Penguins take Malkin; Russians 1-2

Updated: June 26, 2004, 8:41 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- History replaced mystery as top-rated forwards Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin became the first Russian duo to be chosen with the first two picks in the NHL draft.

The choices came as a surprise to no one.

Ovechkin was the consensus top player available Saturday, and the Washington Capitals spurned several offers for the No. 1 pick and took the total package forward.

Malkin was rated second on virtually all ratings charts, and that's where he was picked by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Washington earned the right to go first by winning the draft lottery. After entertaining 15 trade offers, the Capitals decided the best move was to draft Ovechkin.

"We've had him rated No. 1 for a long time," Capitals general manager George McPhee said. "We could have done a trade for volume, but none of those players would have been as good as this guy."

Ovechkin, 18, was the overwhelming favorite before the NHL's Central Scouting department ranked him first among European skaters. He was praised for his speed, size and stickhandling as well as his willingness to jump back on defense.

"I've been waiting for this day for maybe two years," he said.

He might have to wait longer. Ninety-eight players -- 58 from North America and 40 from Europe -- were chosen in the first three rounds Saturday. The final six rounds will be held Sunday.

But it's not clear when any of these players will step onto NHL ice. The league's collective bargaining agreement with its players expires Sept. 15, and, with no agreement near, a lockout is a distinct possibility.

Ovechkin's situation is even more complicated. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation indicated it might not be part of a new deal between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation because it wants more money for players its clubs lose to North America.

Moscow Dynamo has said it would demand cash from any NHL club that wants Ovechkin for next season because it still has him under contract. McPhee said he doesn't know yet how that will affect the Capitals.

In 53 games last season for Dynamo, Ovechkin had 13 goals and 10 assists. His father, Mikhail, is a former professional soccer player and his mother, Tatiana, won Olympic gold medals in basketball in 1976 and 1980.

Malkin is a 17-year-old forward who had three goals and nine assists for Magnitogorsk.

Ilya Kovalchuk, who tied for the NHL goal lead this season with 41, was the first Russian player to be chosen at No. 1, by Atlanta in 2001. Three other Russians have been picked No. 2: Andre Zyuzin in 1996, Oleg Tverdovsky -- Ukrainian-born but a past member of Russian national teams -- in 1994 and Alexei Yashin in 1992.

Washington had three picks in the first round, the most among the 30 teams, and used its final two for defensemen Jeff Schultz and Mike Green at 27th and 29th. The team took two more defensemen and two forwards -- including Chris Bourque, son of newly elected Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, in later rounds.

"Probably with the rest of the draft, we'll just take the best player that's available when we get to each pick," McPhee said.

Chicago chose the first North American, top-ranked defenseman Cam Barker, with the third pick. Barker had 21 goals and 44 assists last season for Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League.

Carolina traded up with Columbus to the fourth spot to choose left wing Andrew Ladd, the top-ranked North American skater.

The Hurricanes gave their Nos. 8 and 59 spots to the Blue Jackets, prompting cheers from fans at the RBC Center. Last year, Carolina got Eric Staal -- also the top-rated North American skater -- with the second overall pick. He played in 81 games last season, scoring 11 goals and 20 assists.

"It's a good building block to get these two really good young players," general manager Jim Rutherford said.

Phoenix chose the first U.S. player at No. 5, surprisingly taking Blake Wheeler of Minnesota. The right winger, ranked 17th among North American skaters, had 45 goals and 55 assists for Breck School.

The high school junior was projected to go late in the first round or even last until the second. The pick made him the highest-drafted high school player since Brian Lawton was chosen first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1983.

"We just really like his upside," said Wayne Gretzky, a Coyotes executive. "He's got size, he has speed, he has strength."

The New York Rangers took the top-ranked goaltender, Al Montoya of Michigan, at No. 6. Montoya was the best goalie during the world junior championships, won by the United States for the first time.

"We think this guy's a great player," Rangers GM Glen Sather said. "We're surprised he lasted this long."

The Rangers had eight picks, the most of any team on Saturday, that were largely obtained through a late-season roster purge of veteran players.

Rostislav Olesz of the Czech Republic went seventh to Florida. Columbus used the No. 8 pick to take left wing Alexandre Picard, who had 39 goals and 41 assists for Quebec junior team Lewiston.

Defenseman Ladislav Smid went to Anaheim at No. 9, and Atlanta took defenseman Boris Valabik at No. 10.

Only two trades involving established NHL players were completed Saturday as teams are reluctant to make player moves with the labor situation unsettled.

Montreal obtained Radek Bonk from Ottawa in a three-team deal that saw the Canadiens also receive goalie Cristobal Huet from Los Angeles. The Canadiens sent goaltender Mathieu Garon and the 95th pick to Los Angeles, which dealt the 77th pick to Ottawa.

Atlanta acquired defenseman Niclas Havelid from Anaheim for defenseman Kurtis Foster, and Edmonton traded forward Jason Chimera and the 80th pick to the Rangers for the 57th and 112th picks.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press