SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Atlanta Thrashers made Ilya Kovalchuk
the first Russian ever chosen No. 1 in the NHL entry draft
Saturday, moments before the Ottawa Senators traded Alexei Yashin
to the New York Islanders for the second pick.
Ottawa selected center Jason Spezza, the top rated North
American player, after sending Yashin to the Islanders for the
pick, defenseman Zdeno Chara, and forward Bill Muckalt.
"We've got so many draft picks in our stable of young
players," Islanders general manager Mike Milbury said. "It's time
for us to advance the cause."
Yashin, 27, can become a restricted free agent July 1. His
rich salary and negative history hastened his departure from the
He sat out the entire 1999-2000 season in a contract dispute,
and then had only one assist against Toronto in a first-round sweep
from this year's playoffs.
Kovalchuk's draft stock started rising when he had 11 goals and
four assists in six games during the World Under-18 Championship in
Finland this spring.
"We made a decision this was the best fit for our franchise and
best for the future of our franchise," Thrashers general manager
Don Waddell said.
Kovalchuk, 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, was one of three 18-year-old
Russians selected in the top five picks.
With the third pick, Tampa Bay took physical Russian center
Alexander Svitov. Florida selected Canadian center Stephen Weiss,
and Anaheim then got Russian winger Stanislav Chistov at No. 5.
Svitov had eight goals, six assists and 115 penalty minutes in
39 games with Avangard Omsk of the Russian League last season.
"In our opinion this was the most complete player in the
draft," Lightning general manager Rick Dudley said. "I think if
there's anybody in the draft that can play in the NHL next year
The Panthers, to the delight of the home crowd at the National
Car Rental Center, drafted Weiss.
Weiss, compared to Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, had 40 goals and
47 assists in 62 games last season.
Chistov had five goals and one assist in seven games for Russia
at the world junior hockey championships in January.
"He'll take a year or two (to develop)," Ducks general manager
Pierre Gauthier said. "But he's got great hands and great speed."
Kovalchuk and Spezza are expected to make immediate impacts.
Kovalchuk became Atlanta's second No. 1 pick in three years.
With the top pick in 1999, the Thrashers chose Czech forward Patrik
Stefan. They had the second pick last year and took Canadian
forward Dany Heatley.
The fourth-year franchise is hoping to build for the future
through the draft.
Kovalchuk was the consensus No. 1 pick in this draft. The
Thrashers say he has the skill of Florida's Pavel Bure and the
toughness of San Jose's Owen Nolan.
Kovalchuk has earned the favorable comparisons.
His father enrolled him in hockey school at age 5, and he has
been dominating defenses since. He scored 70 goals in league,
exhibition and tournament play in 1999-00.
Kovalchuk was most impressive at the World Under-18
Championship, when he led the Russians to the title.
Spezza, who broke into the Ontario Hockey League at 15, had been
touted as the top pick but slipped slightly because of questions
about his skating.
"It's unbelievable growing up in Canada and getting the chance
to play on the 'A' team now," Spezza said. "And it's pretty
special for my family. It's close to home. I'm really excited."
In what is considered one of the deepest drafts in recent
history, there could be plenty of wheeling and dealing. In addition
to Yashin, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Peca and Eric Lindros could be
traded as well.
With the sixth pick, the Minnesota Wild took center Mikko Koivu,
the brother of Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu.
The Canadiens followed by picking defenseman Mike Komisarek from
the University of Michigan. The first American selected, Komisarek
plays like Scott Stevens with a bruising, hard-hitting style.
The Columbus Blue Jackets selected the first goaltender at No.
8, Pascal Leclaire, the top-rated North American goalie by NHL
The Chicago Blackhawks took center Tuomo Ruutu from Finland with
the ninth pick.
The New York Rangers then got the second goalie when they took
"I've known about this guy for a long time," Rangers general
manager Glen Sather said. "He's a great goaltender. We had him
rated No. 1 overall among the goaltenders."
Fredrik Sjostrom (Phoenix), Dan Hamhuis (Nashville), Ales Hemsky
(Edmonton), Chuck Kobasew (Calgary) and Igor Knyazev (Carolina)
were taken with picks 11-15.
R.J. Umberger (Vancouver), Carlo Colaiacovo (Toronto) Jens
Karlsson (Los Angeles), Shaone Morrisonn (Boston) and Marcel Goc
(San Jose) rounded out the top 20.
The final 10 picks in the first round were: Colby Armstrong
(Pittsburgh), Jiri Novotny (Buffalo), Tim Gleason (Ottawa), Lukas
Krajicek (Florida), Alexander Perezhogin (Montreal), Jason
Bacashihua (Dallas), Jeff Woywitka (Philadelphia), Adrian Foster
(New Jersey), Adam Munro (Chicago) and David Steckel (Los Angeles).
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