Now that America's draft is over, it is time to focus on Canada's draft. Today in Montreal the Washington Capitals and 20 other National Hockey League teams will assume rights to future stars who already are household names in Sudbury and South Porcupine, but are rarely recognizable south of the border. But contrast, of course, Joe Barry Carroll is not a Candian headliner this morning.
The Capitals, choosing fifth in the first round, are expected to grab Darren Veitch, an offensive-minded defenseman who led Regina to the Western Hockey League title. It is no certainty, however. Veitch might be gone by then -- or a higher-rated player might still be around.
Secrecy abounds among the teams with the first five picks -- Montreal, Winnipeg, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. In the Capitals' case, it is understandable; why Montreal officials are so tight-lipped has led to conjecture over whether Managing Director Irving Grundman has yet made a decision.
Grundman is in a difficult spot, not only because the Canadiens, under his stewardship, failed to reach the Stanley Cup semifinals. There are two players with can't miss credentials available today, center Doug Wickenheiser of Regina and defenseman Wayne Babych of Portland, but Montreal fans are loudly demonstrating their desire for Grundman to tab instead hometown favorite Denis Savard, a 5-foot-9, 157-pound center.
Grundman tried to resolve his dilemma by offering Winnipeg a package including Guy Lapointe for the Jets' choice, but was turned down by General Manager John Ferguson. Grundman may sweeten the pot at the last minute.
Washington Coach Gary Green would love to latch onto defenseman Larry Murphy, a 6-1, 210-pounder who played for Green at Peterborough. Murphy is likely to be Chicago's selection, however, so the Capitals figure to be choosing among Veitch, 5-11 and 188; Cornwall defenseman Fred Arthur, 6-4 and 204, and Regina's 71-goal winger, Mike Blaisdell, 6-1 and 196.
There is a suspicion that Green would prefer the heavy-hitting Arthur, but General Manager Max McNab has the last word and he has characterized Veitch as "a player like Denis Potvin who controls things, playing 50 minutes in the important games."
This draft includes youngsters born in 1961 and 1962, as well as the 1960 crop so badly depleted a year ago. Accordingly, McNab feared he might have to choose someone on a future basis, with NHL potential to be fulfilled a year or two down the road.
McNab went west on a scouting trip in early April, however, and on his return said, "I think we can be pretty certain of picking a player who can help us right away."
Since Regina was one of his stops, he presumably was impressed by Veitch, a 20-year-old right-hand shot who was ignored in the 1979 draft, largely because he played for a last-place team that yielded a WHL record 481 goals in 72 games.
This season, however, Veitch became a 122-point scorer as Regina jumped to the top. He added 31 playoff points, then joined Murphy on the Memorial Cup All-Star Team, an honor denied Wickenheiser and Arthur.
Mention names to the Capitals' brian trust and they immediately shift the conversation to the miserable weather in Montreal.
"We're in a competitive position and we have to keep our ratings to ourselves, explained Jack Button, the club's director of player recruitment. "Sometimes we even lie."
It would be no lie to recruit future talent on the basis of "join the Capitals and see the world." The Caps played a series in Japan in 1976 and in late September, they will fly to Sweden, along with the Minnesota North Stars, for a four-team tournament with two Swedish teams.
The NHL announced its all-star team at a luncheon in Montreal yesterday and the big suprise was the selection of 19-year-old defenseman Ray Bourque of Boston to the first team. Bourque was the eighth player chosen in the 1979 draft; Rob Ramage of Colorado, the No. 1 draftee, proved a bust.
McNab has a good track record, though. His four No. 1 choices have been Rick Green, Robert Picard, Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner. Picard, with nine points, was the only Capital to receive consideration in the all-star voting.
Besides Bourque, the first team included goalie Tony Esposito, Chicago; defenseman Larry Robinson and right wing Guy Lafleur, Montreal, and center Marcel Dionne and left wing Charlie Simmer, Los Angeles.