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Europeans expected to be top picks
Posted: Friday June 25, 1999 11:53 PM
JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Ticker) -- For the first time in years, there is intrigue surrounding the top pick in Saturday's NHL draft in Boston. One thing is certain, however. The top four selections are almost sure to be Europeans.
That would be a first for the NHL, which has not had a European chosen with the top overall pick since the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Czech defenseman Roman Hamrlik in 1992.
The Lightning own the No. 1 pick for the second straight season and the third time in team history. Last year, they surprised no one by taking center Vincent Lecavalier. This year's selection is much less certain.
All general manager Jacques Demers has said is that Tampa Bay's pick will come from among four players -- center Patrik Stefan, right wing Pavel Brendl and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Stefan enters the draft as the top-ranked North American prospect, according to NHL Central Scouting. A native of the Czech Republic, he played the last two seasons with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL. But his future remains uncertain after suffering at least two concussions that limited him to 33 games this past season.
"It's been about two months [since the second one] and I've felt well for the last three weeks," Stefan said two weeks before the draft. "I really feel well right now. I think everything will be OK, I just have to see a couple more doctors."
Without questions surrounding his health, Stefan almost surely would be the top overall pick. He had 11 goals and 24 assists for the Ice Dogs in 1998-99, earned a spot in the IHL All-Star Game and was a finalist for Rookie of the Year honors.
"What impressed us about Patrik right from the start was the way he fit in with the older players on our team," said Long Beach coach John Van Boxmeer, a former NHL defenseman. "He just wanted to be a hockey player and was willing to listen and learn. I think the other players saw how hard he works and what he can do. They accepted him."
By the end of the season, teammates were so impressed by the 6-1, 205-pound center, they "were going around getting an autographed stick from Patrik," Van Boxmeer noted.
"They realized this guy is going to be something special," he said.
If the Lightning are turned off by Stefan's health problems, they could turn to Brendl, his Czech countryman. Unlike Stefan, the 6-foot, 204-pound Brendl took the more traditional route by playing junior hockey for Calgary of the Western Hockey League.
"For sure, it was a good move for me," Brendl said. "I had a great time in Calgary, best time of my life."
He took the WHL by storm, becoming the first rookie to win the scoring title and leading the league in goals and plus-minus with an astounding plus-68. Brendl has deceptive speed, solid passing and shooting skills and 'is a threat to score in any game situation,' according to NHL Central Scouting.
He helped lead his team to the Memorial Cup final, recording a pair of five-point games in the WHL playoffs.
"It would be great [to go No. 1]," Brendl said. "I would feel wonderful, but it doesn't really matter where I go."
The most intriguing prospects are the Sedins, who will become only the fourth set of twins drafted into the NHL following Rich and Ron Sutter, Peter and Patrik Sundstrom and Peter and Chris Ferraro.
Both Sedins plan to stay in Sweden next season to complete school and their agent, Mike Barnett, is trying to work out a deal that would enable the same team to draft both brothers.
"It would be fun to play together, of course," said Daniel. "We've played together for five years on the same line."
While slightly smaller, Daniel is the better goal-scorer and enters the draft as the top-rated European prospect by NHL Central Scouting. At only 18, he played in the Swedish Elite League, finishing 13th in scoring. He also represented Sweden at two World Junior Championships, totaling five goals and five assists at the 1999 tournament.
Considered the better playmaker, Henrik is right behind his brother as the second-ranked European prospect.
"They're very good players. They're special players, independently or together," said Don Waddell, general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers, who own the second overall pick. "I'm very high on both players, I've seen both players many times.
"The Sedins we're not going to see for a couple of years. We want to make sure we don't oversell that fact," he added. "But I think if you ever got both Sedins you could set your franchise up for a long time. I think they're going to be great players individually, but together, what a marketing ploy you could have for 10-12 years."
The Vancouver Canucks own the third pick, with the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders rounding out the top five. The Islanders also own the eighth and 10 picks thanks to trades with the Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens.
The Nashville Predators select sixth, followed by the Washington Capitals. The Calgary Flames have the ninth pick sandwiched between the Islanders' last two selections.
The top-ranked North Americans available are centers Jamie Lundmark and Tim Connolly, who are virtually identical in size. Lundmark is an excellent skater who established records at the Top Prospects skills competition in both the 60- and 150-foot sprints. He collected 40 goals and 51 assists in 70 games with Moose Jaw of the WHL and savors the role of go-to guy.
Connolly's season with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League was cut short by injury, but as a rookie in 1997-98, he posted an 18-game points streak. The native of Baldwinsville, New York was picked by OHL coaches as the top stickhandler in his division, while earning runner-up status as top playmaker, best shot and most dangerous around the net.
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