Philadelphia; center Brian Hill, Atlanta; Dave Given, Buffalo; defenseman Maynard Schurman, Philadelphia; defenseman Nick Beverley, Colorado; goalie Norm LaPointe, Vancouver, and right wing Don Kozak, Vancouver.

QUEBEC - Defenseman Dave Farrish, Rangers; defenseman Gerry Hart, Islanders; goalie Ron Low, Detroit; right wing Pierre Plante, Rangers; left wing Blair Stewart, Washington; defenseman John Baby, Minnesota; left wing John Smrke, St. Louis; goalie Dava Parro, Boston; right wing Ken Kuzyk, Minnesota; left wing Roland Cloutier, Detroit; left wing Terry Martin, Buffalo; defenseman Jamie Masters, St. Louis; right wing Hartland Monahan, Los Angeles; center Ron Andruff, Colorado; left wing Alain Cote, Montreal, and defenseman Lars Zetterstrom, Vancouver. CAPTION: Picture, Blair Stewart