Just how predictable is the outcome of the National Hockey League draft?
"Sometimes it's a bit of a dart-throwing contest -- you have to hit the right one," said Washington Capitals head coach Terry Murray.
That's not very promising. And neither are the Capitals' chances of drafting a player the caliber of the Quebec's likely top pick, Eric Lindros, with the 14th and 21st picks in today's draft, which begins at noon in Buffalo, N.Y.
Regardless of whom the Capitals draft, it is unlikely he will see any playing time with the parent team his first year in the organization.
"The thing about the NHL draft is that we're drafting pretty young players, 18-year-olds," Murray said. "The expectations are pretty high and the demands are pretty high. It takes time for these young guys to develop."
That means it may not be until a few years until the Capitals find out whether or not they've hit the bull's-eye in today's first round.
"That's the thing about scouting," he said. "You have to project what the player's going to be like down the road."
Last year's first-round pick, John Slaney, played for Cornwall in the Quebec Major Junior League this year. Reggie Savage, the Capitals' top pick in 1988, spent most of the past season with the Baltimore Skipjacks. The last first-round pick who played a significant amount of time with the Capitals was 1984 selection Kevin Hatcher.
With that in mind, Jack Button, director of player personnel and recruitment, said the Capitals will take the best available players.
Even though there are some 20-year-old players in the draft, the majority of the players are drafted by age 18. If they do not play in the NHL right away, they will play on a junior or college team until they turn 20. Murray said the draftees might have to play two or three years with the Skipjacks to develop self-confidence and character.
"You always make room for good players, but you're not going to get that player drafting where we are," he said.
Capitals general manager David Poile said the team could benefit from players with speed and scoring abilities.
"You're looking for size, skating ability and one of the Capitals' weaknesses has been goal scoring," he said. Skipjacks coach Rob Laird said the organization would benefit from acquiring a center to replace Rob Murray, whom they lost in the expansion draft. But Laird added that teams must be careful not to bypass a good player because of his position.
Lindros is expected to be made the top pick by the Quebec Nordiques. But Button has reservations about the outcome of Lindros' rookie season.
"I think he can play in the NHL," Button said, "but the expectations painted of him are too high for an 18-year-old to produce."
The Capitals' No. 21 pick is part of the compensation from the St. Louis Blues for last summer's free-agent signing of defenseman Scott Stevens. The Capitals will receive the Blues' next five first-round draft choices unless St. Louis can make a trade to obtain one of the first seven picks of the draft this year and next year.
NHL draft order
2. San Jose
3. New Jersey (from Toronto)
4. NY Islanders
11. New Jersey
15. NY Rangers
20. Edmonton (from Los Angeles)
21. Washington (from St. Louis)