The five-foot-nine led all major junior scorers with 145 points (62-83) in 58 regular-season games in his rookie OHL season with the London Knights.
Left-winger James vanRiemsdyk of the U.S. junior development team was selected second by the Philadelphia Flyers, 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 was selected fourth by 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.
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.
“I think he’s got a great opportunity of making our team,” Tallon said.
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-pounder, 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 and was a star on the U.S. world junior team.
“He reminds us a little bit of John LeClair,” said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
VanRiemsdyk says he’ll play for the University of New Hampshire this autumn so he might not be readily available to the Flyers.
It was the first time in draft history that Americans went 1-2.
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.
“I’m going to take it year by year,” said Turris.
“We watched him all year long,” Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said in an interview. “He’s a tremendous young man who has a great future and we’re thrilled to have him in Phoenix.”
Turris had been rated the No. 1 prospect among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
The Kings made a surprise pick in taking Hickey, who had been projected to go much later.
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. The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau 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.
“Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new era,” Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said in an interview.