A week ago the Washington Capitals figured their 1999 draft picks would appear in one preseason game. When the 18-year-olds performed admirably Friday night in their NHL debut against Philadelphia, they earned another game with the big club.
Last night, as the team was flying back from Biloxi, Miss., after another strong performance in a 2-1 victory over the Nashville Predators, management was debating just how long to keep the youngsters around, and just how much more seasoning they will need.
Young centers Kris Beech, Charlie Stephens and Michal Sivek (who scored the game-winner at 12 minutes 19 seconds of the third period) topped themselves in their second preseason game. All three are slated for at least one more season of junior hockey before challenging the NHL roster, but they have merited a longer look than originally anticipated.
"It's hard to say what we'll do with them," Coach Ron Wilson said after his team's victory. "We'll have to make that decision on the plane. We want to get the roster down to a manageable number for practices, but we have five games in seven days and we need to have enough people around.
"And we're also trying to prepare the team for the long battle that begins October 2, but when guys come in and impress you, you keep them around. They can't buy this experience anywhere else. It's something we'll really have to talk about."
The Capitals went with a youthful lineup, resting Peter Bondra, Adam Oates and most other veterans. Alexandre Volchkov, who looked spotty in the preseason opener, finished off a nice feed from Andrei Nikolishin to open Washington's scoring 18 minutes into the game.
Volchkov, a disappointment in two minor league seasons since being drafted fourth overall in 1996, likely will play in the remainder of the preseason games. He entered camp a long shot to make the team, but has a chance to make the squad, especially with restricted free agent Richard Zednik unsigned and the sides still a ways apart.
"Volchie was better tonight," Wilson said. "Not in the first period, but in the second half of the game. He was opportunistic. Niko made a nice play and he buried it. At the beginning of camp you give people a shot. From there on in if they play well they'll keep earning more chances."
Wilson also praised the play of minor league goalies Martin Brochu and Sebastien Charpentier, as well as forward Glen Metropolit and defenseman Alexei Tezikov, both of whom are competing for the final roster spots at their respective positions.
The victory raised the Capitals' preseason record to 2-0. They have today off, practices resume Monday and they play again Wednesday night in Fayetteville, N.C., against the Carolina Hurricanes.