The Washington Capitals, 19th in the order of selection, do not expect to find any bargains when the National Hockey League conducts its annual waiver draft today.

Although teams may protect only 16 skaters and two goaltenders, exemptions are granted to all skaters who have not completed two pro seasons and all goalies with less than three. Considering the proliferation of young players in the league, that does not leave much to be culled.

The Capitals' unprotected list is typical. Goalie Rick St. Croix has been assigned to Fort Wayne and the other four available players are in Binghamton -- defenseman Marc Chorney, center Mark Taylor and left wings Daryl Evans and Grant Martin.

"The waiver draft has never been a valid way for the Capitals to get players before, and from our position drafting 19th, I see no reason to think the two or three players we'd be interested in would still be available," said General Manager David Poile. "However, you never say never. The situation could change as the picks go on."

Any team making a selection must drop one of its protected players. In the past, that has created a domino effect and led to activity even by teams that passed on the first round.

Washington might lose one player, since St. Croix, Detroit's Ed Mio and Quebec's Daniel Bouchard are the only experienced goaltenders available. Several teams, notably Winnipeg and Chicago, could use backup help.

Among the defensemen who might be chosen are Richie Dunn, Buffalo; Larry Melnyk, Edmonton; Jack Brownschidle, Hartford; Randy Velischek, Minnesota; Gaston Gingras, Montreal; Phil Russell, New Jersey, and Jim Wiemer, New York Rangers.

Available forwards include Don Lever and Brent Peterson, Buffalo; Jeff Larmer, Chicago; Ivan Boldirev, Detroit; Willy Lindstrom and Dave Lumley, Edmonton; Mike Blaisdell, Rangers; Ross Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia, and Ron Delorme, Vancouver.

Former Capitals left unprotected by their new teams were Paul Gardner, Buffalo, now a player-coach in Rochester; Greg Joly, Detroit; Tim Coulis, Minnesota; Archie Henderson, New Jersey; Gary Rissling, Pittsburgh, and Wes Jarvis and Gary McAdam, Toronto.

The Capitals, who open their 12th season in New York Thursday against the Rangers, completed their poorest preseason in history (2-5-1) by dropping a 6-0 game to Philadelphia Saturday night in Hershey, Pa. Many regulars were held out of that contest, as they had been from other exhibitions.

In the past, the Capitals have built outstanding preseason records and then started slowly.