NHL draft lacking in blockbuster trades
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For all the predictions of wheeling and dealing at the entry draft the event turned out to be a bust as far as player swaps went.
Goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Vesa Toskala changed teams on Friday with Vokoun going to Florida and Toskala and forward Mark Bell landing in Toronto. But rumored deals involving Minnesota backstopper Manny Fernandez, possibly headed to Boston, and the availability of Anaheim backup Ilya Bryzgalov did not translate into actual movement.
No position players of note were dealt on Saturday when the final six rounds of the draft were held.
The Edmonton Oilers were expected to be busy as they try and shore up their tattered blue line but GM Kevin Lowe didn't pull the trigger on any deals -- at least not yet.
"We worked on a bunch of deals and some are possible, others are I guess pending so we'll see what happens," said Lowe, who has been rumored to be interested in Philadelphia defenseman Joni Pitkanen and Ottawa's Wade Redden.
With the salary cap and the younger age at which players can reach free agency, making deals has become more and more complicated.
"Teams, lots of teams. It seems you weren't doing a deal without two other teams being involved. Pretty interesting. The goalies seemed to take priority so we'll see what happens this week," Lowe said.
Often the days leading up to the draft have been fertile trading days. Not so this year.
"Is the draft a deadline? Yeah if there are picks involved. Maybe the fact that it wasn't perceived as not a strong a draft the picks didn't have as much emphasis on deals. I don't know I'm just making this stuff up as we go," Lowe said.
In the wake of Philadelphia's bold move to acquire the signing rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville for a first-round draft pick last week, many agents and GMs speculated more of the same might be in the offing at the draft.
Not so. Darcy Regier said he hasn't been asked about the rights to centers and Sabres co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, both of whom can become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Regier has not given up hope of re-signing both.
Likewise Montreal GM Bob Gainey told reporters he hasn't been approached about defenseman Sheldon Souray.
For the fourth year in a row, the number of Russian prospects taken in the draft continued to tumble. Only nine Russian players were selected out of 211 players taken through seven rounds this year. That's the lowest number taken since 1987 when only two Russian players were taken in the draft.
Between 1999 and 2003 an average of 33 Russians were selected each year.
One of the reasons for the decline is that Russian players can stay in Russia and make huge salaries compared to what they might make as an AHL player or entry level NHLer. There are also more choices for GMs in terms of North American talent. This year 63 American-born players were selected or 30% of the draft class, the highest American-born percentage in the history of the draft.
The other issue is that European players cannot simply be drafted and left to develop in Europe indefinitely as they could in the past. Under the new collective bargaining agreement all draftees are considered the same and must sign a contract within two years or go back in the draft.
Finally, the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL has also put a chill on drafting Russian players.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday Russian officials will visit North America this summer and they will discuss a new agreement then. But he did not sound hopeful an agreement is in the offing.
Never Been Done
Speaking of the American presence at the draft, there were a number of interesting elements including the first time two Americans went one-two in the draft with Patrick Kane of Buffalo and James Van Riemsdyk of Middleton, New Jersey going to Chicago and Philadelphia respectively.
Jonathon Blum of the Anaheim area became the first-ever California born and raised player to be taken in the first round of the draft when Nashville selected him with the 23rd pick. On Saturday Dallas took Austin Smith, who was born and raised in Dallas, with the 128th pick overall while Corbin McPherson became the first player to graduate from the San Jose Sharks' sponsored minor hockey program and be drafted into the NHL. McPherson was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the 87th pick of the draft.
Michigan and Minnesota still dominate the geographic distribution of U.S. draftees as 28 of the 63 Americans drafted heralded from one of those traditional hockey states. But 14 different states produced draftees this weekend including one each from Texas and Missouri. California produced three.
Talking The Talk
Most of the young men selected at the draft range from reserved to painfully shy. Not so of defenseman P.K. Subban, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the 43rd pick. The 5-foot-11, 200-lb native of the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke was fairly brimming with confidence suggesting he was going to make the Canadiens team out of training camp and he was going to help bring the Stanley Cup back to Montreal.
Both Subban, known to teammates as the 'Subbanator', and his father are huge Montreal fans.
"I started as a Toronto fan but my dad is the biggest Montreal fan in the world," Subban told reporters. "You walk in our house and there's Habs flags everywhere. So I ended up growing up a huge Habs fans. This is truly amazing."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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