The National Hockey League will conduct its annual entry draft today at B.C. Place in Vancouver, with the usual, pre-draft trade winds blowing through the Pacific Northwest city.

Although there are a couple of players in the pool who could help teams right away, hockey's draft is much like that of baseball and unlike those of basketball and football. As in baseball, most hockey teams are picking for several seasons in the future.

"Who is going to be the best player five years from now?" Jack Button, director of player personnel for the Washington Capitals said of his modus operandi.

The draft order is based on the previous season's regular season standings, which means the Quebec Nordiques will choose first for the second year in a row and the Capitals will choose ninth -- their highest position since 1982. After Quebec come fellow non-playoff qualifiers Vancouver, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Nordiques have not said who they will take, although some think it will be Cornwall right wing Owen Nolan.

The draft will last 12 rounds. The first three rounds will be open to any player who will be 18 years old by Sept. 15, 1990. The next nine rounds will be limited to 1) players born in 1970; 2) those who have played at least one season of U.S. college hockey; 3) those with three seasons of junior hockey experience; 4) those who have played two seasons of First Division or Elite European hockey; 5) those who have played three seasons at a U.S. high school.

Canadians make up about 72 percent of NHL rosters and nearly all of those players come from the three main junior leagues -- Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. Most of the top draft picks will have played two seasons of junior hockey. Once drafted, players usually play another season, or two, of junior hockey before moving to a franchise's minor league team or to the NHL squad.

Trades frequently are swung before, during or shortly after the draft, and there were several rumors floating around yesterday.

Russ Farwell, who left Seattle of the WHL to take over as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, has the fourth pick, but may want to trade up to take Petr Nedved, who plays for Seattle. One report suggested Farwell might be willing to part with goalie Ron Hextall for the right deal.

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Mike Smith said publicly in May he will try to honor center Dale Hawerchuk's trade request. The 27-year-old Hawerchuk had his worst offensive campaign this season, but that still amounted to 26 goals and 55 assists. The Capitals can use another playmaker, but Hartford and Buffalo might be more likely destinations.

"I would say the first four {are by themselves} and then it drops off to a group of five through 15 or 16," Capitals General Manager David Poile said of this draft class. "If you're picking 12 or 13, there's not much advantage to moving up to ninth unless there was just somebody you really had to have and were willing to pay for it."

Nedved is part of the gang of four expected to be chosen first. Centers Mike Ricci of Peterborough and Keith Primeau of Niagara Falls, and right wing Nolan are the other three. Nedved is from Czechoslovakia, having defected in 1988 while his midget team was playing in Calgary.

Times have changed and the next most likely player to be in the top four -- Jaromir Jagr -- also is from Czechoslovakia, but he comes to the draft with his nation's blessing. It is uncertain how quickly Czech hockey officials would allow him to leave to play in the NHL. That and the language and cultural adjustments are possible reasons why he might not be chosen higher than fifth.

Trevor Kidd is the top-rated goalie in the draft. The first American likely to be picked is defenseman Darien Hatcher, whose brother, Kevin, plays for the Capitals. It's possible Hatcher still will be there when the Capitals' turn comes.

"It's better to make a hockey decision and stay away from the intangibles," Poile said, "but it doesn't hurt that he's Kevin's brother."

The NHL yesterday held its supplemental draft, made up mostly of players who were in college and were not drafted, or were drafted and not signed. Only the five non-playoff teams picked in the first two rounds, with the other 16 choosing in the following rounds. The Capitals used their first chance to pick Martin Jiranek, a 6-foot, 205-pound sophomore center at Bowling Green.