In the early minutes of the Capitals' exhibition execution of Pittsburgh here Sunday, a Washington left wing wearing No. 25 hammered a Penguin to the ice with a major-league check.

Up and down the Capital bench came the whispers. "What's his name? Who's that? Where'd he come from?"

By the time No. 25 left the ice at the end of his shift, he was greeted by teammates pounding his back and offering congratulations: "Way to go, Torrie. Good hit, Torrie."

Torrie Robertson, age 19, a third-round draft choice out of Victoria, B.C., suddendly was one of the boys. And if he can sustain the effort he put forth Sunday, he will be opening the season in Washington on Oct. 10.

"He's absolutely fearless," said Coach Gary Green. "He couldn't care if he's up against a bulldozer; he'll take a run at it. If there's anything the players respect, it's toughness -- not the toughness of dropping your gloves, but of sacrificing your body, taking a hit to get the puck to a teammate. Torrie has courage and it didn't take long for the other guys to respect him.

"He's not a skilled hockey player in a lot of things, but he's a disciplined hockey player. He's up and down the wing, looking to pick up his man. He fit in well with our forwards. That is as good a balance in our four lines as we've had since the start of training camp."

Robertson, 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, worked out here while the Capitals made their triumphant trip to Sweden and he was stunned to be the only stay-at-home to break the starting lineup Sunday.

"I really was surprised," Robertson said. "I figured I'd just be playing with the Hershey guys the next few days. The first shift, I was a little nervous, but I was playing with two good guys, Guy Charron and Dennis Ververaert, and once I made a couple of hits I got in the game.

"It was actually easier playing here than it was when I first went to play junior. These guys are like a big family, really close, and they're all friendly -- helping you out, pointing out little things you're doing wrong.

"Guy was just great. Before the game he called me over and told me just to play my game, that he'd try to play to my style, rather than me to him. It gave me a lot of confidence to know a guy would do something like that."

"It had to be difficult for him, his first game, but he did a lot of things right," Charron said. "He was up and down his wing, seldom out of position, playing good in the corners. If he's only 19 years old, he's got a lot of things going for him."

Normally, a player like Robertson would get some seasoning at Hershey before joining the Capitals.However, as an underage draftee, he must either stay in Washington or be returned to his junior club in Victoria.

Initially, Washington General Manager Max McNab was figuring another year in Victoria for Robertson, followed by a year in Hershey. Before the Capitals dealt for Bob Kelly, McNab had said, "Torrie Robertson is the man we're counting on in a couple of years, but we need somebody to fill in for a while."

Today, McNab conceded he might have to accelerate the schedule.

"It's a decision we have to make soon and it's not an easy one," McNab said. "I've never seen a more fearless player than Torrie Robertson. He's not afraid of taking a charge to make a play and he delivers the puck to the centerman so well. Guy Charron was in a rocking chair playing with him yesterday."

"In our zone, he's been the best player we've had," said Hershey Coach Bryan Murray, whose raves were responsible for Robertson's promotion. He's adept at getting the puck out he has good puck sense and he's aggressive. I'd sure like to have him here."

That cannot happen this year and even Robertson is a bit regretful, saying, "I could use the ice time here, to slowly get a look at what the pros are like instead of having it thrown right at me. I have a few things to work on; really a lot of things -- handling the puck, shooting, passing in the offensive zone."

At the conclusion of today's practice. Robertson stayed on the ice to work on his shooting. It was part of a relentless effort to improve his skills. Another segment occurred during the summer, when he and Assistant Coach Bill Mahoney worked on his skating in Victoria, from midnight until 2 a.m.

"It was the only time we could get ice and it was a little odd, but it helped me out a lot," Robertson said. "We went right back to basics and he showed me things I'd done wrong all my life that no one ever noticed."

This week folks are noticing a lot of things Robertson is doing right.

Today was an off day for those who went to Sweden, but practing along with the Hershey crew was defense man Pierre Bouchard, who suffered a charley horse in Stockholm and missed a few days of work. "They were told to take the day off and he elected not to." Green said. 'That tells a lot about Butch" Wes Jarvis, challenging Ververgaert for the final right wing berth, has been slowed by a bruised kidney. . . Archie Henderson suffered a broken knuckle on his right hand during the first of his three fights with Rochester's Mike Breen as Hershey won Sunday night's exhibition here, 2-1. The two teams penalty total, inflated by violations of the new back-off white rule, reached 254 minutes.