There is a talented crop of offensive forwards in Saturday's NHL entry draft, and Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is hoping one of the best will be available when he makes his first-round pick.

The Capitals have the seventh selection overall, but if they don't get a great player in the first round, McPhee has an unusual advantage with four second-round selections that could add depth to the Capitals' lines.

"We have a couple of players we'd like to have because we need to add some depth to the forward group," McPhee said. "The top 10 picks might all be forwards. We'll get a good player."

The top prospects in this year's entry draft include a pair of skaters from the Czech Republic: center Patrik Stefan and right wing Pavel Brendl. Some observers believe both are ready to bypass the requisite year or two in the minor leagues and enter the NHL next year.

Stefan, 18, played for the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL last season, where he was viewed as an outstanding puck handler. He totaled 35 assists in 33 games this season and 32 points in 35 games last year.

But two concussions last season might keep Stefan from being the No. 1 pick. He still could get the nod when Tampa Bay, choosing first for the second straight year, begins the nine-round selection process. Atlanta, which picked 26 players in today's expansion draft, has the second pick Saturday.

In the expansion draft, Atlanta took Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi, 33, who, in five Capitals seasons, had 16 goals, 40 assists and 449 penalty minutes in 264 games. Last season he had six assists and 108 penalty minutes in 48 games.

Tinordi becomes a free agent in 10 days, for which the Thrashers will receive a compensatory draft pick in next year's draft.

Unlike recent first choices -- Joe Thornton to Boston in 1997 and Vincent Lecavalier to Tampa Bay in 1998 -- there is no consensus No. 1 selection in this year entry draft.

Besides Stefan, the candidates for that honor include Brendl, who scored 73 goals in 68 games for Calgary of the Western Hockey League last season, and identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Sweden. They hope a trade can be worked out so they can continue playing together.

Brendl is known as a powerful skater with deceptive speed, which makes him effective on breakaways.

Jamie Lundmark, a center with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and is known for his quick wrist shot, which makes him a deadly force from anywhere in the offensive zone.

The top American in the draft is Tim Connolly from Syracuse, N.Y., a center who has strength and speed, along with an effective passing game. Connolly was named the best stick handler in the Western Conference in the 1998-99 Ontario Hockey League coaches poll.

The leading goalie is Brian Finley, who had a 2.66 goals against average and 36-10-4 record with three shutouts last season for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. The Lightning had Corey Schwab at that position, but Atlanta took him in the expansion draft.

Atlanta, which traded last week for Damian Rhodes of Ottawa, added Detroit's Norm Maracle and Carolina's Trevor Kidd in the expansion draft.

Kidd didn't last long with the Thrashers. He was traded to Florida in a four-player deal, one of eight moves made by Atlanta after the draft.

In exchange for Kidd, the Thrashers received defenseman Gord Murphy, who played 51 games for the Panthers, and forward Herbert Vasilyev, who had 28 goals and 76 points for Florida's American Hockey League affiliate in Kentucky. Atlanta also got Daniel Tjarnquist, who played in Sweden, and a sixth-round pick in Saturday's entry draft.

The Thrashers also acquired defenseman Ulf Samuelsson from Detroit for future considerations after the expansion draft.

Atlanta chose 26 players, including 10 defensemen, some of whom could be dealt for scorers.

1999 NHL Draft

The order of selection for today's NHL entry draft in Boston:

1. Tampa Bay

2. Atlanta

3. Vancouver

4. Chicago

5. N.Y. Islanders

6. Nashville

7. Washington

8. N.Y. Islanders (from L.A.)

9. Calgary

10. N.Y. Islanders (from Montreal)

11. N.Y. Rangers

12. Florida (conditional

to Vancouver)

13. Edmonton

14. San Jose

15. Anaheim

16. Carolina

17. St. Louis

18. Pittsburgh

19. Phoenix

20. Buffalo

21. Boston

22. Philadelphia

23. Chicago (from Detroit)

24. Toronto

25. Colorado

26. Ottawa

27. New Jersey

28. Dallas