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1999 NHL Draft

The waiting game

Hockey draftees require time to develop

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Sunday June 27, 1999 01:50 PM

  Patrik Stefan The Thrashers will give top-draft choice Patrik Stefan plenty of time to become the team's franchise player. AP

BOSTON (AP) -- Scott Kelman was excited when he was taken by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the NHL entry draft.

After all, he grew up in Winnipeg, where the Coyotes played before moving south. And he had his heroes.

"I watched Keith Tkachuk his whole career. I was at his first game," said Kelman, the 15th choice in Saturday's draft. "He and (Jeremy) Roenick are amazing and I look forward to playing with them."

Like most of the other first-rounders chosen, he'll probably have to wait a year or more. Only two of them -- No. 1 pick Patrik Stefan by Atlanta and No. 4 choice Pavel Brendl by the New York Rangers, both from the Czech Republic -- are expected to step right into the NHL next season.

"It's very important to have patience," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. "We're not worried about Patrik Stefan this year or next year. We're worried about Patrik Stefan five years from now."

And he's the draftee considered most prepared for the rigors of the NHL. Stefan had 11 goals in 33 games for Long Beach of the International Hockey League last season but missed much of it with two concussions that concerned some teams.

Waddell wasn't scared off.

"There's risk in any player you take," he said. "This player has an opportunity to be an elite player for a long time in the league."

So does Brendl, who had 73 goals and 61 assists last season for Calgary of the Western Hockey League. But how much of an impact can he have in his first season?

"Who knows? That's entirely up to him," Rangers coach John Muckler said. "I hear a lot of people compare him to somebody else, who I won't mention because I don't want to put that tag on him."

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the Swedish twins taken by Vancouver with the second and third picks, may not be in the NHL next year either. Daniel said they need to gain strength and could spend another season in Sweden, where they have a year of high school left.

"They can play this fall" in the NHL, Vancouver general manager Brian Burke said. "But signing them and convincing them that they should play right now might be a more difficult pair of hurdles."

For the first time in the draft's history, the first four players chosen were Europeans. And the teams they ended up with were the result of a flurry of trades focused on Burke's desire to get the twins, who said they wanted to play together.

Once three pre-draft trades were done -- all involving Vancouver -- the order of the first four picks had changed from Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Vancouver, Chicago to Atlanta, Vancouver, Vancouver, New York Rangers.

"Everybody got what they wanted in the whole thing," Waddell said.

He got Stefan, who eventually is expected to provide the offense Atlanta lacked after taking 26 players in Friday's expansion draft. None of them had more than nine goals last season.

Of the first 11 picks, seven were made by teams that traded for them.

"The biggest thing when you do a big draft-day deal is having the stomach to do it," said Burke, who had leverage with the No. 2 pick to make sure no other team ended up with both Sedins.

Stefan, though, is a big power forward and the prize of the draft crop. He's also the first European taken No. 1 since Tampa Bay chose Roman Hamrlik, also of the Czech Republic, in 1992.

"It's not a coincidence" that Europeans were taken with the first four choices, Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden said. "They're developing players faster than we are. I can't put my finger on it. Maybe their youth programs are run better."

Of the 28 players chosen in the first round, 15 were from Europe, although some played junior hockey in Canada or the United States.

With the fifth pick, the New York Islanders made center Tim Connolly of Baldwinsville, N.Y., the first American drafted. He had 34 goals for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League.

"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 goalie taken was Brian Finley, who played with Barrie in the OHL, with the sixth pick to Nashville.

The other teams picking in the top 10 were:

  • Washington, taking center Kris Beech of Calgary of the WHL;
  • the New York Islanders, taking left wing Taylor Pyatt of Sudbury of the OHL;
  • the Rangers, choosing center Jamie Lundmark of Moose Jaw of the OHL,
  • and the Islanders, picking defenseman Branislav Mezei of Belleville of the OHL.
None of them -- nor any of the 272 players chosen in the 9-hour, 24-minute draft -- is expected to make a major impact next season.

That, however, doesn't destroy their confidence.

"I expect to play in the NHL next season," Brendl said. "I have to work hard during the summer and in training camp, but that is why I'm here."

 
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