The Washington Capitals gave Lee Norwood a most welcome birthday present yesterday when they obtained the California-born defenseman from the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for center Tim Tookey.

Norwood, who will be 22 today, had been skating for the Nordiques' American League farm club at Fredericton, New Brunswick. He will be in a Washington uniform tonight, however, when the Capitals battle the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum (WDCA-TV-20 at 8 o'clock).

Norwood, 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, played for Washington Coach Bryan Murray at Hershey last season, as the Nordiques assigned several players there because they lacked a minor league affiliate. In 52 games with the Bears, he had 11 goals and 32 assists.

"He played for me and I liked what I saw," Murray said. "He's a left-hand shot, he's smart and he can handle himself. We've needed somebody on the left side and he is capable of doing the job.

"I went up to watch him play in Binghamton, where they have a small rink and generally forecheck the visiting team to death. He didn't have any trouble. He was playing with Dale Hoganson, who is a fair defenseman, and he was twice as good as Hoganson."

Tookey started the season in Washington, but played only one game before a bruised knee forced him out for two weeks. He collected eight goals and eight assists in 28 games before he was assigned to Hershey Jan. 1. His most memorable night came on Nov. 21, when he recorded a hat trick in the 10-4 victory over Philadelphia.

"Tookey has some real talent, no question about it," said Washington General Manager Roger Crozier. "He has offensive ability and he's going to play. But we need a little help on defense and we figure the two of them are about equal talents.

"I saw Norwood play a lot last year. He's got the potential to be very good. He is young and he moves the puck real well. He . . . has the potential to develop. We could have gotten a retread, but we'd rather go with a younger guy who can turn into something."

Norwood was born in Oakland, Calif., but grew up in Detroit and played junior hockey in Oshawa, Ontario. A third-round pick of the Nordiques in 1979, he suffered a knee injury in training camp this year and was sent to Fredericton. In his only visit to Hershey, he scored a hat trick as the Express upset the Bears.

Last year Norwood was not reluctant to let his Hershey teammates know that he hoped to be dealt to another club, rather than play in Quebec, where he was unhappy while playing for a month at season's start.

To complete the deal, Quebec surrendered its sixth-round pick in the June entry draft in exchange for Washington's seventh-round choice.

"It's been our experience in the past that in the fifth or sixth round there are always some guys we really liked or wanted to take a chance on," Crozier said. "If we can move up just a little, it could give us a better shot."

Although no announcement has been made yet, it would appear that the acquisition of Norwood assures that defenseman Jim McTaggart will be returned to Hershey. He has played little recently. Another defender, Timo Blomqvist, was unable to practice yesterday because of a badly bruised foot.

The Capitals gained a 2-2 tie with the Islanders at Capital Centre Jan. 17, after dropping their first three games against New York.

An interesting sidelight to tonight's game is the battle between Washington's Dennis Maruk and New York's Mike Bossy for third place in the NHL scoring race behind Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny. Maruk has 83 points on 36 goals and 47 assists, Bossy 81 points on 35 goals and 46 assists.