"Is this the White House?" one of them asked as he was about to ascend the steps on the east side of the Capitol.
A tourist from a far off land? No, just one of the Washington Capitals' draft choices, most of whom still are in high school and have never been to the United States, much less its capital.
The visitor, who hopes to someday make his living and home here, was corrected, then nodded approvingly.
The Capitals brought their 13 draft choices from June's entry draft, their top pick from last year, a free agent who might sign soon and a recently acquired player to Washington for a tour before they receive medical and fitness examinations today. Eyes were wide and mouths agape as the busload of aspiring hockey players, mostly Canadians, saw the usual tourist attractions.
"I never thought there was so much here," said defenseman Bill Houlder as he sat on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, gazing at the Washington Monument. Houlder, 18, of Thunder Bay, Ont., played with North Bay of the Ontario Hockey League and was the Capitals' fourth pick in the draft, 82nd overall.
"It's a great city . . . unbelievable," said Yvon Corriveau, the Capitals' top pick, 19th overall, who comes from Welland, Ont. General Manager David Poile said it is possible some draftees will make the Capitals, and Corriveau is hopeful but realistic.
"I was talking to the coach (Bryan Murray) and he said I would get a chance," Corriveau said. "I just have to work hard, come prepared and give it my best shot."
The Capitals announced yesterday they had reached agreement with 6-foot-3, 204-pound defenseman Grant Jennings, a 20-year-old free agent who played three years for Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League. Jennings was present yesterday, but said the deal was not final. "I just looked at it (the contract) last night," he said. "No, it's not definite. Anything can happen."
"He's a late developer and passed through the draft basically because of his age," said Jack Button, Capitals director of player personnel. "Right after the draft, we commenced negotiations with his agent and they went over it last night. Clare Rothermel (the Capitals' western scout) is very high on him. If we hadn't been able to get him because of somebody going ahead and drafting him, I would have had an uprising on my hands from the western scouts."
"We think he can play and there's a spot in our system for him," Poile said of Jennings, who had 10 goals and 14 assists last season while slowed with a shoulder injury.
David A. Jensen, who was acquired in a March trade with Hartford, also was present. Jensen was a first-round pick in 1983, a U.S. Olympian in 1984, but had just four assists in 13 games with Hartford before the trade, and five goals and eight assists in 35 games at Binghamton.
"That was a dead-end street," Jensen said of the Whalers. "They're not going anywhere fast. When I was traded, it was a real relief.
"What surprised me about Washington was the unity of the coaches and players. I don't want to knock Hartford, but here, from the general manager on down, they're all on the same team."