He sounded like a high school senior about to take his driver's test. Not that he talked much -- his yearbook likely would describe him as "quiet, shy, blond, athletic" -- but Scott Stevens, the Capitals' No. 1 draft pick, briefly shared his anxiety and awe.

"It's hard to believe," he said, twirling an empty cup in his hands. "These guys are all a lot faster and stronger and bigger (than in junior hockey). I'll just have to get used to it. I'll have to work at it."

At 18, Stevens very much wants to be working for the Capitals as a defenseman this season. He is about to sign a three-year, plus one (option year) contract with Washington, but it will be a while before he knows whether he will remain with the professionals or return to the junior ranks in Kitchener, Ontario.

"In fairness to Scott, we want to take a real good look at him. You don't want to get too high or too negative on a kid too fast," said General Manager Dave Poile. "I've noticed with first-round draft choices, sometimes there's an aura, sort of, that puts more pressure on them. That's not fair to them. They get a little more nervous."

Did someone say nervous?

After today's opening session of training camp, between filling out medical forms and posing for official mug shots, Stevens had his first taste of the big time when he skated with his would-be teammates.

"Yeah, it's soooo much faster," he repeated. "And all these guys are men, not kids. In the juniors you play with a lot of young guys, some smaller ones, and some that are stronger than you. Here, all the guys are the same size and they're so strong."

Capitals Coach Bryan Murray thinks Stevens is ready to play in the NHL. "Sure, he's very nervous, afraid of things," he said. "Here's a kid who played just one year of junior hockey, coming to camp and seeing all these guys who have a good deal of ability and experience. He sees how exceptionally quick Dennis Maruk can skate, and that makes him question whether he's ready to play. "But the level comes up very quickly. He's the type of kid who can make the NHL."

Stevens' size (6 feet, 200 pounds) is an advantage, too. "Despite his age, physically, he's capable," said Poile. "The rest, the speed, that's what he'll learn here. We'll see in our scrimmages if he can keep up the tempo of the NHL."

Murray probably will pair Stevens with either Brian Engblom or Rod Langway, who were traded from Montreal last Friday. "Especially in the preseason, I'd like to let him play with a guy like that who has so much ability," he said.

Told of this, Stevens' face took on an "oh, wow" expression. "I didn't know anything about that," he said, plainly excited. "That's great, because those guys can cover for you once in awhile while you're learning."

None of the Capitals was very familiar with Stevens, but right wing Mike Gartner said he "definitely seems to have the right attitude."

"I hadn't seen him play hockey at all, but I think he'll be fine," he said. "He's positive. And he's another player here who hasn't seen all the bad times."

Gartner was referring not only to the Capitals' losing ways on the ice, but their recent uncertain financial status. Stevens said he knew little about the problem. "That's the best way," he said. "People kept asking me and I just didn't know."

Stevens said he was not concerned when his contract wasn't resolved sooner. "What held it up, I guess, was Washington's deciding if they'd have a team and all that. But first-rounders usually sign," he said.

And stay, he hopes.