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Saturday, June 22
Panthers trade top pick; Jackets select Nash

Associated Press

TORONTO -- 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 get their guy.

Rick Nash
London Knights forward Rick Nash has been compared to the Red Wings' Brendan Shanahan.

MacLean and Dudley got together and 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 on Sunday with rounds four through nine.

In a draft considered short on immediate-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 complicated 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 time the situation was different.

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

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.

"As I said all along, it's just exciting to get drafted and have the opportunity to hopefully one day play,'' Bouwmeester said.

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.

"I'm very proud of that,'' he said. "I think this shows that there are very good goalies in Europe, too.''

The Philadelphia Flyers, who acquired the No. 4 pick in a deal with Tampa Bay a day earlier, selected Joni Pitkanen, the highest-rated European player 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 out of Boston University.

There were few surprises the rest of the way, although among the biggest cheers went to Dan Paille, selected 20th by Buffalo. Paille had about 90 members of his family at the Air Canada Center and grew up in Welland, Ontario, about 20 miles outside of Buffalo.

Nashville selected forward Scottie Upshall with the sixth pick. Forward Joffrey Lupul went next to Anaheim, and was followed by center Pierre-Marc Bouchard to Minnesota.

Florida swapped picks with Calgary to select center Petr Taticek at No. 9, while the Flames used the 10th pick on Michigan forward Eric Nystrom.

The Sabres selected Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard next, followed by Washington's two picks. The Capitals took defenseman Steve Eminger and center Alexander Syemin.

Three centers were taken next: Yale's Chris Higgins by Montreal; Jesse Niinimaki by Edmonton; and Jakub Klepis by Ottawa.

With its third pick of the first round, Washington took forward Boyd Gordon 17th.

Los Angeles selected Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, Phoenix chose Czech center Jakub Koreis, and Paille went to Buffalo to round out the top 20.

Europeans were taken with three of the next four picks: Russian defenseman Anton Babchuk by Chicago; Finnish forward Sean Bergenheim by the New York Islanders; and Sweden center Alexander Steen by Toronto with the 24th pick.

Phoenix used the 23rd pick to select Canadian left wing Ben Eager.

Cam Ward was the second goalie taken in the draft, selected 25th by Carolina.

After Dallas selected defenseman Martin Vagner, San Jose used the 27th selection to take the first high-schooler, right wing Mike Morris, who attended St. Sebastian's in Needham, Mass.

Colorado selected forward Jonas Johansson 28th; Boston took goalie Hannu Toivonen; and Atlanta finished the first round by choosing Michigan State center Jim Slater.

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