Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Washington makes a big, fast Russian No. 1 pick in draft


Alexander Ovechkin became the second Russian player to go No. 1 in the NHL draft when he was picked by the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

Ovechkin, 18, was the top-rated European skater by the NHL's Central Scouting department. He was praised by scouts for his speed, size and stickhandling as well as his willingness to jump back on defense and land checks.

Washington earned the right to the top pick by winning the draft lottery following the regular season. After entertaining as many as 15 trade offers by clubs looking to move up to No. 1, the Capitals decided the best move was to draft Ovechkin.

"Ovechkin has always been number one," Capitals general manager George McPhee said. "We could have done a trade for volume, but none of those players would have been as good as this guy."

He joins Ilya Kovalchuk as the only Russian players to be chosen with the first pick. Kovalchuk, who tied for the NHL goal lead this season with 41, was picked No. 1 by Atlanta in 2001.

"I'm very happy," Ovechkin said.

In 53 games last season for Dynamo Moscow, Ovechkin had 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists). His father, Mikhail, is a former professional soccer player and his mother, Tatiana, won Olympic gold medals in basketball in 1976 and 1980.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made it 1-2 for Russian players when they selected forward Yevgeny Malkin with the second pick. The 17-year-old forward had three goals and nine assists last season for Magnitogorsk.

Chicago chose the first North American, top-ranked defenseman Cam Barker of Canada, with the third pick. Barker, 18, had 21 goals and 44 assists last season for Medicine Hat of the World Hockey League and was captain of Canada's under-18 national team.

He has drawn comparisons to New Jersey All-Star Scott Stevens, a noted hard hitter.

"I know Scott Stevens is a great player," Barker said. "To even be mentioned in the same sentence is a great honor."

Carolina traded up with Columbus to the fourth spot to choose left wing Andrew Ladd, the top-ranked North American skater. Ladd, 18, had 30 goals and 45 assists last season for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.

"I think I'm a pretty good guy who can forecheck and put the puck in the net," Ladd said.

The Hurricanes gave their eighth and 59th spots in the first round to the Blue Jackets, prompting prolonged cheers from the near-full house of fans at the RBC Center.

Last year, they got Eric Staal -- also the top-rated North American skater -- with the second overall pick.

"It's a good building block to get these two really good young players," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said.

Phoenix chose the first US player with the No. 5 pick, taking Blake Wheeler of Minnesota. The right wing, ranked 17th among North American skaters, had 45 goals and 55 assists for Breck School last season. The high school junior was projected to go late in the first round or even last until the second.

"We just really like his upside," said Wayne Gretzky, a Coyotes executive. "He's got size, he has speed, he has strength.

"We just really like the fact that he has all the intangibles, and we're really excited to have him."

The New York Rangers took the draft's top-ranked goaltender, Al Montoya of the University of Michigan, at No. 6.

Phoenix tried to lure the Rangers into trading up to the fifth pick, but New York general manager Glen Sather took the chance that the Coyotes would pass on Montoya.

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