Saturday, June 24, 2006

American Roulette

It was the Fourth of July on the 24th of June, as NHL teams picked 10 Americans in the available thirty spots of the first round of the NHL amateur draft. And if you’re an American hockey player it would seem that playing or growing up in the mid-west is your ticket to the NHL.

It made for a record day for American citizens chosen by the NHL since the amateur draft became the major project that it has become. Leading the pack was the first round choice of the St. Louis Blues, Erik Johnson who may forsake College hockey to stand guard on the Blues blue line.

Speaking of standing on guard, Canada held its own on draft day as 11 Canadians were selected in the first round, the vast majority coming out of the nation’s Junior A leagues. The most prominent of those chosen, was Jordan Staal, brother of Eric and member of Canada’s latest hockey factory family. Staal was chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins as the second pick overall and becomes the third member of the Staal family to be drafted by an NHL team, he joins brother Eric from Carolina and Marc who was chosen by the New York Rangers in 2005.

The remainder of the first round picks hailed from Austria, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia.

The St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes each had two first round picks to work with, either by way of poor performance last season or via a trade with more successful squads, they managed to put themselves in the position to improve their squads through the age old method of building through the draft.

The first round was broadcast live across Canada on TSN and in the USA on the OLN
Network. The Vancouver audience added instant feedback to the trades and selections, either showing their approval with applause or registering dis-belief with either silence or a very audible groan. They weren’t quite sure what to make of Canucks’ GM Dave Nonis’ decision to select Austrian Michael Grabner, who played for Spokane this past season. Of course Canuck fans were still in shock trying to digest the moves from Friday which saw Todd Bertuzzi leave town to make way for the arrival of Roberto Luongo.

The most interesting response on the day though went to the introduction of Brian Burke, the former GM of Vancouver who now runs the show in Anaheim. Burke’s departure from Vancouver was not a well received event among the locals and they took advantage of the first opportunity available to welcome him back to the city that he owned at one time. They stood and gave him a long and sustained amount of applause before he made the first pick for the Ducks. It may very well be the last time that Burke will receive a warm welcome at GM Place, depending on the success of his Ducks in the years to come. With his 19th pick Burke selected a typical Brian Burke kind of player, Mark Mitera, a stay at home defenseman from the University of Michigan.

Just one of ten Americans to lay claim to a first round pick for 2006, a possible sign that the European invasion may have slowed down a bit from previous years and no doubt making Don Cherry one happy hockey fan by late Saturday night.

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