LAKE PLACID, N.Y., SEPT. 18 -- They are four different types of players from four Canadian provinces. What ties Jeff Greenlaw, Reggie Savage, Olie Kolzig and John Slaney together is that they all were first-round draft picks of the Washington Capitals and all remain hopeful of someday getting to, or getting back to, the National Hockey League.

As in other professional sports, there is always more attention, and thus expectation, attached to first-round picks. Like baseball -- but unlike basketball and football -- there is rarely an immediate leap into big-league lineups, much less stardom. The progression from one station to another can be smooth or rough, with the outcome always uncertain.

Greenlaw and Kolzig went to the NHL directly from junior hockey, but neither stuck and each is trying to get back. Savage and Slaney have yet to appear in a regular season professional game. Savage will do so this season, while Slaney almost surely will not.

Greenlaw's pro career is best chronicled on a medical chart. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound left wing from Toronto was the 19th pick overall in the 1986 draft. Just 18 at the time, he began that season as a Capital.

"There is no better feeling," Greenlaw said today. "It was the best time in my life. You're in the NHL, playing in front of 17,000 every night. You're proud. You're making good money. Let's face it -- it's the dream of every kid who plays hockey."

But 22 games into the season, Greenlaw suffered a broken back. Since then, he has appeared in just one NHL game.

"Very humbling," he said.

He played just 56 games in 1987-88 because of continuing problems with his back, although he appeared in one playoff game with the Capitals. The back was fine in 1988-89, but he missed another 24 games after he was hit in the thigh.

A calcium deposit about six inches long with the diameter of a "pool cue," Greenlaw said, formed on the leg bone and he was able to play only 10 games with Baltimore. Surgery at this point might not eliminate the problem and would cost Greenlaw another season, so he is hoping treatments will allow him to play this season.

The Capitals did not have a first-round pick in 1987. Savage was their first-round choice (15th overall) in 1988.

"To be a first-round is a big deal for nothing," Savage said. "It doesn't matter here."

After three seasons of junior hockey in Victoriaville, Quebec, Savage has been working with the B group, which means he will almost surely start his first pro season in Baltimore.

"I'm still young, just 20, and I'm not worried about that," said Savage, who came to camp in excellent shape. "I just want to work and improve my game."

Kolzig was the big, lanky young star of last season's training camp, after being picked 19th overall in 1989. With the goaltending situation shaky, he started the season with the Capitals at age 19. He played two games in October and remembers them vividly.

"In Toronto, we had a 4-1 lead and I crumbled and we lost {8-4}," said Kolzig, who was not solely to blame. "When you have a lead in the NHL, you have to keep it. Those two games made me a better player."

The most recent No. 1 pick usually receives a little more attention than others. But goaltenders normally take longer to develop, which is part of why Kolzig feels more pressure this year.

"Last year, I didn't have the mind-set to play in Washington," Kolzig said. "I thought I'd go to camp, make a good impression and go back to juniors. But I stayed and got a taste of the NHL, which was a big shock. This year, I came with the mind-set that I would stay."

Unfortunately, Kolzig got off to a slow start and then hurt his shoulder last Saturday. He and the Capitals are hoping his shoulder will heal enough so that he can play some in the final four exhibition games at the end of next week.

Although it's not impossible Kolzig will return to his junior team in Tri-Cities, he is more likely to start the season in Baltimore or Hampton of the East Coast Hockey League. The key is for him to play and not sit.

Slaney is the most recent top pick, and although he is talented, every expectation is that he will return to his junior team in Cornwall. The Capitals, drafting earlier than they have since 1982, took Slaney with the ninth pick overall.

A 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenseman from St. John's, Newfoundland, Slaney is just 18 and, off the ice, barely looks his age. With skates on, he moves beautifully, weaving through defenders as he glides up ice, looking to make plays. If he was just a year or two older, a bit bigger and stronger, he might be in the starting lineup in October.

With Scott Stevens gone and Kevin Hatcher holding out (though discussions resumed today), the Capitals are in need of such a player.

"I don't feel that much pressure," Slaney said. Still, it's a new feeling working out with players he has watched while growing up. "I see guys like Rod Langway and I get the jitters just when they walk beside me. I've just got to go out and play my game. That's why Washington picked me."