The Washington Capitals wanted to add scoring and strong skating to their forward positions, so they used the seventh overall pick in the NHL draft to select Kris Beech, a center with swift acceleration and good passing skills.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee said he was pleased with the selection of Beech, who was rated the seventh-best player in the draft.
"That's the kid we wanted," McPhee said. "Your offense is generated from center ice, and he's a big kid . . . with great wheels and he moves the puck. We wanted to start building up the offense. And we wanted a center."
Beech, an 18-year-old native of British Columbia, is also known for his puck control, which helped him score 26 goals and 41 assists for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. He captured a gold medal with Team Canada at the 1998 under-18 world tournament in Slovakia.
After selecting Beech during the draft at FleetCenter, the Capitals used their four second-round selections to add skill and speed in the form of Czech Republic center Michal Sivek (29th overall), who brings size (6 feet 3, 209 pounds) and leadership to the team.
After Sivek, the Capitals chose 6-3 center Charlie Stephens (31st overall) of the Ontario Hockey League, defenseman Ross Lupaschuk (34th overall) of the WHL and Nolan Yonkman (37th overall), a 6-5, 218-pound defenseman from the WHL.
The top overall pick in the draft was Czech Republic native Patrik Stefan, a center in the International Hockey League, selected by the expansion Atlanta Thrashers. Stefan, who likely will play in the NHL next season, was picked by the Thrashers after the Tampa Bay Lightning traded the top pick to the Canucks for the fourth pick and a pair of third-rounders. Vancouver then sent the top choice to the Thrashers for the second pick and a conditional third-rounder in 2000.
Stefan became the first European selected first overall since the Lightning chose defenseman Roman Hamrlik in 1992. Stefan was top-rated by NHL central scouting after spending the past two seasons with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL, but there were questions about his health after he suffered two concussions last season.
Vancouver's trade with Atlanta and another with Chicago gave the Canucks the second and third picks and enabled them to keep the highly touted Sedin twins together. Left wing Daniel Sedin went No. 2, followed by center Henrik Sedin. Both played with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League last season.
Nearly all of the players selected here will have to wait a year or two before they are ready for the NHL, but Beech said he plans to be on the ice at MCI Center while he is still 19.
"I have to get way stronger," said Beech, who is 6-2, 180 pounds. "I'm going to need a lot of hard work over the summer. Obviously, I'm not the biggest guy and the NHL is really a high step from juniors. They're a lot stronger. They're men and I'm not close to a man yet. Another year of juniors will do me great. . . . I have the work ethic."
McPhee said he was pleased that so many highly skilled players were left after the first round, which is composed of 28 selections. So McPhee used his four second-round choices to add depth to the club.
"We thought that getting into the second round, when most of the more talented players would be gone, we'd just be going for some muscle at that point," McPhee said. "But there were some surprise selections . . . which put some of the more skilled players a little bit lower.
"We ended up picking up a skilled player in Sivek. And Charlie Stephens is another good-sized kid that can move. Then we picked up some grit in Lupaschuk and Yonkman. Those last two picks was to make sure we got some muscle. What's nice . . . is that they're not one-dimensional guys."
Sivek, an 18-year-old native of Nachod in the Czech Republic who shoots left-handed, said he has a lot to offer the Capitals.
"I've got good size and my skating isn't bad," he said. "I use my body when I'm playing. I like to play physically. I can play right guard, center. It doesn't matter to me."
Stephens, who grew up near Toronto, said he can bring a physical presence on offense to the Capitals.
"I'm a power forward," he said. "I'm big, strong. I go wide, drive to the net. That's my game. I can bring some offense to the team."
Lupaschuk, a native of Edmonton, said his best assets are strong defense and toughness, adding that he needs to get stronger, quicker and play more consistently.
The Capitals did not have a third- or fourth-round pick. The third-rounder was traded to the Buffalo Sabres last season along with Joe Juneau, and the fourth-rounder was sent to the Florida Panthers as part of the trade for Esa Tikkanen in March 1998. In the fifth round with the 132nd overall pick, the Capitals selected Roman Tvrdon, a center-left wing from Slovakia. The team's sixth-round pick (175th) was right wing Kyle Clark from Harvard.
Swedish center David Johannson was the Capitals' seventh-round pick, followed by center Maxim Orlov from Russia in the eighth round. Washington's ninth-round pick, which had been sent to Chicago as part of the trade for James Black, was returned to the Capitals, who used it to draft Russian defenseman Igor Shadilov. The Blackhawks will receive a seventh-round selection in the 2000 draft.
CAPTION: With the seventh overall pick, the Capitals and GM George McPhee, right, drafted 6-2, 180-pound center Kris Beech.