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Forward Patrick Kane leads big night for U.S. players at NHL draft

The forward from Buffalo, N.Y., heard his name called first as the Chicago Blackhawks took him with the top pick.

When Philadelphia selected winger James vanRiemsdyk of Middletown, N.J., with the second selection, the pair became the first Americans to go 1-2 in the NHL entry draft.

The 10 U.S. players taken in the Friday's first round matched the record set last year and it also marked the first time Americans went No. 1 in back-to-back years. Defenceman Erik Johnson was taken first overall by St. Louis last year.

"(We're) not really sticking it to the Canadians but it's nice to know we're catching up to them," said vanRiemsdyk. "They have a lot of depth in their system and we're starting to catch up a little bit."

Canadians dominated the first 30 picks, however, with 16 chosen. Forward Kyle Turris of New Westminster, B.C., led the Canadian contingent, going third overall to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Only four Europeans were selected in the opening round, led by Czech forward Jakub Voraceck going seventh to the host Blue Jackets.

The remaining six rounds will be held Saturday.

Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington had the first five picks and held on to them despite the efforts of other clubs to move up in the draft.

"There weren't any offers that knocked our socks off," said Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon, adding that it would have taken a top-line player 24 or 25 years for him to give up the most coveted position in the draft.

It was the first time Chicago had the first pick in the 44-year history of the draft.

No active players were moved in draft-floor deals once action opened in the evening, although a pair of goalies changed addresses earlier in the day. Tomas Vokoun was shipped to Florida from Nashville, while Toronto got Vesa Toskala from San Jose.

Calgary also acquired defenceman Adrian Aucoin from Chicago.

Kane led the Canadian Hockey League in scoring during his rookie season with the OHL's London Knights with 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points.

He gripped his grandfather, Don, recently recovered from hernia and heart surgery, in a lengthy hug before ascending the Nationwide Arena stage to don Chicago's jersey.

Afterwards, he contemplated the challenges immediately ahead of him as he'll head Monday to Chicago to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.

"I guess I'll be singing during the seventh-inning stretch," Kane said with a smile.

Of the top players drafted Friday, Kane has the best chance of playing in the NHL next season. VanRiemsdyk (New Hampshire) and Turris (Wisconsin) have committed to playing university hockey next season.

Thomas Hickey, who went No. 4 to Los Angeles, and Karl Alzner, the No. 5 pick by Washington, are defencemen and teenagers rarely make the jump to the NHL's blue-lines.

Tallon says the door is open for Kane to be a member of the Blackhawks next season. Chicago hasn't made the playoffs since 2002.

"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."

Players drafted this year are eligible to earn a yearly salary of up to US$875,000, plus a maximum of $2 million in performances bonuses, when they sign their three-year, entry-level contracts. It's usually first-rounders who rate that kind of money.

The Blackhawks have two years to sign Kane or he goes back into the draft. College players are subject to a different time limit than major junior players under the NHL's collective bargaining agreement and the clubs that draft them can keep their rights for up to four years.

VanRiemsdyk, six foot three and 200 pounds, had 33 goals and 30 assists in 42 games for the U.S. under-18 team last season.

Turris, who had 66 goals and 55 assists for the Burnaby Express last season, was ranked No. 1 by Central Scouting heading into the draft, but seemed genuinely pleased to go third to Phoenix.

He'd been interviewed by the Coyotes the previous morning and was bowled over by meeting Wayne Gretzky.

The long pause while Nationwide Arena gave Gretzky a standing ovation and chanted his name added to the drama of Turris's big moment.

"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."

Hickey, from Calgary, was the surprise of the night going fourth to the Kings. The Seattle Thunderbird was rated later in the second round by Central Scouting.

"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."

Russian forward Alexei Cherepanov and forward Angelo Esposito of the Quebec Remparts went lower than expected - Cherepanov 17th to the New York Rangers and Esposito 20th to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The lack of a transfer agreement between the Russian federation and the International Ice Hockey Federation isn't helping Russian players at this draft.

It looked like Montreal would get a crack as hometown kid Esposito with the 22nd pick after passing up on him with the 12th, but the Penguins selected the centre.

Esposito, who'd been ranked No. 8 by Central Scouting, said the wait was long, but looked forward to joining Pittsburgh's stable of young talent that includes Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin.

"I couldn't be happier than I am right now," Esposito said.

The Edmonton Oilers were the first Canadian club up at No. 6 and took Kane's London teammate and linemate Sam Gagner. The Oilers had three picks in the first round and finished the night buy adding defenceman Alex Plante at 15th and centre Riley Nash at 21st.

Montreal chose defenceman Ryan McDonagh 12th and winger Max Pacioretty at 22nd. Both are from the U.S.

Toronto gave up its first-round pick in the deal for Toskala. Calgary chosen Swedish centre Mikael Backlund at No. 24 followed by Vancouver taking centre Patrick White at 25th.

Notes - Kane was the sixth U.S.-born player to be taken first overall following Johnson, goaltender Rick DiPietro, defenceman Bryan Berard, forward Mike Modano and winger Brian Lawton . . . It was a good first round for Canadian defencemen as four went in the top 15. Hickey, Alzner, Keaton Allerby (No. 10 to Florida) and Alex Plante (No. 15 to Edmonton) all play in the WHL . . . Players with hockey bloodlines taken in the first round included Sam (Dave) Gagner at No. 6, Brandon (Brent) Sutter at No. 11 and Logan (Bob) MacMillan at No. 19 . . . Vancouver Giants defenceman Jonathan Blum became the first California-born player drafted in the first round when Nashville selected him at No. 23.



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