Defensemen Marc Chorney and Graeme Nicolson, two of the four free agents signed by the Washington Capitals during the summer, have been assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

Another of the free agents, Mike McEwen, remains one of nine defensemen competing for a regular berth. The fourth, center Paul Gardner, will face his moment of truth later in the week.

Not only did the Capitals not cut any more forwards, they recalled right wing Ed Kastelic from Binghamton, where he had been assigned Thursday. He played in Saturday night's 6-3 exhibition victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

General Manager David Poile had planned to reduce the roster considerably after Saturday's contest here. But the Capitals must play exhibitions four straight nights, beginning Tuesday, and by agreement between the league and the NHL Players Association, no player is permitted to dress more than three days in a row.

Rod Langway and Peter Andersson, two of the Capitals' seven Canada Cup participants, joined the team for tonight's game against the Minnesota North Stars at Waterloo, Iowa, so it was essential that the large defensive corps be reduced.

Chorney and Nicolson played capably in Saturday's rather unexpected victory by a makeshift unit over most of Toronto's regulars. However, it was apparent that they were not going to unseat any of last year's holdovers.

"When we signed all three defensemen, we told them we were pretty well starting with what we finished last year," Poile said. "I'm not disappointed in what Chorney and Nicolson have done. We do have depth now, and I won't hesitate to call them up if we have injuries.

"We'll keep Mike McEwen for now, because he's done more things offensively. He's the one guy we've signed who can do that. It's no secret that we want more offense."

Poile said he wants Langway and Andersson to play four of the next five games and maybe even Dave Shand (out with a fractured sinus bone) will be able to get in one. "It's time to concentrate on getting the defense ready for the start of the season," Poile said.

The composition of the defense has been left in doubt by a number of factors: Shand's injury, the erratic play of regulars Larry Murphy and Darren Veitch, McEwen's offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses, and the sudden emergence of rookie Kevin Hatcher.

Hatcher, expected to be returned to his North Bay junior team before the season, has performed beyond what anyone except he expected. He had an excellent game Saturday and raised eyebrows with a particularly fine shift while Washington was two men short for 27 seconds.

"Kevin Hatcher has played three games and he's made tremendous strides," Coach Bryan Murray said. "The way he's playing right now, he's going to push a few guys. He looks like a veteran out there.

"I put him out during the five-on-three to see how he'd react. You have to try kids in tight spots to learn about them. The best thing about Kevin is that I only have to tell him something one time, and he does it."

Andre Hidi had another good night at left wing, and the way he is learning to throw his weight around, it would appear he has an edge for the one forward spot seemingly available.

Complicating the situation is the excess of good right wings. Alan Haworth, who primarily played the left side a year ago, has been the Capitals' best player while skating on the right side.

In the third period Saturday, Haworth scored the goal that gave Washington a 4-2 lead, his fourth of the exhibitions. Then, 19 seconds after Toronto pulled within a goal, Haworth set up Bob Carpenter for the clincher.

Bryan Erickson, whose stature rose in the Canada Cup, had a hat trick in Friday's 5-3 victory over Calgary. He, Mike Gartner and Bob Gould seem set on the right side. So where does that leave Craig Laughlin?

Just to let everybody know he is still around, Laughlin had a hat trick Saturday, a remarkable accomplishment since he had rejoined the team following his father-in-law's funeral.

Laughlin is the likely left-side designate if Haworth is confirmed as a right wing.

"Yeah, I can see left wing coming," Laughlin said. "We're pretty strong on the right side. But I don't think I'll have any set role. I think I'll be a rover, moving from a checking line to a goal-scoring line, depending on the team's needs."