Fleury selected first overall

The Pittsburgh Penguins selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury first overall at the 2003 NHL Draft.

The Penguins, who were originally slotted third in the drafting order, got the first opportunity to nab Fleury by trading winger Mikael Samuelsson to Florida and swapping first-round draft positions with the Panthers.

"He's far and away the best goaltender in the draft," said Penguins general manager Craig Patrick. "We're rebuilding in our organization and we wanted a good young goaltender."

Fleury, who starred with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL last season, becomes the second goaltender to go No. 1 overall.

The New York Islanders chose netminder Rick DiPietro first overall in the 2000 draft.

Fleury, a six-foot-two netminder from Sorel, Que., has been called a cross between Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy because of his laid-back personality off the ice and tenacity under pressure on the ice.

He captured the nation's attention in January at the world junior hockey championship when he led Team Canada to the silver medal while earning most valuable player honours.

It was the first time Pittsburgh had the No. 1 pick since 1984 when it they chose Mario Lemieux.

Eric Staal of the Peterborough Petes went second overall to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Like Fleury, Staal, a six-foot-three centre from Thunder Bay, Ont., is considered to be a franchise player.

Staal collected 98 points including 39 goals in 66 OHL games last season. His speed, skill and drive have drawn comparisons to Hurricanes captain Ron Francis.

The Panthers selected Nathan Horton of the Oshawa Generals as the third overall pick.

The six-foot-two centre from Dunnville, Ont., has a reputation as a finesse player with a mean streak.

Horton would have been a sure-pick for Canada's world junior team had he not broken his jaw just before Christmas.

    2003 NHL ENTRY DRAFT TOP PICKS
1. Pittsburgh (from Florida) - Marc-Andre Fleury (G) 2. Carolina - Eric Staal (C) 3. Florida (from Pittsburgh) - Nathan Horton (C) 4. Columbus - Nikolai Zherdev (F) 5. Buffalo - Thomas Vanek (LW) 9. Calgary - Dion Phaneuf (D) 10. Montreal - Andrei Kastsitsyn (D) 22. Edmonton (from New Jersey via St. Louis) - Marc-Antoine Pouliot (C) 23. Vancouver - Ryan Kesler (C) 29. Ottawa - Patrick Eaves (RW) 57. Toronto - John Doherty (D)

Russian right-winger Nikolai Zherdev was taken fourth by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The explosive six-foot-one forward had 24 points including 12 goals in 44 games with the Central Army team in the top Russian league last season.

Zherdev played on Russia's gold-medal winning team at the world junior championship in January.

"He was No. 1 on our list," said Jackets GM Doug MacLean. "He's a great skater and has great speed.

"He'll be an unbelievable bookend for (2002 first pick) Rick Nash."

Thomas Vanek, who led Minnesota to an NCAA title this season, was taken fifth by the Buffalo Sabres.

The Austrian-born left-winger had 62 points including 31 goals in 45 games for the Golden Gophers.

"He scores big goals," said GM Darcy Regier. "So many of the goals he scored were in crucial situations, and that's something we need on our hockey club."

Canadian picks

The Calgary Flames were the first Canadian club to take the stage Saturday. The Flames stayed in Alberta for their top pick, selecting defenceman Dion Phaneuf of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.

The Edmonton native gained national notoriety by dishing out a bone-crunching hit on Rimouski's Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Edmonton's top pick) at the Top Prospects Game last winter.

The Montreal Canadiens picked next, using their No. 10 selection to choose winger Andrei Kastsitsyn. Some scouts say the skilled Belarussian would have been rated in the top-three had he not suffered from epilepsy.

"Our doctors told us we could look only at his hockey talent," said outgoing general manager Andre Savard.

The Edmonton Oilers were the third Canadian team to draft in the opening round. They used the No. 22 pick to draft Pouliot from the Rimouski Oceanic. The 18-year-old centre led his team in scoring with 32 goals and 41 assists in 65 games last season.

The Vancouver Canucks were the next team to step up to the microphone. The Canucks did not choose Jeff Tambellini, the son of Vancouver's vice-president of player personnel Steve Tambellini. Instead, the Canucks opted for Ohio State centre Ryan Kesler.

The two-way forward turned heads playing with the U.S. at the World Junior Hockey Championships earlier this year. Vancouver general manager compared Kesler's play to that of current Canuck Trevor Linden.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the lone Canadian team without a first-round pick. The Leafs used their 57th overall pick to take American high school defenceman John Doherty.

The rugged rearguard is off to the University of New Hampshire next season.

with files from Canadian Press