Panthers send top pick to Pens for No. 3, SamuelssonPosted: Saturday June 21, 2003 1:01 PM
Updated: Saturday June 21, 2003 1:10 PM
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (Ticker) -- A couple of the bigger questions heading into the NHL Draft were answered early Saturday when the Florida Panthers traded the top overall pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Panthers general manager Rick Dudley was not expected to keep the No. 1 pick and he dealt it for the second straight year to Pittsburgh for the third overall selection and right wing Mikael Samuelsson.
"We know we'll get the player we want at (No. 3)," Dudley said. "And if we move any further than that, we don't think we will get the player we want. I don't care if we pick 1 or 30 if we get the player we want."
Committed to a defense-first system under rookie coach Ed Olczyk, the Penguins are expected to use the top pick on Marc-Andre Fleury, the top-rated North American goaltender.
Fleury would become the second goalie ever taken No. 1, joining Rick DiPietro, who was drafted by the New York Islanders in 2000.
"The goaltender is special," conceded Dudley, who is committed to Roberto Luongo in the nets.
Fleury won all-tournament honors following a spectacular performance for Canada at the World Junior Championships.
The Carolina Hurricanes also need goaltending help following a disastrous first-to-worst season. They own the second overall pick but will have to choose from among center Eric Staal, the top-rated North American skater, and Russian winger Nikolai Zherdev, the No. 1 European prospect.
Carolina already completed a trade, sending former first-round picks David Tanabe and Igor Knyazev to the Phoenix Coyotes for Danny Markov in a swap of three defensemen. The Hurricanes also got a conditional 2004 fourth-round pick.
If he goes to Carolina, Staal would be teammates with Ron Francis, the player to whom his style has been compared. Staal's cousin, Jeff Heerema, was the Hurricanes' first-round pick in 1998.
A 6-3, 182-pound center, Staal was seventh in the Ontario Hockey League in scoring last season with 39 goals and 59 assists in 66 games. His overall talent level has been described as "exceptional" and OHL coaches voted him among the league's smartest players, best stickhandlers and top penalty-killers.
"He is an offensively gifted player who leads by example," said Scott Luce, Florida's director of amateur scouting.
Zherdev has been compared to Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk because of his game-breaking offensive arsenal. Many thought he would go No. 1 overall until he was held to one assist during a disappointing performance at the World Juniors.
"I think that when you look at a player, you have to look at him over a whole season," Sabres director of player personnel Don Luce said. "People are going to have bad tournaments for different reasons. So you have to look at players as a whole and take his whole season into account."
Other high picks are expected to include center Nathan Horton, defenseman Ryan Suter and Austrian winger Thomas Vanek, who starred for the University of Minnesota at the Frozen Four.
The son of 1980 U.S. Olympian Bob Suter and the nephew of former Calder Trophy winner Gary Suter, Ryan Suter is one of a handful of draft-eligible players with NHL ties.
North Dakota center Zach Parise is the son of former NHLer J.P. Parise, forward Robert Nilsson is the son of Swedish playmaker Kent Nilsson, Michigan left wing Jeff Tambellini is the son of Vancouver Canucks executive Steve Tambellini and Boston College right wing Patrick Eaves is the son of eight-year NHL veteran Mike Eaves.
Only three of the top-10 North American prospects - Suter, Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf - are defensemen, and none are considered franchise types. Ryan Munce and Maine's Jim Howard are the only other goalies with remote chances to crack the first round.
The Los Angeles Kings have the most first-round selections with three, while the Philadelphia Flyers have seven picks in the first three rounds. Four teams - the Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs - do not have a first-round selection.
The first round begins shortly after 1 p.m. EDT. Three rounds
will be held Saturday, with the remaining six slated for Sunday.