If he wasn't the clear choice last season, he was this time. Either way, Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Hatcher will play in his second consecutive NHL all-star game on Jan. 19 in Chicago.

"I was very happy to be selected and it's exciting," he said. "Last year, we had some big injuries at the time, with Scotty {Stevens} out. This year, I think I deserved it with people healthy."

Hatcher and most of the Capitals will face Moscow Dynamo tonight at 7:35 in their game of the NHL's Super Series. Teammate Mikhail Tatarinov played 11 games for Dynamo before leaving Moscow to join the Capitals in October.

"It will be a friendly game," Tatarinov said.

Indeed, the game doesn't count in the NHL standings and, like other NHL squads, the Capitals will use seven players whom they brought up from Baltimore. "We want to play well because people paid money to see this game," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said.

Hatcher started earning a lot more money this season, after stepping into the top echelon of NHL defensemen last season. Actually, it was the second half of last season.

"Right around the all-star game last year, Kevin started to take charge like he can," Capitals goalie Don Beaupre said. "We were really struggling at the time and he played with a lot of confidence."

The fans pick the six starters for the game and the coaches fill in the rosters with at least one player from every team. Boston won the Wales Conference last season, so Mike Milbury will coach that squad, with Edmonton's John Muckler directing the Campbell Conference unit. Each raised a few eyebrows with a couple of selections announced yesterday. Milbury included his own Chris Nilan, essentially an enforcer with just 15 points. Meanwhile, Muckler left Chicago goalie Ed Belfour -- who leads the league in victories (25-11-2) and goals-against-average (2.44) -- off the squad in favor of his own Bill Ranford (15-17-2, 2.99 GAA).

Hatcher, 24, was the Capitals' eighth-leading scorer after 40 games last season, with two goals and 17 assists. As he said, Stevens (who made it this year as a a member of the St. Louis Blues) might have been picked ahead of Hatcher. But Hatcher's second-half made him worthy of the honor. In the last 40 games, he had 11 goals and 24 assists.

This season, he is the Capitals' leading scorer with 13 goals and 31 assists in 43 games. His next goal will tie his NHL career high for goals. The lone glitch is a plus-minus rating of minus-10. Much of that can be attributed to the first few games of the season (he was minus-9 after six games), when he was catching up after missing all of training camp because of a contract dispute.

"There's no question he's had a tremendous first half," Murray said.

Hatcher displayed less surprise than he did a year ago, when then-coach Bryan Murray informed him of the selection during a break in practice in Toronto.

"There's no question it was a great feeling, but it feels just as good this time," Hatcher said. "I think I have improved and I want to get better every year. I've played over 400 games and I've learned to play at this level."