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No major deals, no big stars made 2007 NHL draft unremarkable

It was an historic draft for American prospects, a terrible year for Russians and Canada held steady as the country producing the most players desired by NHL clubs.

Almost half of the 211 players whose names were called at Nationwide Arena were Canadians, but the U.S. contributed 63, which was a record 30 per cent.

"A lot of what we've done over the years we've patterned after Canadian hockey," said Ron Rolston, coach of USA Hockey's National Team Development program.

Europeans taken numbered 45, including just nine Russians which is the lowest since 1988.

It's conceivable that none of the teenagers taken this year will be ready to be a full-time player in the NHL next season and only time will tell if and when they become impact players down the road.

Pat Kane, selected No. 1 by the Chicago Blackhawks, can play up to 10 regular-season games before the team makes a decision on whether to send him back to the OHL's London Knights for another year of development.

For university-bound forwards James vanRiemsdyk (No. 2 to Philadelphia) and Kyle Turris (No. 3 to Phoenix), they won't play their first NHL game until they decide they're done with college.

It looks like a year or two wait for most first-rounders in this draft, which is perhaps why this prospect pool was seen as shallow.

Eighteen-year-old hockey players can mature a lot over the summer however. Jordan Staal, for example, was not expected to be a regular in the Pittsburgh Penguins roster this past season following last year's draft and he turned out to be an impact player for the club.

Deals announced in the hours leading up to the draft involving goaltenders Tomas Vokoun to Florida and Vesa Toskala to Toronto, as well defenceman Adrian Aucoin heading to Calgary, seemed like a warmup for entertaining draft deals, especially since the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues each had three picks in the first round.

But that momentum fizzled and transactions were limited to swapping positions in the draft order and the movement of a few minor-league players.

Vancouver Canucks GM Dave Nonis said economic uncertainty may have been the reason for it.

"I'm not sure that teams know where they stand," he said. "You don't know what's going to be there in free agency, you don't know what some of your Group 2 (free agents) are going to cost.

"There's a lot of unknowns right now."

The most significant development to surface at the draft was that Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold has asked the NHL to halt the application process of Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the franchise "until we reach a binding agreement."

Leipold can entertain other offers for the team, but Balsillie is not out of the running yet.

NHL general managers will turn their attention to the more immediate future of their clubs with the opening of unrestricted free agency Sunday.

Kane, from Buffalo, N.Y., and vanRiemsdyk, from Middletown, N.J., became the first Americans to be drafted 1-2 into the NHL.

A U.S.-born player was drafted No. 1 in back-to-back years for the first time. Kane followed defenceman Erik Johnson, who went first overall to St. Louis in the 2006 draft.

The 10 Americans taken in the first round matched the record set last year in Vancouver.

An expanding base of players, the improvement of U.S. junior leagues and the National Team Development Program which provides a hot-house hockey environment to tend to the country's best talent, are some of the reasons for a bigger and stronger U.S. presence in the draft.

Kane, vanRiemsdyk, Johnson and Phil Kessel, who went fifth overall to Boston last year, all spent time in the NTDP, in which the country's best players under the age of 18 train and play games together year-round in Ann Arbour, Mich.

The NHL's expansion into markets in the southern United States also seems to be inspiring some young athletes to put down their surfboards and baseball bats and pick up hockey sticks.

Vancouver Giants defenceman Jonathon Blum of Long Beach became the first California-born player to be drafted in the first round. Three Californians and one Texan were taken in this draft.

"We talked about the hockey going to Dallas and Phoenix and these non-hockey markets, but Dallas has some great programs, Phoenix is starting to develop it and so is L.A," Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon said. "More kids play from different areas who are quite good."

Sweden produced the most prospects outside of North America at 17.

The Russian hockey federation and the International Ice Hockey Federation have yet to agree on the financial terms of the transfer of Russian players' rights to the NHL, which was a drag on the number of Russians prospects selected at this draft.

Russian clubs are also paying their best players NHL salaries, which makes it more difficult for NHL general managers to pry players out of that country and thus less tempted to draft them.

"You could see that there were a number of kids who were rated very, very high and didn't get taken nearly as early as in a normal year, so people were concerned," Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said.

Russia's loss was Canada's gain at this draft as the latter rebounded from a low of 83 players taken last year.

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.


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