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Archive for Sunday, June 23, 2002

NHL Draft: Panthers, Jackets swap early picks

June 23, 2002

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— Rick Dudley traded the No. 1 pick in Saturday's NHL draft and still got the player he and the Florida Panthers wanted.

Doug MacLean of the Columbus Blue Jackets needed to move up to pick their guy.

MacLean and Dudley swapped two of the first three picks. MacLean then made rugged left wing Rick Nash the first pick in the NHL draft.

"We've had him No. 1 all year," MacLean said. "It's very rare you get a chance for the first overall pick and control your own destiny. We just felt it was the right thing to do."

Dudley wanted defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who was still available when the Panthers picked third.

For MacLean, it didn't even matter that in exchange, Columbus dealt Florida the right to swap first-round picks next year.

"I didn't want to miss on him now," MacLean said. "I'll take the chance of missing out next year versus him."

Nash, who has drawn comparisons to Detroit's Brendan Shanahan, had 32 goals and 72 points in 54 games with London of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

At 6-foot-3, 188-pounds, scouts believe that he must still work on improving his skating ability.

"I'm very excited," Nash said. "I knew last night they were pretty high on me, but I had no idea."

Nash became only the fourth left wing to be selected No. 1, and the first since Toronto took Wendel Clark in 1985.

The draft concludes today with rounds four through nine.

In a draft considered short on impact players, the league's GMs certainly made up for it by making a series of deals.

A couple of notable players were swapped Saturday. The Buffalo Sabres traded Slava Kozlov to Atlanta, and acquired Edmonton center Jochen Hecht for two second-round picks. The New York Islanders dealt offensive forward Mariusz Czerkawski to Montreal for Arron Asham and a draft pick.

For Dudley, this marked the second time he has traded the No. 1 pick. As general manager of Tampa Bay in 1999, he helped swing a deal involving numerous teams. It allowed Atlanta to acquire the top pick and choose Patrik Stefan.

Three years ago, Dudley made the trade because he wasn't comfortable with the skill of the prospects available. This was different.

"We got the guy we wanted, and that's all we cared about," Dudley said.

Bouwmeester, with a smooth skating style, is considered one of the few prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL next season. He had 12 goals and 61 points in 61 games last season with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League.

The Panthers also gave up their third-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder in next year's draft to Atlanta in exchange for the Thrashers' promise that they wouldn't select Bouwmeester with the No. 2 pick.

Atlanta instead selected Finland's Kari Lehtonen, making him the highest European goalie draft pick. Lehtonen was also the first European player drafted this year.

Philadelphia, which acquired the No. 4 pick in a deal with Tampa a day earlier, selected Joni Pitkanen, the highest-rated European on the NHL's Central Scouting list. It was Philadelphia's highest pick since taking Mike Ricci No. 4 in 1990.

Pittsburgh rounded out the top five by selecting defenseman Ryan Whitney from Boston University. There were few surprises the rest of the way. Among the biggest cheers went to Dan Paille, selected 20th by Buffalo. Paille had 90 members of his family at the Air Canada Center and grew up in Welland, Ontario, about 20 miles outside of Buffalo.

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