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Thrashers select Patrik Stefan No. 1 after trading up
Posted: Saturday June 26, 1999 07:52 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- Maybe they should rename the National Hockey League entry draft the European Hockey League entry draft.
For the first time, Europeans were chosen with the first four picks Saturday. And for only the third time, a European was taken first.
"There is more scouting being done in European countries," New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello said.
The top pick was Patrik Stefan, a powerful forward from the Czech Republic selected by the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Thrashers hope he can, eventually, provide offense they couldn't get when they chose 26 players in Friday's expansion draft. They obtained the choice, originally held by Tampa Bay, as part of a flurry of pre-draft trades.
Vancouver had the next two picks and chose twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who play in the competitive Swedish Elite League and wanted to stay together in the NHL.
"Having all the Europeans is a little bit of a coincidence," said Toronto assistant general manager Anders Hedberg, also from Sweden. "It doesn't matter where they come from. They're chosen on projection [to play in the NHL] and talent."
Pavel Brendl from the Czech Republic was chosen by the New York Rangers with the fourth pick, obtained in a trade with Tampa Bay. He had 73 goals in 68 games last season with Calgary of the Western Hockey League, one of the Canadian Juniors leagues that consistenly turns out top NHL talent.
Stefan had 11 goals in 33 games with Long Beach of the professional International Hockey League but had his season shortened by two concussions. That apparently didn't bother Atlanta and Stefan said he's fine now.
Stefan and Brendl are considered the only two drafted players likely to play in the NHL next season.
"Brendl's not European. He played in Calgary," Philadelphia general manager Bobby Clarke said. "It's ridiculous to say that they are European when they have to get trained in Canadian junior hockey."
The first non-European taken was Tim Connolly with the fifth pick by the New York Islanders, who play not far from his Baldwinsville, N.Y. home.
"It's a great honor being the highest U.S. player drafted," Connolly said. "I don't feel pressure. Pressure is when you don't have a job and have six kids to feed."
The first five players taken were all forwards. Then Nashville chose goalie Brian Finley of Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League with the sixth pick. The first defenseman drafted was Branislav Mezei of Belleville of the OHL by the Islanders with the 10th pick.
Of the 28 players chosen in the first round, 15 were from Europe, although some of them played junior hockey in Canada or the United States.
Before Stefan, the only Europeans drafted No. 1 were Mats Sundin of Sweden by Quebec in 1989 and Roman Hamrlik of the Czech Republic by Tampa Bay in 1992.
"It's not a trend," Hedberg said of the European emphasis in Saturday's draft. "That may not be the case next year."
There was a distinct trend Saturday toward deals. Seven of the first 11 picks were made by teams who traded for them.
The biggest names changed teams later when Anaheim sent the 15th pick and center Travis Green to Phoenix for defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. Green had 13 goals and 17 assists last season, while Tverdovsky was one of Phoenix's top defensemen with seven goals and 18 assists.
Tampa Bay originally had the first pick for the second straight year -- it chose Vincent Lecavalier in 1998 -- but ended up without a first-rounder.
Instead, it got two picks in Saturday's third round from Chicago and obtained from the Rangers goalie Dan Cloutier, right wing Niklas Sundstrom and their picks in the first and third rounds next year.
Trades changed the order of the first four picks from Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Vancouver, Chicago to Atlanta, Vancouver, Vancouver, Rangers.
That jockeying centered on the desire of the Sedins to play together and Vancouver's resolve not to part with the third pick that would give another team a chance to get them.
"I said [Friday] night, 'I've got [the third pick] and no one is walking out of here with both of them. Only I can,' " Vancouver general manager Brian Burke said.
Daniel Sedin, considered the better prospect, had said Friday he thought he and his brother would remain in the Swedish Elite League for at least another season.
But on Saturday, that didn't seem as firm.
The Canucks "haven't said to us we have to come over next year, so it's our decision," Daniel said.
Burke said his trades were contingent on him not taking Stefan, the top-rated player by the NHL's Central Scouting Service.
"You hate to put a projection on a player 18 years old," Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said. "It's going to take three or four years to see what you want out of him."
"This is unbelievable," Stefan said. "It has been my dream to be No. 1."
"I didn't care if I went No. 1 or No. 4," Brendl said. "I'm really happy to be in New York."
That made two Europeans drafted in the top four who probably will continue their development next season in North America.
"They're not being trained in their own country," Clarke said. "They're just born there."
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