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Penguins take Malkin; Russians 1-2

6/26/2004

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.