The Washington Capitals were forced to restore defenseman Mike McEwen to their roster yesterday when he failed to clear waivers for assignment to Binghamton.

McEwen was sent to the American Hockey League club Saturday. However, since he was placed on the Capitals' protected list and therefore could not be claimed in yesterday's waiver draft, he had to be processed through routine waivers before playing in the minors.

When McEwen signed with Washington as a free agent in August, after being released by Los Angeles, he also received a contract offer from Edmonton. The Oilers' general manager, Glen Sather, showed he was still interested yesterday, when he claimed McEwen.

Accordingly, Washington General Manager David Poile withdrew the waivers and ordered McEwen back to Washington. His return leaves the club with nine defensemen and Poile with a puzzle.

"I've got to think about this now," Poile said. "It brings up a big problem. I've got to make some telephone calls."

Even if Poile returns rookie Kevin Hatcher to his junior team in North Bay, Ontario, he still would have eight defensemen, forcing two to sit out each night.

His options are to work a deal involving McEwen or another defender, or to attempt to slip someone else through waivers, presumably Darren Veitch.

McEwen had been targeted to remain with the Capitals until Veitch's outstanding performances in the last two exhibition games reversed the order. Over the entire training camp, McEwen played better than either Veitch or Larry Murphy, a projected starter.

For a Stanley Cup champion, Edmonton was surprisingly busy in the waiver draft, which saw 10 players change uniforms in transactions costing $102,500. The Oilers, who lost two forwards, also picked up two. Washington was unaffected by the modest activity.

When Toronto selected Maryland-born winger Jeff Brubaker from the Oilers, Sather elected to keep Terry Martin, the player the Leafs dropped from their protected list. It was the only instance in which a team losing someone took a player rather than the cash.