THRASHERS keep their No. 1 NHL draft pick and select Ilya Kovalchuk - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

THRASHERS keep their No. 1 NHL draft pick and select Ilya Kovalchuk

SUNRISE, Fla. (CP) _ The Atlanta Thrashers fought off the temptation to trade their first overall pick in Saturday's NHL draft and selected speedy Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk, 18, has been described as a cross between sniper Pavel Bure and power winger Owen Nolan.

The six-foot-two Kovalchuk had 28 goals, 18 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 40 games with Moscow Spartak in the Russian League this past season.

Atlanta general manager Don Waddell resisted trade offers for the No. 1 pick from several NHL teams, most notably the Montreal Canadiens.

``We certainly had some great officers right up until 10 o'clock this morning,'' Waddell told Sportsnet. ``We made a decision yesterday that this is the best player for our franchise and the future of our franchise.''

The Thrashers are stock-piling talent. With the No. 1 pick in 1999, they chose Czech forward Patrik Stefan. They had the second pick last year and took Canadian forward Dany Heatley.

The New York Islanders had the No. 2 overall pick but they traded it to the Ottawa Senators in a blockbuster deal that saw centre Alexei Yashin go to Long Island.

The Senators also got forward Bill Muckalt and defenceman Zdeno Chara while the Islanders also got Ottawa's first-round pick, 27th overall.

Ottawa used the second overall pick to select Windsor Spitfires forward Jason Spezza, the top-rated prospect among North American skaters.

``My goal is play in the National Hockey League. It doesn't matter where,'' said Spezza.

``I'm happy it's Ottawa now. It's great for my family. It's close to home and I can stay in Canada.''

Spezza is a good stickhandler with lots of reach, has terrific shot with a quick release, but has to improve his skating. He was second in OHL scoring with 116 points including 43 goals in 56 games this season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had the No. 3 pick and they took Russian centre Alexander Svitov. The six-foot-three Svitov is a physical player who likes the heavy going. He doesn't score a lot but is considered an impact player.

He had eight goals, six assists and 115 penalty minutes in 39 games with Avangard Omsk of the Russian League this past season.

``In our opinion this was the most complete player in the draft,'' Lightning GM Rick Dudley said of Svitov. ``I think if there's anybody in the draft that can play in the NHL next year it's him.''

The home-town Florida Panthers, to the cheers of ``Let's go Panthers'' from the crowd at the National Car Rental Center, drafted centre Stephen Weiss of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers with the fourth pick.

Weiss, compared to Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, had 40 goals and 47 assists in 62 games this past season.

The only knock on Weiss, the second Canadian taken in the draft, is his size at five foot 11.

``It's a great honour to be selected by the Florida Panthers especially in their home rink in front of all the fans,'' said Weiss. ``I'm just looking forward to camp and hopefully make the club.''

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks were next and chose winger Stanislav Chistov with the fifth overall pick _ the second Russian picked in the top five.

Chistov, five foot nine and 169 pounds, is loaded with talent but limited by his size. He had five goals and one assist in seven games for Russia at the world junior hockey championships in January.

``He'll take a year or two (to develop),'' said Ducks GM Pierre Gauthier. ``But he's got great hands and great speed.''

The Minnesota Wild were next at No. 6. They selected centre Mikko Koivu, the brother of Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu.

Mikko Koivu, a six foot two, is much bigger than his five-foot-10 brother and is projected to be somewhat of a power forward with speed.

``I was surprised (to go to the Wild) because I hadn't heard anything about that,'' Koivu said.

The Canadiens were next at No. 7 with Andre Savard making his first draft pick as Habs general manager.

Montreal looked to its needs and selected defenceman Mike Komisarek from the University of Michigan. The American blue-liner is six-foot-four and 225 pounds and is projected to emulate Scott Stevens with a bruising, hard-hitting style.

``I'm speechless right now,'' said Komisarek, his voice shaking with emotion. ``I'm probably the happiest kid of the face of the earth to be drafted by an organization like Montreal.''

The Columbus Blue Jackets were next and selected the first goaltender of the draft _ Pascal Leclaire from the Quebec League's Halifax Mooseheads.

Leclaire was the top-rated North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting. Like many Quebec-born goalies, Leclaire's hero is superstar netminder Patrick Roy.

Leclaire went 14-16-5 with an .891 save percentage and 3.58 goals-against average in an injury-plagued season.

``We're taking the best player we feel is available,'' said Jackets GM Doug MacLean. ``With Marc Denis and Pascal Leclaire in goal we feel we're set in goal for the next 10 years.''

The Chicago Blackhawks had the ninth overall pick and chose centre Tuomo Ruutu from Jokerit of the Finnish League.

Ruutu, the third of three brothers drafted in the NHL, is an agitator with great speed.

``He's a very mature person,'' said Hawks GM Mike Smith. ``If he wasn't there we're going to try and move up our pick.''

Ruuto had 11 goals and 11 assists in 47 games with Jokerit.

The New York Rangers were next with the 10th pick, selecting the second goaltender of the draft _ Dan Blackburn.

Blackburn fell lower in the draft than most expected and the Rangers had him rated as their No. 1 goaltending prospect.

``They have a great tradition. They were one of the Original Six and I'm just really honoured to be a part of the team,'' said Blackburn, who idolizes Patrick Roy, but says he plays more like the Leafs' Curtis Joseph.

Blackburn went 33-14-2 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.77 GAA with the WHL's Kootenay Ice.

The Calgary Flames were next with the 11th pick but swapped it with the Phoenix Coyotes, who were to select 14th.

Coyotes part-owner Wayne Gretzky announced his team's selection, Swedish winger Fredrik Sjostrom.

The six-foot Sjostrom, who has great speed, had one goal and two assists in seven games for Sweden at the world junior championships.

``We're really excited about him,'' Gretzky told Sportsnet. ``Our scouting staff really had him rated high. You have to believe in your scouts. So we moved up.''
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