Something finally went right for the Washington Capitals: They won the NHL's draft lottery.
The Capitals, coming off their worst season in 26 years, leaped ahead of Pittsburgh and Chicago to gain this year's No. 1 overall draft pick at yesterday's lottery in New York.
"We just feel in some way we were rewarded for the difficult task we undertook this year," Washington general manager George McPhee said. "We hope today is the first day in a new era for the Capitals."
The consensus prospect for the top selection is Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin, who has evoked comparisons to Pittsburgh great Mario Lemieux.
The Capitals, considered strong playoff contenders with a star-packed roster at the start of the season, traded away most of their impact players after a disappointing start and finished with the third-worst record in the league. They had a 14.2 percent chance of winning the lottery, behind Pittsburgh (25 percent) and Chicago (18.8 percent).
Pittsburgh will chose second, Chicago third, Columbus fourth, Phoenix fifth, the New York Rangers sixth, Florida seventh, Carolina eighth, Anaheim ninth, Los Angeles 10th, Minnesota 12th, Buffalo 13th, and Edmonton 14th.
The draft is June 26-27 in Raleigh, N.C.
Lemieux, the Penguins' owner and Hall of Fame player, gave coach Eddie Olczyk every indication that he will play next season, barring a lockout that would shut down the league. Lemieux missed all but 10 games this season with a hip injury. Unlike last year, when the Penguins didn't confirm until late summer that Lemieux would play, Olczyk talked openly about what having Lemieux next season will mean. "Getting Mario back, that's going to fill a void in the way teams play against us, the way teams coach against us," Olczyk said . . . Sabres defenseman Alexei Zhitnik intends to test the free agent market this summer but isn't ruling out re-signing with Buffalo. "My agent will keep talking to the Sabres, but I think I'm going to test [free agency] and see what's going on," Zhitnik said as Sabres players cleaned out their lockers after the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. "I don't want to say I've played my last game here. I'm just taking it one day at a time right now." . . . Flyers enforcer Donald Brashear pleaded guilty in Waterford Township, N.J., Municipal Court to charges of refusing to take a blood-alcohol test and unsafe operation of a motor vehicle. In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors dropped a drunken driving charge against Brashear. A charge of careless driving was downgraded to unsafe operation. Brashear was sentenced to 12 hours of alcohol counseling and had his license suspended for 180 days. He must also pay fines and court fees. Brashear was arrested Dec. 19, hours after a Flyers' loss, and charged with driving drunk, a crime punishable in New Jersey of up to 30 days in jail.