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Stefan, Brendl likely to be top picks
Posted: Friday June 25, 1999 06:16 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- Patrik Stefan's two concussions last season might keep him from being the No. 1 pick Saturday in the NHL entry draft.
He still could get the nod when Tampa Bay, choosing first for the second straight year, begins the nine-round selection process. And Stefan says there's nothing to worry about.
"It's a little bit too much, everybody talking about it," he said Friday, "But I know how I feel. I feel great."
He said he was given medical clearance about two weeks ago to resume skating and working out. His agent, Rich Winter, was expected to share the medical records Friday with interested teams.
"These injuries are severe injuries," Lightning head scout Don Murdoch said before the records were made available. But, he added, Stefan "is one guy that could step right in next year and play. He is a power forward."
Atlanta, which picked 26 players in Friday's expansion draft, has the second pick Saturday.
The NHL's Central Scouting Service made the 205-pound Stefan the top-rated North American player eligible for the draft. He had 11 goals and 24 assists in 33 games last season for Long Beach of the International Hockey League, where he was one of the youngest players.
"It was a great experience," the native of Prague in the Czech Republic said of his two IHL seasons. "That's why I came to play in the IHL because I want to be ready as soon as I can to play in the NHL."
At times, the experience wasn't so great.
His first concussion caused him to miss 38 games last season after he was checked into the boards against the Houston Aeros. The second came soon after he returned when he was hit in the head by an opponent's knee, ending his season on March 31.
Unlike recent first choices -- Joe Thornton to Boston in 1997 and Vincent Lecavalier to Tampa Bay in 1998 -- there is no consensus No. 1 selection this year.
Besides Stefan, the candidates for that honor include another Czech player, Pavel Brendl, who scored 73 goals in 68 games for Calgary of the Western Hockey League last season, and identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Sweden. They who hope a trade can be worked out so they can continue playing together.
"I think we have a good chance," Daniel said. "We're working hard to make it happen."
But he doesn't think he and his brother are strong enough to play in the NHL next season.
"It's better for us to play in Sweden for two more years," he said.
The top American in the draft is center Tim Connolly of Baldwinsville, N.Y., who had 34 goals last season for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League.
The leading goalie is Brian Finley, who had a 2.66 goals against average and 36-10-4 record with three shutouts last season for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. The Lightning had Corey Schwab at that position, but Atlanta took him in the expansion draft.
Tampa Bay's more pressing need is on offense. It scored a league-low 179 goals last season.
"It's a very strong draft and it's very strong at forward, which is good for us. We all know that's an area we have to get better on," Murdoch said.
"We can't afford to make a mistake with this pick," said general manager and coach Jacques Demers. "This pick could make a difference, a huge difference, in the future of this franchise. We cannot mess it up."
That's because Tampa Bay has reached the playoffs just once in seven seasons since joining the NHL in 1992.
Atlanta, the newest NHL team, doesn't face quite the same pressure with the second pick. Thrashers general manager Don Waddell is taking a long-term approach.
"We're saying, 'Which player's going to be the best for us five years from now, not this year,' " he said.
It could be Stefan, if Tampa Bay passes on him.
"I'm not worried" about being bypassed, he said. "I don't want to think about it. They've seen me play."
Vancouver has the third pick. Chicago won the draft lottery despite having just a 3.7 percent chance and moved from eighth to fourth, the maximum number of spots a team could advance.
The greatest pressure will be on the Lightning as they choose among several strong candidates.
"It's not a no-brainer this year," Murdoch said. "Beyond that, about the only thing I can assure you is we won't take a goalie first. Anything is possible."
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