Peter Andersson, the newest Washington Capital defenseman, was talking about adjusting his game to the NHL style.

"In Sweden, we have smaller rinks, and pass the puck a lot more," he said. "Here, there's much more ice, and you must go out much faster, and clear the puck around the net a lot more."

But Andersson, who has played for the Swedish National Team, is not too concerned about fitting into the Capitals' game plan, simply because this is something he has always wanted to do.

"Coming here, it's a bigger league, a higher one. And I want to try this for now, to see how I can do," he said after an intrasquad scrimmage this morning. "I want to be a part of a team that is coming up."

General Manager David Poile said he first thought of acquiring Andersson "about two weeks before I got this job. I had seen him play in a junior tournament in Winnipeg, and no doubt about it, he was an excellent prospect."

Poile tried to sign Andersson last September, but because the defenseman had contractual obligations to his team in Sweden, Bjorkloven, Andersson was not signed until last May.

"He was a high priority for us," Poile added. "He knows we wanted him very badly, because we had tried so hard to get him before."

Andersson says he had heard of the Capitals long before they approached him. "Before they were not too good, but last year, they went to the playoffs," he said. "It's a young team and I want to be with a team that is coming up, the way Washington is. It's much easier to go to a team that's coming up."

Capitals Coach Bryan Murray had seen Andersson only on videotape, and although he was impressed by the player's defensive presence, Murray now is even more enthusiastic. "He's much better on his feet than I had thought," Murray said, watching Andersson skate through an afternoon practice session. "What we want to do is just play him, let him get into competitive situations, and once that happens, we'll find out more about him."

Adjustments to the NHL brand of play--namely hitting hard--may take some time for Andersson, but size is in his favor. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he will be better able to withstand the physical punishment than a smaller player might.

"In Europe, a player must be talented to survive, and Peter can pass the puck and skate," Murray said. "He is also young (21) and seems so flexible, I think he will fit in very well."

Often, players from Europe are overwhelmed by the NHL schedule, with a dozen preseason games, 80 regular-season ones and at least a few playoff games, spread out all over the North American map. But Andersson, whose previous regular season consisted of 36 games, said he is ready for the seemingly endless season.

"We play not so many preseason games, but playoffs, and National Team games," he said of a 60-game season in Sweden. "The travel will be much different, but I don't mind it."

Brian Engblom, a fellow Capitals defenseman, sees few problems for Andersson. "He's such a quality player that he will make his own adjustments," he said. "And it is easier for a guy who has talent to do that."

A year ago, the Capitals also were high on another import, Czechoslovakian center Milan Novy. But at age 31, Novy found adjusting to life in the NHL more difficult than he had anticipated. The language barrier increased problems, and the Capitals chose not to renew his contract.

Reminded of last year's hopes for Novy, Poile admitted he wanted to "sound more conservative" about Andersson's prospects with the club. "With Milan, the fact that he could not communicate with anyone else on the team, and where he chose to live kept him from really working out," Poile said. "But Milan had a wife and two children, wanted to live close to the Czech embassy, and was older than Peter.

"Peter, on the other hand, is on a club with another Swedish player he can talk to (Bengt Gustafsson), who has been through this before. He is young, knows English, and has the kind of character we want on this team."

Last year, in addition to playing hockey, Andersson went to work in an electrical supply store every morning at 7:30, and practiced or played at night. "Hockey is the job here, and it is all I want to do," said Andersson, who left two sisters "and my dog" back in Sweden. "After hockey, I don't know, because it is all I want to do right now."