Kane of the London Knights, selected by the Chicago Blackhawks, and vanRiemsdyk of the U.S. junior development team, taken by the Philadelphia Flyers, were teammates on the U.S. team that won bronze at the world junior tournament last January.
Centre Kyle Turris of the Burnaby, B.C., Jr. A team was taken third by the Phoenix Coyotes, defenceman Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds went unexpectedly high at fourth thanks to the Los Angeles Kings, and defenceman Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen was taken fifth by the Washington Capitals.
The Edmonton Oilers were the first Canadian team to the mic and they used the sixth drafting position to select centre Sam Gagner of the Knights.
Ten Americans were selected in the first round, tying the record set last year. Only four Europeans were among the top 30 teens taken.
Kane, a five-foot-nine right-winger, led all major junior scorers with 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points in 58 regular-season games in his rookie OHL season in London. He also gained ground in the prospect rankings by playing a key role, scoring five goals, for the U.S. team at the world tournament.
When Chicago GM Dale Tallon announced his selection of Kane, who is from Buffalo, N.Y., it marked the first time in draft history that a U.S.-born player went No. 1 two years in a row. Defenceman Erik Johnson went first, to St. Louis, last year.
Kane will be given a chance to jump into the NHL next fall because the Blackhawks don’t have a lot up front. They haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2002.
As his numbers show, Kane has a nose for the net. He’s got a great shot and good speed. The only knock against him has been his size. He only weighs about 160 pounds, but he could thrive in today’s NHL with tight application of interference and obstruction fouls.
Kane said he’d spend the summer working on developing more upper body strength. He’ll go to camp intent on staying with the Blackhawks.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “This is just another chapter in the books.
“I have to prove myself at the next level.”
Kane will fly to Chicago on Monday. The Blackhawks are arranging for him to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
“I guess I’ll be singing during the seventh-inning stretch so I might have to work on some things there,” he said with a smile.
Tallon is optimistic that Kane can crack the big-league lineup.
“We’re going to be a young team so he’ll get every opportunity to play,” Tallon said. “He’ll have 10 games before we make a decision so we’re going to give him a good chance.”
The dynamic forward has a style that compares to that of Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.
With the Blackhawks having signed North Dakota college star Jonathan Toews of Winnipeg, their first pick and third overall in the 2006 draft, a Toews-Kane tandem could give Chicago fans reason to cheer for years to come.
VanRiemsdyk, a six-foot-three, 200-pound left-winger, led the U.S. under-18 team with 33 goals and 30 assists in 43 games. He’s an imposing forward who is strong on the puck and who has as pro-level shot. He’s known for his work ethic.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said vanRiemsdyk reminds him of former Flyers star John LeClair.
VanRiemsdyk says he’ll play for the University of New Hampshire this autumn so he might not be readily available to the Flyers. He was happy he and Kane were the first players selected.
“(We’re) not really sticking it to the Canadians but it’s nice to know we’re catching up to them,” he said. “They have a lot of depth in their system and we’re starting to catch up a little bit.”
Turris, a six-foot-one, 170-pound centre from New Westminster, B.C., scored 66 goals and assisted on 55 for 121 points in 53 games with the Burnaby Express and was named most valuable player in his league. He has the total skills package and plays hard at both ends of the ice.
Turris was a standout for Canada at the world under-18 tournament. Scouts say he has the potential to be a Joe Sakic-like NHL star. He is enrolling at the University of Wisconsin so he might be as many as four years away from turning pro.
He was on pins and needles awaiting the Coyotes’ pick.
“I saw Wayne Gretzky stand up and bring a jersey up to the podium and I was just hoping and praying,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
Gretzky said Turris has a great future and that the Coyotes were thrilled to get the player ranked No. 1 among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
The Kings made a surprise pick in taking Hickey, who had been projected to go much later. Hickey was stunned himself.
“I was sort of dozing off thinking of later picks and I sort of heard my name and thought it was maybe a mistake and maybe I just heard it wrong,” he said. “I got a new nudges in my side and it still really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The five-foot-11, 182-pound native of Calgary scored nine goals and assisted on 41 in 68 WHL games. He has the playmaking skills of a player such as New Jersey’s Brian Rafalski. Central Scouting had Hickey ranked 17th among North American skaters.
The Capitals got a big, rangy defenceman in Alzner.
The six-foot-two, 209-pound blue-liner from Burnaby, B.C., had eight goals and 39 assists in 63 WHL games with the Hitmen. Classed as a stay-at-home defenceman, Alzner can quarterback the power play and makes difficult plays look easy.
He was a teammate of Kane on Canada’s victorious world junior team.
Gagner, the son of former NHL forward Dave Gagner, scored 35 goals and assisted on 83 in 53 OHL games. The 5-11, 190-pounder from Oakville, Ont., reads plays well, which makes him an exceptional set-up man. He also was a member of Canada’s championship world junior team.
“The Edmonton Oilers are such a storied franchise with a great history so I couldn’t be happier,” said Gagner.
Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said he hoped Gagner would help start a new era of hockey in Edmonton.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had the seventh spot and opted for right-winger Jakub Voracek of the Halifax Mooseheads. The Czech scored 23 goals and assisted on 63 in 59 QMJHL games. Scouts liken him to Oilers forward Ales Hemsky. Voracek, who is six-foot-two and 187 pounds, was considered one of the most NHL-ready teens in the draft, and the Jackets sure need immediate help.
Boston was next and retired Bruins star Cam Neely announced the selection of centre Zach Hamill of the Everett (Wash.) Silvertips. Hamill, a five-foot-11, 180-pounder from Port Coquitlam, B.C., scored 32 goals and assisted on 61 in 69 games to win the WHL scoring title.
St. Louis had the ninth spot and traded it to San Jose for the 13th slot, the 44th position and a third-round spot in 2008.
The Sharks selected centre Logan Couture of the Ottawa 67s. The six-foot-five native of London scored 26 goals and assisted on 52 in 54 OHL games. His two-way diligence prompts comparisons to Rod Brind’Amour.
Big and rugged defenceman Keaton Ellerby of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers was taken 10th by the Florida Panthers. The six-foot-four, 195-pounder is an exceptional skater who won the hardest shot competition at the major junior Top Prospects Game. His style is most like that of Panthers blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester. The native of Okotoks, Alta., is a cousin of Phoenix captain Shane Doan.
Brandon Sutter, who plays with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels for his father, former NHLer Brent Sutter, was taken 11th by the Carolina Hurricanes. The six-foot-three, 170-pound centre scored 20 goals and assisted on 37 in 71 games.
Montreal was 12th in line and picked Minnesota high school defenceman Ryan McDonagh, a Dan Boyle-like blue-liner. The six-foot-one, 200-pounder was considered a sleeper in the draft, and there were a lot of surprised onlookers when the Canadiens passed on Montreal-born Angelo Esposito, one of the most gifted forwards available. Esposito’s dream of being a Hab was shattered and the dejected look on his face as he sat in the stands said it all.
The fact that the top-ranked European skater, Alexei Cherepanov, also remained unselected at this point raised eyebrows, too.
St. Louis, up 13th, picked Denmark-born left-winger Lars Eller, who scored 19 goals in 41 games for Frolunda in Sweden last season.
Esposito, who was ranked No. 1 in Central Scouting’s mid-season report, and Cherepanov, the MVP of the world junior tournament, couldn’t believe it.
Colorado picked defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk of the U.S. under-18 team.
Edmonton was up again in the 15th slot and took six-foot-four, 225-pound defenceman Alex Plante of the Calgary Hitmen.
Anaheim traded the 16th spot to Minnesota for the No. 19 and 42 picks, and the Wild selected centre Colton Gillies of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. The six-foot-three, 189-pound scored only 13 goals last season but the Wild like his size and toughness.
The New York Rangers ended the drama surrounding Cherepanov when they snatched him 17th – way after most of the scouts figured he’d go. The six-foot, 183-pound right-winger says he’ll play another season with his hometown Omsk team. The delighted Rangers won’t mind waiting. Cherepanov broke Pavel Bure’s record by scoring 18 goals in his rookie season in Russia’s elite league.
Calgary traded its 18th spot to St. Louis for the No. 24 and 70 spots, and the Blues selected defenceman Ian Cole, another player out of the U.S. under-18 program.
Anaheim picked centre Logan MacMillan of the Halifax Mooseheads. The son of former NHL forward Bob MacMillan is a solid two-way player who fits the Ducks’ mold.
Esposito went 20th, and lucked out by being selected by Pittsburgh. The dejection he’d felt for more than two hours turned into elation when he realized he might one day get the chance to skate alongside Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins’ young guns.
Phoenix traded the 21st pick to Edmonton for the No. 30 and 36 spots, and the Oilers selected centre Riley Nash, who scored 38 goals for the B.C. Jr. A league’s Salmon Arm team. Nash will play college hockey at Cornell in the autumn.
The Canadiens were back up in the 22nd spot and took another American, left-winger Max Pacioretty of the Sioux City, Iowa, junior club. His grandmother is from Montreal.
Picking 23rd, Nashville took Vancouver Giants defenceman John Blum.
Calgary then got the mic for the first time and picked centre Mikael Backlund, who led the world under-18 tournament with six goals in helping Sweden finish third.
Vancouver had the 25th spot and took American centre Pat White from the USHL junior loop.
St. Louis then used its third pick of the first round to get right-winger David Perron of the Lewiston, Me., QMJHL team.
Detroit got its first chance in the 27th slot and selected defenceman Brendan Smith from Toronto St. Michael’s of the Ontario Jr. A league.
The first round ended with San Jose taking Boston College-bound defenceman Nick Petrecki of the Omaha USHL club, Ottawa going for size by taking University of Minnesota defenceman Jim O’Brien and Phoenix selecting Regina Pats defenceman Nick Ross.