Alexander Ovechkin had been a Washington Capital for about five minutes on Saturday when team owner Ted Leonsis started taking some of the pressure off the Russian prospect his team had just selected with the No. 1 overall pick in NHL entry draft.
Ovechkin is expected to be a major part of the rebuilding Capitals. But Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee are wary of heaping too much responsibility on him too early, saying they want the 18-year-old left wing to feel like an important part of the team, not the most important part of it.
"Stars are important, but building teams are at the forefront of what George is trying to accomplish," Leonsis said. "We have so much to work on. While it's important to have parts that are special in their own way, I want to market the Washington Capitals. Our team needs to be a team. I felt, and George felt, let's go build around [Ovechkin] and the youth that we have in the system."
Leonsis and McPhee have seen what can happen to young players who feel they must immediately lead their team on and off the ice. It burdened former No. 1 picks Eric Lindros, Alexandre Daigle, Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier. With the exception of Daigle, the others have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but their first few years in the NHL were difficult.
Ovechkin "is not going to be the centerpiece, he's going to be one guy on the team," McPhee said. "We're not going to put him in over his head. We're going to give him the ice time he earns and make him accountable like everybody else is."
Already a Fan Favorite
Although Ovechkin's first on-ice appearance in the Washington area likely won't be until next month during the team's rookie camp at Piney Orchard, some Capitals fans met him Saturday night at a post-draft party. The nearly 200 supporters traveled here from Washington by tour bus.
Ovechkin, still wearing his black Capitals jersey and hat, posed for photos, and mingled for more than three hours, all the while smiling.
"I think he's already won over some of our fans," said McPhee, who also attended the party.
Rookies report on July 19.
Roster Takes Shape
With their six picks on Sunday, the Capitals selected D Oscar Hedman (132nd), F Pasi Salonen (138th), F Peter Guggisberg (166th), F Andrew Gordon (197th), G Justin Mrazek (230th) and F Travis Morin (263rd).
Hedman, a 6-foot, 207-pound puck-rushing defenseman who last season played for MoDo of Swedish Elite League, was projected by scouting reports to go in the third round. Guggisberg, a speedy and versatile 5-11, 183-pound wing who played for Davos of the Swiss Elite League last season, was also expected to be gone by the time the Capitals picked him. . . .
Washington restricted free agents C Jeff Halpern, C Graham Mink, G Maxime Ouellet, RW Stephen Peat, LW Matt Pettinger, G Rastislav Stana, D Brendan Witt, D Nolan Yonkman and RW Dainius Zubrus have received qualifying offers, which means the Capitals have retained the players' rights.
The offers are one-year deals with a 10 percent raise over the players' salaries from last season. The Capitals may decide to qualify others. The deadline to do so is Wednesday.
Around the League
Ottawa traded 29-year-old goaltender Patrick Lalime to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The trade clears the way for the Senators to sign Dominik Hasek, an unrestricted free agent and a six-time winner of the Vezina Trophy. Hasek has said Ottawa is one of the teams he is considering. . . . Los Angeles acquired 33-year-old defenseman Stephane Quintal from Montreal for future considerations. Quintal, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, had three goals and eight points in 73 games last season. The Kings are his seventh NHL team.