The Washington Capital's took what General Manager David Poile termed "a giant step toward filling our biggest hole" when they drafted left wing Yvon Corriveau in the first round of yesterday's National Hockey League draft.

Even though he was the fourth left wing selected, Corriveau, a left-handed shooter from Welland, Ontario, was the Capitals' top-rated player at that position, according to Poile. "He was one of the very, very top players we had on our list," said chief scout Jack Button, obviously pleased with this 19th choice overall in the draft.

Both Corriveau, 18, and second-round pick John Druce, 19, a right wing from Peterborough, Ontario, are big, strong, aggressive and skate well, all the qualities Poile wanted in his top picks. But Poile doesn't expect either to make the parent roster next season.

"Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, Yvon (who pronounces it an anglicized 'Ivan') will be patrolling left wing for the Capitals and hopefully be on one of our top two lines for many years to come," said Poile, who had been foiled twice in attempts to improve the Capitals' draft position by trade in order to get Corriveau. "But I'd be very surprised if Yvon or any of our draft choices are able to make the club.

"I say that not to criticize our picks, but we did finish third (regular-season record) in the NHL last season."

Corriveau said the Capitals told him two weeks ago they would select him if he were available. And Poile does see reason why Corriveau might surprise him and make the club.

"He's a man," Poile said from Toronto, where the NHL meetings and draft were held. "He's 6-1 and weighs 205 pounds. It's not like he has to go on a weight-training program. He's a big, strong boy. That's a big plus."

Corriveau, also in Toronto, said the best parts of his game were his strength and skating ability. Asked which NHL player he resembles in style of play, Corriveau answered John Tonelli, the New York Islanders' veteran left wing.

"I can take my man and go to the net," Corriveau said. "Cutting to the net is one of my strongest points. I can't wait to play for them. I'm really glad Washington picked me. I think I can help them."

In a draft that held few surprises -- Toronto took defenseman/left wing Wendel Clark of Kelvington, Saskatchewan, with the first pick -- left wings Craig Duncanson (No. 9, by Los Angeles), Derek King (No. 13, by the Islanders) and David Latta (No. 15, by Quebec) were chosen ahead of Corriveau.

Immediately selected behind him were left wings Scott Metcalfe by the Edmonton Oilers and Glen Seabrooke by the Philadelphia Flyers. All six other first-round selections at left wing are more prolific scorers than Corriveau, who had 16 goals and 21 assists for the Toronto Marlboros in the Ontario Hockey Association last season.

"He's a better all-around hockey player," Poile said. "The others are talented players, but not as versatile and as complete a player as Yvon. He fits our mold of player more precisely because he can play offense and defense. We're trying to make that a trademark of our team."

Druce, who is 6-1 and 187, said he "was happy and surprised" to be selected by the Capitals. "They play the type of game I like to play," he said. "They're a hard-working team. My strengths are skating and playing tough along the boards. That's what I do best."

Playing for the Peterborough Petes of the OHA the last two seasons, he had only 27 goals and 32 assists in 94 games. Like Corriveau, he was not as highly rated by other clubs.

"Both of them have size, skating ability and goal-scoring punch, although that's not apparent by the statistics," Button said. "If they can contribute 25-30 goals down the line, that'll be fine."

Neither Corriveau nor Druce will be complete strangers to the Capitals. Corriveau will be joining teammates Jim Thomson and Vito Cramarossa, both 1984 draftees, in the Washington organization. Druce's coach, Dick Todd, is a part-time scout for the Capitals, and a current teammate, center Robert Murray (no relation to Capitals Coach Bryan Murray), was Washington's third-round choice.

In another development, Washington remains one of the three finalists for Adam Oates, a collegiate free agent who centered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's NCAA champions. Oates was supposed to make his decision among the Capitals, Islanders and New York Rangers yesterday, but Oates' agent said the decision won't be made until next week, according to Poile.

Speculation centers that Oates will sign with the Rangers, with whom he has the best chance to play immediately. The Rangers chose center Ulf Dahlen of Ostersun, Sweden, with their first pick, No. 7 overall. But Dahlen, who some services rated the top prospect in the draft, is committed to playing for a Swedish team for the next two seasons.

In trades for draft position, the Calgary Flames sent right wing Kent Nilsson to the Minnesota North Stars, and the Montreal Canadiens dealt right wing Mark Hunter to the St. Louis Blues.

Nilsson, who led the Flames in scoring last season with 37 goals and 99 points, went for second-round picks this year and next. Hunter went to the Blues along with the rights to defenseman Mike Dark of NCAA champion RPI and four picks in this year's draft in exchange for five selections, including St. Louis' No. 1.